Making a life-changing decision right now? Read this
The moment you make a decision to commit to a change, the fabric of your reality and existence alters forever. The different weaves that start to thread through your life may be subtle and barely visible, or the weft and warp may create entirely new and varied textures, colours and patterns.
Turning points in life are challenging because they force you to contemplate the deeper questions that are often swept aside in the rush of day-to-day life.
Knowing this, we often delay making decisions when at a crossroads because we hesitate about which is the better path. Alternatively, we may not clearly identify that a turning point awaits until chronic feelings of being stuck, depressed, unfulfilled, disconnected, dissatisfied or caught in an endless holding pattern slowly bring us to the realisation that something big needs to shift.
Either way, turning points in life are challenging because they force you to contemplate the deeper questions that are often swept aside in the rush of day-to-day life. These range from practical queries about the implications of the change — Where will I live? How will I support myself? — to the philosophical: Will this help me to live more authentically? What do I need in life in order to be more spiritual, whole or connected?
To help you achieve more clarity when answering these questions and mapping the best future course, here are some valuable strategies:
- Identify your roadblocks. Be completely honest with yourself about what’s stopping you jumping in and embracing the change. Is it fear that you’re yet not up to handling the promotion, sticking to that alkaline eating plan or becoming a parent? Once you’ve identified any emotional roadblocks, work on challenging them. Change your self-talk so it’s less critical and more affirming; remind yourself that change prevents stagnation and boredom; note the skills you already possess to help you deal with any drawbacks related to the change. Then you won’t miss out on opportunities involving change such as applying for a new job or taking the plunge into a new relationship simply because you’re afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone.
- Consider all your options. List them in order of preference (from the top of your wish list to the bottom). Beside each one, write the pros and cons of making each different decision.
- Take a break. Take a few days of sick leave or get away for the weekend and discuss or contemplate the decision, or simply allow yourself the time and space to relax. Unending busyness can make you feel so disconnected you don’t know what you want or need to feel happy.
- Try a trial run. Considering starting a family? Care for a friend’s children for the weekend. Thinking about buying a house? Spend a few months sticking to the budget you would need to live on. This will give you a taste of what lies ahead.
Some turning points in life aren’t signposted when they occur: you meet someone who ends up becoming your life partner or lose a loved one and soon realise it has completely changed all your priorities in life. When you’re faced with major turning points and choosing your path consciously, however, it can help to make important enquiries of yourself that prompt you to contemplate the change from different angles. Asking the questions below can help you navigate four common life-changing decisions.
Finding a more fulfilling career
From time to time, we all find ourselves idling in a career cul-de-sac. Sometimes the catalyst is unmistakable: you’ve been overlooked for promotion or your company has downsizing policies that have crippled your chances of advancing your career. But, in many cases, job dissatisfaction is not signposted with an obvious cause. On the one hand, you may kind of like what you do; on the other, you perpetually regale your friends with tales of your workplace woes.
Before you can defeat your job malaise, you need to clearly diagnose the cause.
Questions to consider
- How does my job look after an honest audit?
Assess what impact it has on your stress levels, identity, sense of purpose and leisure time. Then, truthfully note the following:
- Which areas of your job do you find the most satisfying?
- Which areas of your job do you find difficult and why?
- Is your job a good fit with your values and beliefs?
- Are your colleagues and work environment supportive or a little toxic?
- Are your contributions at work being noticed and valued?
- What are my true passions in life?
Write a list of passions and look at jobs that might fit better with them than your current position. Do an internship or some volunteer work at an organisation you think might interest you. Drop your résumé off at their human resources department.
- How can I better direct my career path?
Fulfilling careers are nurtured and managed. So pursue further training, other positions or different organisations that fulfil your passions and draw on or further your skills to set you on the path towards a job based around your passions in life.
Committing to a relationship
Committed relationships involve intimacy, honest, open communication and give and take. Scared of navigating this emotional territory? You may feel uneasy about the prospect of becoming an exclusive couple, marrying or living with your partner full time. If singledom is your preferred choice, then obviously your choice to remain solo is an informed one. If not, check in with yourself to see if you’re looking for reasons to avoid commitment, such as looking for perfection, nitpicking, remaining aloof or blowing hot and cold.
Questions to consider
- Do I still feel the emotional scars of a previously unhappy relationship and fear getting hurt?
If so, this clearly needs to be healed. Talk about it with a counsellor or good friend. Read helpful books and look at thinking approaches that can help you move on and let go of the past such as heartfulness, mindfulness and Eastern philosophies.
- Have I had unhelpful relationships modelled for me?
If the answer is yes, use couples you admire as your new role models. Notice how they maintain independence and equality through constant communication, negotiation and acknowledgement of each other’s needs. Write your own template for a relationship with your partner based on those qualities you consider most important.
- Is my hesitation about freedom?
Remind yourself that, if you cultivate a strong sense of your own identity and beliefs, you can find freedom and stimulation within a committed relationship without sacrificing your independence. Meanwhile, work on building togetherness by sharing your thoughts, feelings and desires with your partner on a regular basis. Avoiding commitment is no insurance policy against getting hurt now or in the future.
- How can I learn to feel safe about my relationship, instead of trying to put obstacles in its path?
Try these tactics:
- Each time you experience self-limiting beliefs that you’re not interesting/attractive/intelligent enough to keep your partner engaged, challenge those feelings.
- Remind yourself that you deserve happiness in love.
- Regularly acknowledge to yourself, your partner and others the positive, life-enhancing qualities of your partner and your relationship.
Starting a family
Is your proposed “right time” to have children constantly being shifted to “down the track” because you’re waiting for everything to fall into place first? If so, maybe you simply are not ready yet and need to wait a few more years. However, if you know your biological clocks are tick-tick-ticking, be careful about constant delays based on finances or career or both. There is never a perfect time to have a baby.
Questions to consider
- Have I lived enough life yet?
Ask if you have enjoyed enough fulfilment emotionally and spiritually to now take on a role that will require you to be completely selfless. Remember: you don’t have to tick off all your life goals by 35. Maybe you can do the trek to Nepal pre-baby and write the bestselling novel when the kids start school. Some careers actually require more maturity — so becoming a counsellor or writer in your 40s after you’ve had children may in fact help your career.
- How will we address parenting together?
Talk about this from every angle: how you would try to guide your child, how you would split taking parenting leave, what schools you might like to consider, whether you would prefer having a bigger backyard. Discussing the finer points about parenting will help ensure you’re on the same page.
- What are my biggest parenting fears?
Write a list then talk to other parents about how they handled those issues such as tiredness, fear of having to be more grown up and worries about having little patience for a child’s tantrums or tears.
- Are there fertility issues that should sway my decision?
Fertility does drop in our 30s and even more so in our 40s. Also bear in mind that, if you delay starting a family and discover a health problem such as endometriosis or issues with your partner’s sperm, you will have less time to play with to seek treatment.
Downsizing to a slower life
Do you long to stop sprinting through your life? Then you may be contemplating a substantial downsize. The Slow Movement is the antidote to our epidemic of being time-poor. Revered Canadian Slow Movement ambassador Carl Honoré describes the movement as “a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. It is about savouring the hours and minutes rather than counting them. It is about quality over quantity in everything and has become a universal label to explain the benefits of doing everything at the right speed, from sex, work and education to exercise.”
As the Slow Movement has gained momentum and appeal, it has been applied to all aspects of living, from slow Travel (think low-impact, eco, hiking trips etc) and slow money (raising funds for slow enterprises) to slow fashion (choosing vintage, sustainable etc) and slow parenting (prioritising daydreaming and play rather than enrolling kids in constant after-school activities). Could it prove the change in life that you need and crave?
Questions to consider
- Is my job the major obstacle to living more slowly?
If not, you might just need some stress management strategies from a self-help book, counselling or priority (and attitude) changes.
If your job is the problem, consider:
- A sabbatical. You may think you’re tired of the whole industry you’re in when, in fact, you only need to have a break or relocate to a new organisation.
- A different work mix. Consider going part time, job sharing or freelancing. To do this, you may have to downscale by moving to a smaller house to ensure you have enough money to get by.
- What smaller changes can I make to give me some quick “slow relief” as soon as possible?
Carl Honoré suggests these go-slow strategies:
- Downsize your calendar
- Question your inner speed demon
- Take up a slow hobby
- Stop clock-watching
- Rediscover the joys of the slow table
- Take a walk
- Consider an alternative approach to your health
- Turn off electronic devices
- Engage in slow leisure activities and holidays
- What daily changes can I make to live more mindfully and slowly in the long term?
Although some people relocate to the country or seaside or leave high-flying jobs to change the pace of their lives, the Slow Movement does not require opting out. You can live in the city and still live more slowly by:
- Thinking one thought at a time
- Giving yourself permission to stop
- Passing on perfection
- Avoiding tight schedules in your downtime
- Embracing stillness through practices like meditation, yoga and contemplative walking
Afraid of change?
Navigating the territory of a turning point can lead you to seesaw between decisions or feel you’re unsure of what you need and want. Change can be scary. To help you assess whether you feel this change is the right choice, try these tips:
- Break it down. Divide the change into small goals and steps and you will soon see if it is manageable.
- Think back. Recognise that your life has involved constant change, such as leaving Home and starting a career/university, and each change brought great new challenges which have helped you thrive and grow.
- Confront irrational thoughts. Ask questions such as:
- What is the evidence for my fear (eg what’s the likelihood the thing I fear will actually happen?)?
- Why am I so afraid of this change (eg stressed, set in my ways, upbringing)?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen (eg I don’t like the change and need to try something else so I need to have a backup plan)?
- Seek support. Ask friends and family to be your cheerleaders through the change so you feel supported and safe.
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