Choosing Change: Why don’t I feel happier (yet)?
Change and transition is a funny old business. It can be difficult to commit to and enact a change in the first place. And once the change is made, however much you wanted it, however positive it is, it can be really unsettling.
One of my clients has experienced a lot of changes in the past year: she got engaged, sold her house, moved towns to live with her boyfriend, took voluntary redundancy from a job that she found stifling, worked a temp role, and finally landed her dream stretch job with the exact kind of colleagues she wanted to work with and the level of responsibility and remuneration she wants and deserves. All of these are positive changes for her, ones that she wanted to make. And all of this during the Covid pandemic. But she has still sometimes felt like she is not doing enough.
Change Coaching With Lou
I’ve been working with this client, let’s call her Lou, off and on for over 12 years. So I know that over the past few years she has been through some massive personal and professional growth. Lou is one of those people that is really conscientious and considered. She cares deeply about her staff, she always wants to work in the most inclusive and progressive ways possible, she’s inordinately competent. But like many women I’ve worked with (and I can hold my own hand up to being guilty of this myself on numerous – ok probably all - occasions) she has often fallen into the trap of thinking that in order to take on a new challenge, she already has to be expert in all areas of a job. So over the years she’s made a couple of sideways moves when she could have made more exciting and fulfilling changes.
Lou’s old job was driving her bananas because despite having a specific remit and responsibilities that required quick decision making, every decision she made had to go through about ten different people, often people that were unfamiliar with the intricacies and urgencies of her job. She couldn’t do much to influence this because the organisation she worked for was a monolithic and slow-moving machine with strict and arbitrary hierarchies.
In coaching Lou wanted to examine three things and get an answer to these questions: 1.was the job the problem? 2. Was she the problem? 3. Did she need to take a drastic change in the direction of her career?
Initially what Lou thought she ought to do was extra training and certification so that she would be qualified to take a step towards a more challenging and autonomous role. I challenged her on this, because she was already very well qualified. More training and personal development was a tactic she had employed previously when she was dissatisfied, but this resulted in some lateral moves, because by the time she got into a new job it couldn’t provide enough challenge (something that is of significant importance to Lou).
Instead we worked a lot on getting her clear on what she has to offer potential employers in terms of experience and skills. And we worked a lot on what she wanted and didn’t want. We investigated what she thought her ideal work environment would be based on the positives and negatives of previous work-places; what she wanted from her day to day responsibilities; what represented challenge and motivation; what a progression path could look like; the kinds of people she likes working with; what really motivates her; what is really of value to her personally and professionally.
It turned out that the problem was neither Lou, nor her career choice. Instead there was a mismatch between Lou’s values and the conservative bureaucratic environment she was working in. The daily grind and frustrations were making her feel pretty flat and undervalued. She liked her team and the management aspects of her job, but the organisation lacked the dynamism she craved. She wanted to stay within her area of expertise but within a more progressive and proactive company. What was clear was that she already had the skills and experience to get a job more suited to her, but that the thought of pursuing this made her feel vulnerable.
Making a Change
Within months of taking voluntary severance (a risk, no doubt, but one that at least offered a financial cushion*) Lou got a job that fulfilled all the criteria she had set out months beforehand.
But then, despite being in her ideal job, in the first few weeks she still felt uneasy, with a nagging sense that she was not doing enough. Lou couldn’t understand why she wasn’t happier “I don’t know why I’m always like this” she said.
The answer is simply: because change can be very challenging even when we get exactly what we want. Lou is certainly not alone in feeling uneasy about, or not yet fulfilled, after major change. A much-desired life transition (going to university, moving home, landing a dream job, starting a family, moving in with a partner or spouse) can still require significant and unforeseen adjustments.
I often see clients failing to recognise the magnitude of the changes they have made, and failing to allow themselves the mental and emotional time and space to adjust. They think that they are somehow unappreciative, or that taking on the challenge of change may have been a mistake. To this I counsel that they need to go easy on themselves and take some time to adjust.
The benefits of Lou’s change soon started to outweigh the discomfort of its disruption.
Why we sometimes find the change we craved hard
It’s worth remembering that it is completely normal to feel out of sorts even after the most carefully planned and desired change. This is because all change requires a period of integration. The more that a change impacts your routines, your sense of self, your roles, and your assumptions, the longer it will take to feel fully comfortable again.
It’s also normal that a particular change for one person could be hugely challenging, yet that someone else might take the same change in their stride. And there are a lot of reasons why this may be the case.
The pre-emptive part of change – the contemplation, the doing to make things happen, the preoccupation with what might be, is exciting and consuming. Immediately post change is a disruptive and vulnerable time. The change you made may be impacting many aspects of your life making you feel unsettled and in need of anchoring your habits, your self-concept, and your assumptions. But you will start to integrate the change into the pattern of your life, and to adapt to accommodate the change.**
But the main answer to “I don’t know why I always do this” is “because you are a human”.
What you can do to make change and transitions more comfortable
The key, after any change, is to be gentle with yourself.
While it may not be possible to make transitions smoother, you can and should recognise that you may need additional support when you are making changes and for a while after those changes have occurred. So do employ some of the following strategies:
· plan to lean on your social network
· be compassionate towards yourself and do the things that help you to relax and feel at ease
· try to take a balanced view of what is going well even if you feel that everything is going badly
· do the things that keep you grounded in who you are: keep up with hobbies and interests
· talk to trusted intimates (friends, family or partners) when things are bothering you
· modify your daily habits and routines in ways that support your comfort and wellbeing
· acknowledge the steps you have already taken and how courageous you have been
· remind yourself that once your new situation becomes familiar it will become comfortable
Summary: successful change, including elected/ chosen change, has a predictable and necessary pattern to it. It has a beginning (excitement, preoccupation) a middle (vulnerability, disruption, discomfort) and an end (integration).
It is a normal reaction to major life transitions to feel out of sorts for a while, however much the change coheres with who you are and what you want. The benefit of a chosen change is that you can rehearse and plan for the change to make the transition less jarring.
Click on one of the posts below for more on how change works.
If you are interested in reading more about life transitions Nancy Schlossberg, a former professor of counselling psychology writes beautifully clear self-help books and articles on the topic of life changes. Find her here: I particularly enjoyed Overwhelmed, 2nd Edition: Coping with Life’s Ups and Downs, 2007 which offers a simple over-view of transition, why it can be challenging and how to cope.
While books can be helpful, there is nothing quite like working with a coach to get to understand your particular situation and devise a change plan that is right for you. If you are interested in finding out more about coaching with me, book a free twenty-minute chemistry call by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
*It can be tempting to think that simply leaving a job will solve a problem, but this is always risky, so it requires careful forethought and consideration.
**As a side note and in-keeping with the current shared experiences of millions of us, a pandemic and all the measures that we have to take to keep each other safe, is a particularly challenging time to make changes in our lives, because usual support systems, habits and assumptions about the world are compromised.