After almost six years of working in sales, Carolyn Birsky made a substantial life change. She decided to quit her job and launch her own business — Compass Maven, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Birsky works at Compass Maven as a life and career coach for women in their 20s who are struggling to find happiness and purpose in their lives or in their professional careers.
Of course, life is more than just career changes in your 20s — change is inevitable and ingrained in the fabric of modern life. Life goes on, but catching up with it is easier said than done. Physical and mental health fluctuate. Relationships begin and end. Children are born and parents pass away. You’re the only thing that remains constant. As the old maxim goes, you’re the only person that has to live with yourself. How do you stay grounded when the world around you is constantly in motion?
Then there’s the small stuff: Your favorite deli closes, daylight savings robs you of an hour of sunlight in the evening, you develop an allergy to dairy. These things seem trivial, but each one represents something to you being a part of a memory in your internal circuitry, a safe time or place for reflection, or the only consolation you had in an otherwise endless workday. Whatever the case, however old you may be, and whatever the scale of the change in your life, Birsky points out that there is always one constant throughout all periods of change.
“I think a common theme is knowing you need to make a change but having no idea how to go about it. Or knowing you need to make a change but the idea of the change is so intimidating that you kind of just stop in the tracks,” Birsky said. More importantly, given the aforementioned constant, we (as a society) have compiled a collective, time-affirmed understanding of things we can do to embrace and thrive during periods of change.
The first thing to do is to find a space where you can speak openly. Whether it’s with friends at a coffee shop or with a professional coach, it’s always helpful to have a sounding board someone that you can bounce thoughts and ideas off. For professional writers, this is almost impossible to avoid — you will always need someone to kill the inner critic, someone willing to listen as the ideas flow, before offering any input.
Birsky noted the importance of finding such a space when she was working through her own personal changes: “I knew I needed to make a change. I just, I was scared, and I didn’t really know what it looked like and so having that kind of space to explore is extremely helpful,” she recalls. Just as important as finding this safe space to think freely is finding time to physically take care of yourself.
Whether it’s yoga or meditating, painting, or even placing Post-it notes with affirmations around the house, it’s all about bringing your anxiety levels down and actually taking the time to commit to those activities during your day. So many jobs require us to conform to a sedentary lifestyle — trapping us in a stuffy office for much of our time. Try to savor daily walks when you can — that advice of getting a breath of fresh air is much more important than you think. After venturing outside, you’ll be glad you did it.
“Some transitions can be super exciting and amazing, and that’s so awesome, but they can also be super heavy and time-consuming, both in terms of physical time and mental time, so make room for something fun,” Birsky said.
Dr. Elizabeth Stirling, a psychologist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has been in private practice for the last 45 years. Amid helping her regular patients with their problems, her practice has a specific goal all on its own Stirling’s life purpose, as she states on her website, is “to help motivated people make significant changes so that they can have meaningful, rewarding, and balanced lives.”
We may not always feel that we need a psychologist or therapist to consult with if we’re not particularly feeling depressed or haven’t recently suffered a traumatic event — but an absence of both doesn’t necessarily mean we’re entirely well. Who do we see to become self-actualized?
Stirling is adamant that while finding your own space to talk freely and taking physical care of yourself are both important, thriving in a period of change also requires a long-term moral fortitude, not just commitment to individual, daily actions.
Rather than thinking of mere rituals to learn each day and forge a pattern, you need to set a goal for yourself. Don’t think about how you can simply ease into a new change — adjusting to the pressures of a new job or life in a new community. Think instead about how you can turn this change into an opportunity for the better — how can you use it to improve you?
“You have to be highly motivated, want to change, and be willing to do homework,” Stirling said. To Stirling, thriving in change requires courage, persistence, and motivation. It’s not just about coming to terms with that change, whatever it may be — but it is about the willingness to overcome it.
“Courage. You have to have the guts to look at some things that are not very pleasant about yourself,” Stirling said. “Persistence. It means to keep trying. Motivation. They have to have the motivation to do [all of] that.” Stirling also expanded on the importance of finding a place to speak openly, adding that oftentimes someone who is not a blood relative or close friend can prove more effective when forming a support network to reach out to.
“Most people have an idea of how they want you to be, so that’s one advantage of a therapist who doesn’t have a preconceived concept of you,” Stirling said. “Your parents, your friends, they want to see you a certain way and so you can go into therapy or you can try to find somebody in a church or somewhere else, but it’s very important to have somebody to encourage you as you’re making change.”
For those who cannot afford therapy or don’t have access to an impartial friend, Birsky offers some advice to keep in mind when speaking about change with close friends and family. “Those types of conversations can be super emotionally charged. So don’t go into that conversation when you’re feeling super emotional about it. Just take a step back before you react and decide how you want to react,” Birsky said. “[Also], literally writing out what you want to say to them or the different points you want to get across before you go into that conversation will make you feel a lot more prepared.”
Above all else, keep in mind that everything will work out for the best. While we set lofty goals for ourselves and hope to meet them, it won’t always happen, and we might be disappointed — but don’t let disappointment ruin your life, don’t be too hard on yourself for your failures. “Things are going to work out the way they’re supposed to work out and being OK with being where you are in the process at that particular moment is really hard to do, but it’s really important,” is Birsky’s keen advice.
This article was originally published in Brain World Magazine.
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