How To Change Your Life When You Feel Stuck
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Several years ago, I felt completely stuck.
My oldest child had left home to pursue her dream of being a ballet dancer, and my role as a mom was winding down. My career in public relations felt stale and dissatisfying. I was at loose ends, not knowing who I was supposed to be or what I was meant to do. I felt a constant anxiety, restlessness, and longing for something I couldn't describe. It was like the rumblings of a volcano before it erupts.
At the time, I kept a journal of stream of consciousness thoughts, and one day I wrote the words, “Your life will be turned upside down and inside out. Everything old will be new again, and everything new will be old.” I had no idea how prophetic those words would be.
Over the course of the next few years, I would go back to school to get a coaching certification, leave my public relations career, start a brand new business, build several blogs, create several courses, and write several books. All three of my kids graduated and headed off to college, leaving me as a full-fledged empty nester. My marriage unraveled and ended, as well as some of my friendships.
I later met a wonderful new life partner, a man whom I'd describe as a soulmate. We work together in a home-based business with plenty of freedom and flexibility. I've traveled more in the last few years than in the entirety of all the previous years. I got rid of many of my possessions, and sold my home in Atlanta to move to Asheville, North Carolina, a city that is a perfect fit for who I am and the lifestyle I want. We're living in a cool in-town bungalow while waiting for a new house to be built. We are meeting new friends, and enjoying nature and healthy activities every day. I'm surround by beauty, interesting people, and amazing food!
I can honestly say in the last five years, I've change my life entirely. I am living my passion and feel a level of contentment and joy I didn't believe possible. But . . . it didn't come without a lot of effort, fear, confusion, and emotional upheaval. Change is like that. It forces you to face your truths and make difficult decisions.
I have learned a lot about change through my personal experience, as well as through my work as a coach and self-development teacher. I forged a rugged path to find my life passion, but it doesn't have to be as rugged for you if you have some guidance and support. You can move from the life you have now to the life you dream of living without too much upheaval if you have a plan and a bit of courage.
Here's how to change your life and find your passion when you feel stuck:
1. Define your core values.
You've probably heard this advice a million times, but it really is important. It's far too easy to lose sight of our values or to neglect to define them altogether. Other people (and our own confusion or ambivalence) tend to drive many of our important choices and actions, and before we know it, we're living a life that feels inauthentic, boring, or painful.
When you know your core values, and you make life choices that support these, you're creating your life based on what's most important to YOU. Sometimes this means making painful or difficult choices, but in the long run, you will feel happier and more passionate about who you are and what you're doing with your life.
If you haven't taken the time to define your values, or you haven't done it in a long time, there's no better time than right now to do it. Take a look at this list of 400 value words, and choose your top 5-10 for your personal and professional life. Think about the important areas of your life (relationships, career, health, money, goals, hobbies, etc.) and whether or not you are aligned with your values in each of these areas. What needs to change? How are you dishonoring your most important values?
2. Write your life vision.
This is something I did at the very beginning of my life change adventure. I wrote a very rough vision of how I wanted my life to look. I still have a copy of it, and it went something like this:
I work in a career that is creative, fun, helps other people, and utilizes my talents and strengths, where I make a great income to support my lifestyle. I work from home with lots of freedom and time flexibility. I connect with interesting, emotionally intelligent, like-minded people in my personal and professional life. I'm in a happy, healthy relationship with a man who is emotionally mature, stable, fun, adventurous, and intelligent. I have a loving, positive connection with all of my children and enjoy spending time with them. I live in a light-filled, simple but attractive home in a community that supports my interests and lifestyle. I exercise regularly, spend time in nature, and take excellent care of my health. I enjoy frequent travel, adventure, and learning.
I wrote this five years ago and have kept the paper I wrote it on in my desk drawer ever since. I reread this vision often, and I'm happy to say that I'm well on the way to living it daily.
I can't express to you the power of writing things down. There's something about seeing your heart's desire on paper that makes the possibility more real. You don't have to know the precise details of your vision, and you can certainly revise it over time. But all of us have a loose idea of how we want our lives to look.
If you're not a writer, create a vision board to achieve the same goal. Create some physical evidence that you can see daily to keep your vision at the forefront of your mind. It gives you something definitive to work toward.
3. Start with the low-hanging fruit.
We all have some area of our lives that is causing us the most difficulty or heartache. Maybe it's your job. It could be your marriage or your finances. Whatever it is, this is the best place to begin making change. This is the domino that will help trigger positive change in all areas of your life.
For me, it all started with my career. I kept wondering, what am I meant to do? What do I have to offer the world beyond promoting other people's goods and services? I returned to my vision and tried to work backward. I wanted a career that was creative, fun, service-oriented, flexible, and that utilized my strengths and talents — and that provided a livable income.
Where and how was I going to find that? What did I need to do to get there? This leads to my next point.
4. Define your action steps.
For me, the first steps in figuring out my career plan was learning more about my personality, strengths, and skills. I took several personality, career, and skills assessments to confirm my natural inclinations and abilities. These reinforced my desire to work independently in a helping profession using my talents in writing, listening, coaching, and creativity.
The next step was trying to find careers that matched my inclinations. Coaching and counseling were two careers that kept appearing on my radar screen. I did a lot of research and reading about these careers, and ultimately decided to go back to school to get my coaching certification. I chose coaching because I liked the model of helping people make rapid progress toward their goals and dreams, and because it would have taken a lot more time to be licensed as a therapist.
Even once I made the decision to go to coaching school, I wasn't 100% sure I was doing the “right” thing. But I knew I'd learn something from the experience that would give me more information. And it did — it confirmed I was on the right path.
5. Address the financial realities.
One of the impediments people have to making life change is the very real fear of screwing up your life in some way. One of the biggest fears we have is around money. “If I make this change, how will I make ends meet? How will I pay for everything involved in making the change?” That's a legitimate fear, and it must be addressed.
In my situation, I first did a lot of research on the income I could expect as a coach in the first few years and then as my practice developed. I also looked carefully at my current level of savings and expenses. Fortunately, I didn't have any debt except for a house payment. But if I had, paying it off would have been my first order of business.
I did start saving my income rigorously. I also made the decision to sell my house and downsize. As time went on, I realized how few material things I really needed, and how much more I prioritized experiences over things. You will likely have to sacrifice something in order to create the life you want. But it won't feel like a sacrifice when you are living closer in alignment with your values and vision.
6. Prepare for relationship reactions.
Another big fear we have around change relates to the people in our lives. “What will they think? What if they leave me? What if I cause them pain?” This is also a very legitimate fear. It's uncomfortable to rock the boat or to cause the people we care about discomfort. That's why communication is so vital.
As you are in the process of changing your life, talk openly with the people closest to you about the feelings and confusion you're going through. Ask for their support and understanding. Talk about how it might impact them and what to do about it. Invite them to be part of the journey.
Sometimes life change does push people out of your life. It happened to me, and it can be very painful, even if it's your decision. Sometimes we simply move in different directions from friends, family, and even our love partners, and they can't move with us.
As scary as it feels to face the wrath or disappointment of those you care about, it is far more debilitating to continue in a life that isn't authentic or happy. Everyone deserves loving, supportive people who understand the dynamic of personal growth and change and are willing to ride the wave with you. If they can't or won't, have the courage to proceed with the life you dream of anyway. New people who support you WILL enter your life.
7. Stay open to possibilities.
I wish I could tell you that changing your life follows a linear path. It doesn't. It takes many twists and turns, and you may go down a few dead ends before you find your way. This may feel scary and like a huge waste of time, but it isn't.
Every action you take, every pursuit you test out, every detour along the way gives you valuable information. You learn what you do and don't like. You learn what works and what doesn't. You discover more about yourself, your abilities, and your capacity for dealing with setbacks.
Sometimes the crooked path will lead you to something quite unexpected and very positive. This happened to me as well. I planned on being a coach and starting a coaching business. I never considered being a blogger or writer. That wasn't part of the plan. But I needed a website to promote my coaching business, so in order to save money, I created a simple Blogger blog.
I had to read up a bit on blogging to do that, and I became intrigued. Then I took a blogging course, met some amazing people, started writing, and the rest is history. Blogging and writing became as much of a passion for me as coaching. Now I combine the two in a great career that fulfills so many of my interests. Who knew?
If the path doesn't seem clear or straight to you, don't worry. It isn't supposed to. Just walk through the next open door and see what you discover. It's all good.
8. Expect fear.
Yes you will be afraid a lot of the time. When you're staring into the vast unknown, every part of your being wants to jump back to safety. Just accept and acknowledge that fear will be present — but, it will diminish over time as you get used to uncertainty.
A practical step I took was to regularly review how I handled my life in the past. Did I often make poor decisions? Had I screwed up my life badly? Was my intuition or judgement frequently off base? For me the answer was “no,” and this helped me learn to trust myself.
I wasn't going to make a decision that would hurl me off a cliff or harm my family. Even if it felt like that could happen, I knew myself well enough to know I wouldn't let it. My internal wisdom would lead me to the right choices and decisions.
If you have good reason not to trust yourself, then you can still move forward, but with some support. If you've made bad decisions or used poor judgement in the past, find someone whose judgement you trust and whose life you admire. Talk with them about your options and plans. Get their feedback and advice. This can be enormously helpful for anyone thinking about making a big life change.
9. Reconsider failure.
So what if you do make the wrong choice? What if you do fail or lose something important to you? These things happen, and no one wants to willingly suffer the pains of failure. Look, it all really comes down to two choices: either you maintain the status quo and ensure nothing “bad” happens, or you initiate change in the hope that something better happens.
I truly believe that change is almost always the best choice. From my perspective, we have this one life to live. I'd rather seize it by the horns and live it on my own terms than to cower in the corner for fear I might fall on my face.
Falling on your face isn't so bad anyway. You won't die. You won't starve. Your ego might be bruised up a bit, and you might have to start over. But damn, it's an adventure! Failure is the best evidence that you've gathered up your courage and said a big, fat “YES!” to life.
Life will force change on you anyway. You'll grow older. People will exit your life. Your circumstances may change unexpectedly. You never know what life will throw your way. So rather than waiting for change to sweep you away by surprise, why not be the captain of your own ship?
What big life changes have you made or do you want to make going forward? What are your biggest fears and what actions do you intend to take to implement change in your life? Please share your experiences in the comments below.