Having the Urge to Make a Big Life Change? Consider These 3 Things

by Annemarie Estess

I had a phone call the other day with a new client. A creative and accomplished lawyer looking thoughtfully at his next steps professionally and personally. When I asked him to boil down why he wants to work with a coach, his reply:

“In the back of my head, I’m constantly unsure about whether I’m in the right place. Work-wise and life-wise. What else is out there that might be a better fit? Where do I even begin to figure that out?”

His statement hit a familiar theme. He plainly voiced that rumbling-yet-vague urge for a ‘big change’. We recognize it well from working with 20-and-30-something clients as they contemplate pivotal transitions, and from considering such changes in our own lives.

Left ignored and unexplored, this rumble can breed more angst and headaches than actual change. It creates an off sense that something needs to be different, without knowing why, in which ways, or where the hell to start.

That vague yearning for big change often leaves us swinging between two extremes:

The fantasy of Change Everything! Fresh slate. ‘Better’ circumstances. Different self. Transforming the whole deal.

The default of Change Nothing. Too overwhelming. Too confusing. Don’t rock the boat. Deal with it later.

We can stay in this analytical suspension between Change Everything and Change Nothing for months, even years. Looking over at grass-is-greener scenarios, and then either consciously choosing to stay the course or, quite often, plopping our heads in the sand and avoiding the matter altogether. It makes sense that we default here; the risk and ambiguity of change, even dreamy change, is an unsettling state to face.


How do we know when it’s right to initiate big change?

There are times when it’s right to swing for Changing Everything. Shaking up circumstances and lifestyle in a big way.

Or, the shake-up happens for us, due to any number of life curveballs we didn’t arrange into the plan.

At other times the allure of Changing Everything is a mirage. We long for a different set of circumstances – new place, new job, new partner, new team – to solve a deeper need or drive that is going unanswered in us.

Only you can ultimately know the type and scale of change you’re seeking. Wise mentors and bosses and family can only provide their best-intended guidance. Some of the advice and perspective will fit, some will not.

Which, by the way, is why coaching provides a unique type of thought partnership. It keeps the focus on helping you cultivate awareness of self, others, and situations, then strategize and make your decisions accordingly.

So . . . how can you address the urge for big change with a little less freak-out and a little more focus?

Navigating that question deserves to start by chilling out and laying some groundwork. Try beginning with these 3 practices:

  • Chill Out & Let Go of the Need to Know RIGHT NOW. See what happens when you get quiet and let the questions bake. Focus one whole month on simply slowing down and loosening the grip on needing to figure it all out asap. How? Keep it easy. Take a daily walk or quiet seat outside, without phone or company. Just open space to hang out with yourself and a view. This is intentional, as sweeping landscapes and horizons help us access a more expansive perspective of ourselves and the bigger picture. This level of quiet may not sound tempting – even straight-up unappealing – but it’s incredible what we learn about ourselves when we remove the noise and the pressure to figure it all out today.

  • Notice Where You Have Enough. What is good and plenty, right here, right now? Savor that, and feel the sense of thanks wash through you. This helps reveal the elements of our lives that do matter to us. Things that once we remember to appreciate them, don’t seem to need a big overhaul at the moment. We also get clearer about things that we want to cultivate even more of going forward.
  • Peek Beneath the Circumstances. Dig underneath the promise of the big change. What would it really be on behalf of? What would ideally get better? There’s something in the promise of big change that matters, that reflects our values. Does the big change tempt you because it’s promising more . . . Flexibility? Creativity? Adventure? Love? Security? Passion? Any number of values might be in the mix for you here. Unpack this, and don’t do it alone.
    Invite in a few confidants who can keep their agenda out of the mix. (Exhibit A: a coach, along with 2-3 friends or mentors who can listen openly and serve as sounding boards.) Ask them to help you notice themes running under the surface as you sound out potential options.

Exploring big change is a process filled with healthy tension. It is not about ‘burning the house down’ today. It is simultaneously not about ignoring your instinct to evolve in important ways. It is an uncomfortable time of living with unanswered questions.

Until one day, the answers come.

The primary adjustment many of us need to make is to slow down our busy brains more regularly. To release the analytical overwhelm long enough to reconnect with our core senses. And to hold ourselves as the artist – not the bystander  – in the process of leading dynamic and full lives.

We want to hear from you!

Have a tricky work situation? Want our perspective? Ask 20 Rock to be considered for our leadership support column: hello@20-rock.com