One of the biggest things that holds people back when they're trying to advance, in either professional or personal spheres of life, is fear of the unknown. Even if you feel unhappy with your current state, there can be a lulling sense of familiarity in that unhappiness. And somehow most of us manage to eke out some sense of meaning and joy even in situations that are not optimal, whether that's a job that doesn't completely fulfil, or a relationship that has past its best by date.
There are various reasons we get "stuck" in this way: Sometimes, it's thinking you don't deserve something better. Other times it comes from convincing yourself that you OUGHT to be happy with what you've got, that plenty of others would be only too happy in your shoes. But still other times, it's less about the gravitational pull of the familiar: It's more about fear, fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of trying to get everything you want.
I had someone close to me once say "You know, Natasha, sometimes life isn't fair...maybe I don't deserve happiness." I could see that it was somehow easier for him to resign himself to unhappiness (and a belief that that's all he deserved) than it was to initiate change. Heartbreaking as this was, I knew it wasn't something I could do for him. Much as I loved and supported him, his belief that he didn't deserve happiness was deeply rooted in his own sense of self. The only person who could change it was him. And I think that's an important lesson for each of us: We truly need to take responsibility for our own happiness and to be the initiators of change in our own life.
Over the weekend, I watched this TED talk and it really inspired me to break change down into small, digestible tasks as a way of combating fear of change. It's also encouraging that small sustainable changes are much more likely to stick than more intimidating challenges.
As somebody who works in an industry that constantly demands not only embracing change, but initiating it, I also have some thoughts about change. In fact, it's one of those areas where I sometimes wish my professional life could inform my personal life more!
(1) Change is habit-forming
The more you push yourself into the "change" zone on a regular basis, the easier it gets. If you're the kind of person who creates safe and secure environments, you'll likely find the concept of change a hard one. Think of "change" as a muscle that you need to constantly exercise. The more you flex it, the stronger it (and you) gets. Try to commit to one small change every day for the next thirty days as a confidence-builder!
Those who don't flex the "change muscle" tend to fear failure more... and in that way, they can exaggerate what failure looks like. On the flip side, those who embrace and seek change on a regular basis tend to see failure from a different perspective -- as something that simply happens sometimes to everyone. Failure and success are not always in our control, and sometimes that's meant-to-be... failure might lead you down a different path that's really a new opportunity!
(2) Happiness can't be "shoulded"
Let's face it: Most of us have a pretty good life. Allowing yourself to feel and embrace gratitude doesn't mean you have to "should" yourself into not wanting more or something different. Happiness is an amorphous thing that we define differently at different points in our lives. In your 20s it might have been all about your career and Mr. Right. In your 40s it could be about taking a step back from the rat race.
Some of us use past versions of ourselves as a kind of benchmark for how we should feel about ourselves now. We measure what we have accomplished in our 30s against what we were striving for in our 20s. In that sense, you might see -- and be grateful for -- how much you've achieved. However, you should still give voice to your present-tense self. If you're not happy with those same things today, give yourself permission to strive for something different no matter how great other people think you have it.
(3) Daydreams versus real world
It's easy to become cynical with age and shoot down your own dreams as being too idealistic or romantic. Perhaps you've experienced enough of the "real world" to know that things don't always pan out as they do in our daydreams. Or, perhaps you've experienced a time when you were hurt or disappointed. A dose of realism is not in itself a bad thing, but don't let it hold you back.
Instead, use your experience as a conscientious consideration; a way to prepare for what that dream will look like in its real world manifestation. We can all do things to prepare ourselves for change; if it's business, do your homework and number-crunching. If it's a relationship, have those critical conversations, be honest with your partner. As you work through these preparation steps, you're already making change happen! Remember you're not choosing between your current reality and a daydream, you're choosing between your current reality and the grounded goal of an even better reality.
(4) Build your support network
I've said this before -- it's really one of my mantras -- that success is never a one-woman show. Enlist the support of those who will be there for you. Also, build a support network of people who do that thing you aspire to. If, for example, it's starting your own business, talk to other people who did the same thing under similar circumstances. If it's embarking on a new relationship, talk to people whose relationship you admire... ask for the secrets to their success (it's one of my favourite questions to ask couples I admire and I'm always inspired by their answers!).
At the same time, limit your exposure to those voices of dissent. People who are themselves feeling "stuck" may feel threatened by the fact that you're embracing change. Know when certain relationships are holding you back from what you want. It's okay to step away from unsupportive people and reserve your emotional energy for embarking on your new adventure.
Change can definitely be hard, but it's also necessary. If you don't initiate the kinds of changes that you dream of, you'll be pulled along by life, caught up in the tides of change that aren't of your own volition.
So, if you're feeling restless with your life today, allow yourself to explore that feeling, to puzzle out what it is that's failing to fulfill you, and then look for a solution. You don't have to rashly jump into anything -- remember, you can make small changes that are cumulative over time. But when it's time for something new, and with both eyes wide open, let yourself take that leap!