Updated: Aug 19
I recently left my university job to start my own business. It had great healthcare benefits, steady income, decent annual and sick leave, and some flexibility. I’ve mostly been a person who is practical when it comes to making financial decisions. Logically, it didn’t make any sense for me to leave my job, to start a business. I didn’t have a part-time job as a backup. I didn’t have any savings. I was about as prepared as a June bug. I did all the things a financial advisor would cringe over.
My inner practical voice was fighting hard to be heard and I listened for a long time. The other voice, the one that was more like a whisper, was persistent. I tried so many other things to meet the needs of that whisper, thinking it needed appeased, placated. I tried going on vacations, taking time off, focusing on my mental, emotional, and physical health. I tried journaling, talking with friends, and taking up hobbies. I even tried graduate school – working toward a PhD. That little voice grew louder and louder and so eventually I had to listen to it.
I’ve experienced change in my life before, this wasn’t new, but the amount of anxiety I had taking the leap of faith was off the charts. We all experience some anxiety when it comes to big life changes (e.g. going to college, getting married, having our first child, moving, starting a new job, etc). This isn’t new, but it got me thinking about how impactful this is for so many of us and how little we acknowledge its’ power.
A few years ago there were articles written on ‘transition anxiety’ being a millennial problem and addressed issues related to entering phases of life where increased costs of higher education, food, and housing were much different than previous generations. I’m going to refer to transition anxiety being that reaction we have when big life changes occur and the associated stress.
I know very few people that really LOVE change. As a counselor and coach, it’s the thing that comes up often in sessions. And the question they are asking themselves is “do I want to keep doing the same thing that keeps me depressed, anxious, angry because it’s comfortable and known” or “do I want to take a risk and try something new, not knowing if it’ll work”. We’re trying to reconcile our relationship with the known vs unknown. We discuss the stages of change by Prochaska and DiClemente and the impetus for people taking action. For context, the stages of change or The Transtheoretical Model, have several stages and move in a circular motion, cycling from one stage to the next: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and relapse.
Pre-contemplation is when the person decides no change will occur in the foreseeable future. Why change when everything is hunky-dory? I was in this stage for several years. Working at the university, in a leadership position, I could create new programs, modify old ones, and enjoy a balance of working in a team and working independently. I wasn’t ready to make a change.
Contemplation is when someone acknowledges the problem exists, but isn’t quite ready to do anything about it. They’re weighing the pros and cons of change. For me, this stage was also several more years. I realized that while I enjoyed certain aspects on my job, I was feeling more and more frustrated with other aspects. I tried various things to “get through” the days. For example, I tried enhancing my life outside work, saying ‘no’ to work that didn’t excite me and wasn’t required, taking more time off, reframing my thoughts about the job. While these strategies helped, it became clearer that I needed to make a bigger change.
Preparation is when a person starts taking steps toward change. My preparation for making the change was more emotional and mental than anything. Intuitively, I knew this decision was going to change my life trajectory, so I knew I had to invest time into gathering information would benefit me moving forward. I watched how to build a business videos, listened to podcasts, and talked with others who’d done this before. This stage was roughly two months.
Action is the actual practice of the new behavior. The steps I took toward opening a business took a matter of a few months. There was and still is a lot of learning. At times, it felt overwhelming, and I questioned if the steps I was taking were going to get me results. This stage felt like the hardest one for me because it was ALL new.
Maintenance is sustained action; practicing the new behavior for longer than a few hours. It’s been 6 months since I made the decision to leave the university job and there have been some ups and downs, but I am maintaining this new journey. It’s exciting and terrifying all at once, but every day I take steps toward solidifying the foundation.
Relapse is the process a person might experience when they go back to old habits. I have had moments when I think “it’d be easier to find a company I can work for” and then I remember my why. It’s tempting to abandon what I’ve worked for so far because this is a journey that can feel like a roller coaster. I have yet to go back to old habits and find a job in LinkedIn.
Talking about the stages of change is important because whenever we’re trying to make change, knowing the process helps normalize the experience and it helps move us into the next stage. The change stages are part of the process and the whole point is to focus on the path toward our aspirations.
If you are going through a major life change right now and you’re wondering how to get through it, reach out to me. Let’s figure out how to move through it all with more ease. @wearelightingthepath