Updates from new blog at www.nextchapternewlife.com/blog/

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Midlife Personal Change – coming at you bigger and faster

Yuk! We seem to hate change. We avoid it and at least hope we go through it super fast. I think of this like swallowing cough syrup. If you do it quickly it won't be as bad. I would hope you could think of it as a fact of life and something to build a skill for.

I'd like to adjust your thinking about change especially if you are in your middle years of life. As we know, change is the only constant we have in life. Despite this fact of life, we do little to understand it or to pass on any wisdom about the process. By the time we hit our middle years, the changes we tend to go through start coming at us faster than earlier in our life. They also tend to be more impactful.

Let's look at what is taking place in our middle years. By this point in our life, we have hit most of the major milestones such as going to school, launching a career, getting married, having kids and buying a house. There tends to be an order to how these things take place in our life. At some point, after all these events have taken place, you get hit with a new wave of events like divorce, empty nest, career completion (more on that later), death of loved ones, moving of you or loved ones, retirement, health issues, aging and loss of various bodily functions like your eyesight. This list could be thought of negatively. It doesn't have to be.

Just to make things more complicated in this timeframe we often express our lack of wisdom on change or inability to manage the process of one change, by creating more changes. An example of this is evident at the completion of our career. We start getting restless with our work; need to make a change, so we get divorced. This is the description of misdirected transition management. When we start getting those first internal signals of dissatisfaction, we get dissatisfied with many things all at once. What is prompting the issue becomes blurry. Instead of working through the process, or examining ourselves, we can focus our transition efforts on the wrong thing. We make the wrong change, the issue remains.

I'd like to hit the pause button for a moment on the term "career completion". Careers are taken for granted. We give great consideration and discussion to launching a career. We might have more than one in our life time, but we don't talk too much about the process for when one comes to completion. Our process in not deliberate or well thought out, we just let it happen. We might get laid off and use that to restart a new one or we might stick it out much longer than we should. While I think our professional athletes get paid way too much, I admire the deliberation and forethought that goes into their thought process for completion of their careers. We hear "I want to go out on top". Why don't the rest of us do that? When we don't give career completion any advanced thought, there comes a point for most of us where we do become dissatisfied with what our work is. It happens because we have mastered it and have got out of it about all we can.

The transition around work is not to be underestimated. Work, for most of us, is the thing that gives our life meaning and purpose, even if it is to simply pay the rent. We have an internal need to feel productive. I really think it's almost instinctive. Because of the huge role it plays in our life, we hold on to it in ways that drive and define the rest of our lives whether or not it's a negative role. It may sound like I'm undervaluing the role of our relationships I'm not. I am trying to help you understand that our work can drive us a great deal. When our regard for our work changes, it will impact the rest of our lives.

There are three major things you can do to help yourself manage your transition.

  • Simply understand and acknowledge the emotional readjustment that comes with change. It's uncomfortable for a while. Being creatures of comfort, we try to avoid being uncomfortable. Don't avoid it, be with it. This feeling will go away, it will flit in and out of your days until eventually it goes away entirely. The discomfort can also take many forms. You can feel uncertain about your decision, you may question your judgment, you may feel sad, and you may also feel excited. The discomfort has two sides to it. Also, don't rush it. You will go through it now or later, but you will go through it. Best to do it now.
  • Learn from your transitions and use your wisdom going forward. Ask yourself the good questions: what did I do that worked well the last time? What didn't work and I should avoid? What are some positive, productive actions I can take to smooth this transition? When will I take that action? Process the change, talk to trusted people.
  • Sit down and think through some actions you can take that will help ease your transition. Taking action will not only help you but it will provide some control over your situation. Make sure the action is useful and related to the change taking place.

Change and transition that goes with it can present you with unbelievable opportunities. Change will happen with or without your permission. You have a choice about how you will react to it. You can choose to resist it and make it your enemy. You can make change a companion that is gifting you. Look forward to what it has to offer. Learn from the process, become skillful.