When you lead an unorthodox, rootless and global life, things are often changing quite fundamentally. Today I’m looking out onto the ocean from my familiar garden chair and drinking my morning coffee from my cheerfully pink mug. Yet in a few days I won’t be here anymore. One adventure, one period of my life is ending, and it’s hard for me to process it.
When changing the course of our lives, what is the appropriate tempo? When do we consider ourselves successful, and when is it considered a failure if we return to do the same things we did before? Is a few months considered a failure, is two years safe from self ridicule when turning around and coming back?
When are we successful with change?
I had an interesting conversation with a fellow life-changer, someone who left her corporate job to do something different, only to realize that maybe some changes in life need a bit more time. We often see others making decisions about their lives, making changes that seem sudden and rash even, making big changes with very little preparation time.
What we tend to forget is that often every single change in life takes time. It takes YEARS.
Take my divorce for an example.
From the time I started having first doubts, until I moved out the first time, one and a half years went by. Almost two years of processing the information, challenging the emotions and feelings, trying to do something different, going to therapy, until the time came that I moved out. Only to move back in after 4 months.
Did that stop my process? Not really. Was that a failure on my part? I don’t think so.
When I finally left 1.5 years after my first try, it was final. I was ready for the next phase of my life. This change took five years, not to mention the time of healing afterwards. Was it fast or slow? For me it does not really matter. It was my process, and it slowly got me to the place where I needed to be. To the outsiders my change might have seem rapid, because they only witnessed the last months, the execution. To some wanting to do the same step, five years may seem like an epic journey not even worthy of starting. But once on the other side, time no longer matters.
Two step, one step, tango!
With big changes, it’s hard to know our limits. It’s hard to predict what will actually make us happy, what will scare us, where are our limits are and what actually matters. Often the need for a big change will come from a place of suffering of some sort. You are in a bad place with your work, with your relationship, with your life, and you just want OUT. We may behave irrational, we may want drastic change just to feel the change. When you are in a bad job, infinite freedom may sound like the perfect answer. But it may not be what you really need, at least, not all at once.
Going after your dreams can also happen too fast. You make drastic changes because there is a need to move forward, a need to get out. You make a leap, your nose is pressed against the outer edges of your comfort zone, and you push forward. Some of us find this exhilarating, some of us cannot keep pushing for long without going crazy. And it’s OK. Life cannot be all about pushing and breaking boundaries.
Is it then so bad to take a step back, re-trace your steps to the last point when you felt comfortable, and regroup? Take a breath, assess the situation again, and explore what you have learned about yourself during those moments of expansion. Because something truly unique and valuable happened to you! Then from there, when the panic and irrational fear of all things new subside, something will grow again.
The process does not end, the changes and effort made is not done in vain. It was not a mistake just because you have to take a breath in between.
We don’t have to continuously press our nose against the outer edges of our comfort zone, making it bigger and bigger every day. This is not sustainable living. The beauty is, that our comfort zone will get bigger when we stretch it, and it will stay there even though we take a step back. Leaving even just a little bit space between you and the outer edge helps.
The first time will often be terrifying with any big change. Try it out, explore, and then take a step back. Repeat and repeat until safety gets a new meaning. This is how children lean to explore – little by little, always running back to the safety of the mother in between.
They are not failing, they are exploring. They are discovering the world outside, and the world within. It’s a beautiful dance of life that never ends.