Change and unpredictability can sometimes weave their way into nearly every facet of life. Whether it’s one’s career, workplace, finances, family life, or social interactions, there are often no scripts for navigating the world our new normal. The constant change and need to adapt has felt chaotic, leaving me to merely tolerate it and pivot accordingly when required. When we resist change, this impacts our wellness, productivity, and relationships.
I was reminded of this one morning when I saw an interview with Bruce Feiler, author of Life Is in the Transitions. I was struck by his story as he suffered a series of significant losses in a short period of time when he was diagnosed with bone cancer, nearly had to file for bankruptcy, and dealt with his father’s six suicide attempts within a short, 12-week period. Despite these agonies, his story was hopeful and optimistic in the face of such upheaval.
No life story follows a linear path and instead looks more like a meandering road loaded with unexpected twists and turns.
Life transitions can arise from positive changes like having children, getting married, or going back to school, as well as negative ones like financial hardship, illness, relocating, the dissolution of a meaningful relationship, or a disaster. After interviewing over 200 people nation-wide to learn how they narrated their life events when faced with significant challenges, Feiler was inspired to write a book and share his insights. One that stood out for me is that we spend half our lives adjusting to change! Hearing this reinspired me to make more of an effort to embrace change rather than wasting so much time merely tolerating it.
Here are five takeaways from Feiler’s tips on how to embrace change:
1. Be aware of the phases of change
Change can leave us feeling panicky and out-of-control, in shock, or completely exhausted. In this state, three phases can occur: 1) “the long goodbye,” where people mourn their previous selves or the lives they led, 2) “the messy middle,” where they get rid of old habits to create new ones, and 3) “the new beginning,” where people try out their fresh self. We are unique in the way we experience these phases, finding some easier than others.
2. Identify your emotions
Going through life transitions generates strikingly similar emotions. Most commonly, people struggle with fear followed by sadness and shame. To deal with a transition, it is helpful to identify your feelings so you can move through them rather than letting them keep you stuck. Some people find mindfulness, journaling, or meditation to be helpful. Others may sing, dance, go to sweat lodges, get a tattoo, or go skydiving. According to Feiler, these serve as “statements to ourselves that we’ve gone through a change and are ready for what comes next.”
3. Shed something
Transitions provide us with the opportunity to change where we spend our time, who we choose to spend it with, and release parts of ourselves that are no longer serving our greater purpose. This may include a relationship, a career, our mindset, dream, or routines to simply name a few. When you shed something, you create space for new opportunities, people, places, and things to enter your life.
4. Try something creative
By their very nature, life transitions involve transformation. It seems that in the moment of chaos, humans respond creatively. This may be due to the fact that creation represents a fresh start. I have heard of people who have turned to writing, cooking, painting, or starting a club or business as a way to explore different ways of being. Opportunities for rebirth are created in your life when you take the time to reevaluate what brings you joy and meaning.
5. Revise your life story
Because your life has changed in a real and significant way, revising your story is the last necessary step for working through a life transition. With change, we are compelled to view the world differently. When we embrace the transition, we view it as an opportunity to reframe our past, make meaning of our present, and reintroduce ourselves to the world around us.
My aunt Daisy has frequently reminded me, “Deus escreve certo por linhas tortas,” which roughly translates to “God writes straight with crooked lines.” The essence of this saying is that no life story follows a linear path and instead looks more like a meandering road loaded with unexpected twists and turns. Life is in the stories we tell ourselves – celebrating its nonlinearity may hold the secret to navigating trying times with peace and gratitude.
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