Have you ever found yourself in a place where you know you probably shouldn’t be any longer?
I certainly have. I was thinking about this the other day when I came across a plant growing sideways out of the curb on the sidewalk corner while walking my dog. This little plant is obviously thriving, beautiful, and tenacious in its ability to survive, but at the same time, it’s clear that this little plant is not going to have a long life on that corner.
That’s what real life feels like sometimes. One day everything fits, and you’re successful in your life, and the next, it’s suddenly obvious that where you are now is not where you need to be long term. You realize your time is limited in this space, and at some point in the future, you won’t fit into it any longer.
But it’s so hard to change! It’s scary, uncomfortable, and uncertain. If you’re anything like me, you’re afraid to leave your comfy space because of the”what ifs.” What if you can’t make the transition successfully? What if you fail to thrive outside of what you’re doing right now? What if it doesn’t work out? What if you end up penniless? What if you can’t support your family? What if you’re not capable of making a change at this stage of life? What if it’s too late?
That’s how I felt towards the end of my HR career. I once fit perfectly in my HR role with ease and later coerced myself to continue to fit, thinking it was the right decision. I continued to push myself to grow, learn, and contribute to HR, but my heart wasn’t into my formal HR role any longer. I had outgrown my space, and I worried that if I stayed, I might break the system that was holding me; it would break me, or someone along the way would come along and pull me out as weeds get pulled out of the sidewalk.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that the earlier you recognize that the space you’re in no longer is right for you, the easier it is to adjust to the new conditions if you decide to make a change. If you stay too long, hold on too tightly, and dig in, your roots become deeply woven into the dirt and concrete surrounding it. You become inflexible, tough, and ultimately breakable. Like the plant on the curb, the chances that it can be rehomed are pretty good right now because its roots are still flexible enough to move, but the longer continues to grow into the street, the less likely it will be able to make a healthy transition.
So what is the process of change? Your circumstances are what they are. If you’re the plant, you might be thriving, but you’re still growing into the street from the outside of a curb. If you’re a woman, you might have a successful career that’s working for you, but you don’t love it anymore, and you’re probably experiencing stress about that.
The first step in making any change is to become aware of what’s actually going on and how you think/feel about your circumstances. Have you ever heard the expression, “Where you go, there you are?” It’s so true. Until you become more self-aware, you will continue to bring your old habits, ideas, and behaviors into whatever you do next. So the first step to making a healthy change is to spend time becoming aware of what’s happening in your life and how you think and feel about it.
Let’s practice this with our plant first since it isn’t weighted down with our current beliefs and fears about how we’re living our life.
Imagine you come across the plant on the corner and decide it needs to move. Ask yourself these questions before you start:
- What do we know about the plant on the corner?
- Why do I think it needs to move?
- What will happen to it if it doesn’t move?
- What will happen if it does?
- If it lived in ideal circumstances, how big would it grow?
- Where would it thrive? How much sun does it need?
- What will happen to it when we pull out its roots from the crack in the concrete?
- Does it need time to recover from the shock of life disruption?
- What does it need to recover?
- Where should it be planted next?
- How do you imagine the plant will feel having more space to grow?
- How do you prepare the next location for the plant to thrive?
By answering these questions about the plant, you probably have a pretty good idea of what steps need to be taken and why. Do you like your reasons for moving the plant? Do you know what’s needed to transplant it, and why? Do you understand the risks and rewards connected to moving the plant? Do you know what you need to do to give it the best chance of survival and health?
Let’s apply this same level of inquiry to our own lives. Imagine you are ready for a big life change. Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I know about myself?
- Why do I think I need to make a change?
- What will happen if I don’t move?
- What will happen if I do?
- If I had the ideal circumstances, and nothing would hold me back, how big would I grow?
- Where would I thrive? What do I need to thrive?
- What will happen to it when I come out of my current situation?
- Do I need time to recover from the shock of life disruption?
- What do I need to recover?
- Where should I be planted next?
- How will I feel when I get there?
- What do I need in my next role for me to thrive?
What did you learn about yourself answering these questions? What were your thoughts? Were the questions easier or harder to answer than they were for the plant? Why? How did you feel answering them? What were your objections that came up? What were your fears?
Like most humans, your brain probably came up with a hundred reasons why you should stay the same. It’s entirely normal for your brain to respond this way, and knowing this in advance will help you stay calm. Your brain is only concerned with helping you to avoid pain, seek pleasure, and expend the least amount of energy possible. What you’re doing by envisioning a new and uncertain future goes against everything your brain stands for, and your brain might not be able to keep you safe. But if you want to change, you must be willing to feel the discomfort that comes with growth.