A recent conversation with some friends caused me to reflect on really good ways to manage change. I should start by saying - I don’t cope well with change - whether it is planned or unplannned. But you can’t get through life without navigating change in some form or fashion, and while some changes are hard and heartbreaking, while others may be fun and life giving, in all cases we are required to get a bit uncomfortable and deal with new situations. It has always surprised me that people (myself included) struggle to make change even when it’s for the better, due to the discomfort factor or the fear of the unknown. Its that whole “better the devil you know” saying. As I thought of the conversation I had with my friends, I decided that I wanted to write about the ways I handled change in my life - both planned and unplanned. Today we will talk about unplanned changes - those events in life that you are not prepared for and that can lead to big or small changes. I have experienced a variety of these such as job loss, death of a loved one, having my car stolen (to name a few of the ones that were painful) and the positive ones have often been support - often from the places I didn’t expect it. Another way I experienced positive unplanned change was how I changed after experiences I had, or through courses I took where the outcome was far more rewarding and life changing than I ever expected. And of course one of my favourite examples - the unexpected upgrade to business class!
While it is true that unplanned change can feel negative or positive in the moment, learning to navigate change and developing resilience is a skill that is invaluable, and can make the difference in how we move through life, and what opportunities we are able to make use of after things have changed.
Here are 5 ways I find helps me navigate change.
Allow it. I am all about learning lessons, and putting a positive thing events in our lives, but I have found that before I do ANY of that, I need to allow myself to feel whatever emotions come out of the the event. These can be sadness, anger, frustration to name a few, even feeling a bit lost. I do not believe in bypassing these feelings or stuffing them down. We need to be able to grieve for our losses - whether it be a job and the identity and community it brought us, a loved one, a relationship (romantic or platonic) or even a phase in our life. As much as I enjoyed turning 40 and how it felt like a new chapter, I grieved for times gone by. You may be transitioning into parenthood (and this could be planned or unplanned) or watching your children go to university, or you may be transitioning into a marriage, or back into single life. Whatever the change is, allow the feelings to come, allow yourself to express them and do so without judgement of yourself. Don’t put a time period onto it, and realize that those feelings may never fully go away. I wrote sometime ago about still missing my father - and it has been over 16 years since he passed away. My grief is different now - I think about how much he would have enjoyed my nephew and how sad that they didn’t get to meet - especially when my nephew has a facial expression so similar to my dad’s, or when he walks down the street singing at the top of his lungs. I allow myself to feel the sadness in those times. I find that love leaves a lasting impression on my heart that may fade but never truly go away, and I know that sadness shows me how much I cared for who is gone or what has ended. So for me the first and most important step is to allow my emotions with compassion not judgement.
Get support. This can (and should) overlap with the process of allowing emotions. I could never have survived the unplanned changes in my life - good or bad - without my support system. Some of them provided moral support - calling to check in and to listen and talk. Some provided practical support - taking me to the supermarket, helping around the house, or just going for a drive so that I could have a change of scenery. Some provided a bed to sleep in if I needed it, or advice on where I could get other forms of help I needed. And support also came from channels such as church, medical professionals, coach or therapist. Some workplaces provide support for employees, and there may be other professional or voluntary organizations that can provide support - both moral and practical. The underlying premise is - don’t do it alone. For me the support I got made it possible for me to come out the other side of all of my transitions in life so far.
Reflect openly. This can also be done with the help of the support I mentioned. It is the act of considering what is changing, and looking for anything you can bring on the journey with you. One of the biggest examples I can give of that is writing my blog. When I reflected on the lessons I learned from various situations - even those that might have seemed negative at the time, I started to see what I had been gifted or taught in those situations, and how I could take this forward into the new scenario. It could be skills gained on a job that you weren’t fond of, or friendships formed or strengthened during the process. I met one of my closest friends at one of the most horrible jobs I had, and I definitely left there unexpectedly. I have her friendship and others I made as a result, beautiful Goddaughters and a lifetime of memories that I cherish. I developed resilience from losses that I faced, and I know I am more empathetic as a result of some of my experiences. Sometimes it takes a little distance from the event to be able to reflect openly, but it is often worth doing to close a chapter and move into the next.
Reframe. This can serve a dual purpose both in open reflection as well as starting a new chapter. Reframing an event as something with purpose instead of something that happened to you can be empowering and can really allow you to lessen the negative feelings you may have towards it (once you have allowed yourself to feel them of course). It can allow you to see and harness the positives that came out of the experience and use them in the next venture. For me, reframing also applies to the second part of change - embracing the new phase of life/work or whatever is changing. When something changes there is what you left behind, and what you are moving towards. And in the new experience, we sometimes have to deal with our fears around starting at the beginning, acquiring new skills, not getting everything perfect, imposter syndrome to name a few. These challenges can be the thing that sometimes prevents us from moving into the changes that we really want in life - not just the ones that we feel we didn’t choose. For me one reframe involves my word of 2019 - adventure. For me I am viewing new experiences as adventure, so that I can keep a light hearted approach to wrong turns and mistakes I might make. You may find other ways if rephrasing this next phase in your life so that you feel excitement instead of fear, and you release some of your perfectionism around starting something new. This reframing can also help you with your expectations around the outcomes as you move forward. Often how we view our results is heavily influenced by our expectations rather than what actually occurs. If we can reframe our expectations (or suspend or even release them) we can work on appreciating what comes out of the situation while moving forward. And on that note, my final tip is:
Celebrate. And this applies to our wins big and small. We can always find something to celebrate about the chapter we are closing - even if it is alongside grief and other emotions. I have found that making an effort to celebrate our small wins (and big) is excellent fuel for propelling us forward into the next phase of our life. We can celebrate what we discovered during our reflections, and we can do this with the people who are supporting us on our journey. I have found that when I am intentional about celebrating my wins and having gratitude for what is behind me, I can approach the future with optimism and a smile on my face.
The truth is - change will come in our lives. If we can find a way to navigate these changes and come out better on the other side, we will have those skills to take into the next transitions. Stay resilient my friends.
I bring you big love from a small island.
PS You know that I don’t need an excuse to post a sunset photo, but today I am using the photo above that I took a few weeks ago to show you one of my favourite changes! The sunset is the end of one day, and even though there is a period of darkness, a new day dawns, a chance for a fresh start!