How to manage personal change
Here I am trying to offer insight into everything change, while simultaneously going through a significant change of my own: setting up a business. To say that it is not easy would be a gross understatement. I thought that the biggest hurdle I would face would be actually doing the coaching. But coaching, the actual nuts and bolts of what I do, is the easy bit, because it’s familiar and pleasurable and enthusing. The other bits... ooof!
I am having to learn so much about how to run an online business that while some of it is interesting and fun, it is also really challenging. I thought I knew about business, but this is a whole new frontier, so I’ll tell you about the things I’ve been doing to try to hold my nerve. Some of these are handy coaching tools that can really help when you feel uncertain, anxious or overwhelmed by change.
Hold Your Nerve
The first thing I do when I get the jitters is thinking back over my life to remember times when I have felt similarly and appraising what happened then. This helps to keep some of the worst fears at bay, and gives me evidence that things are more likely to turn out well than badly. It helps me to hold my nerve.
My first example was leaving my full-time senior job to become freelance. Oh, boy, did I struggle at the beginning. I worked a busy four-month notice period before leaving my job, and I hadn't prepared to be freelance because I didn't have the time to line anything up. I did save money to tide me over for three months. So, I had a three month deadline to find enough clients to make a subsistence income.
I’m a motivated sort of a person, so doing the work wasn’t hard. For me, the thing that was most difficult was the uncertainty, the unpredictability, and the anxiety all that caused. In fact, the whole thing kick started a long period of serious anxiety issues. But, in fact, I managed to get a few contracts by the end of the three-month period and built a diverse and lucrative portfolio of work after that.
The next similar challenge was doing a masters degree in political theory almost fifteen years after finishing my undergraduate degree in drama. Well, that was an hilarious moment of hubris. Arts degrees and philosophy degrees require a very different way of thinking. I had forgotten so much about the rules of academic work that I totally bollocksed up the bibliography on my first essay submission. One of my first classes was on meta-philosophy (how one does philosophy and the methods employed), and it was all so alien and confusing that I frequently stood outside the building close to tears afterwards, thinking that I would never grasp it.
But, in the end I started to understand (I'm underplaying this a bit - I started to do well), and I got accepted on a PhD programme, so I can’t have been all that bad. It's just that those early moments when you are clueless and vulnerable can be excruciating. A couple of semesters ago when I was teaching at the university I had a student from the music department that wanted to take a second year political theory elective – I warned her that it might well mess with her world-view, her ego, her very sense of self. She was a lovely, determined, smart person... but, sure enough, it did all of those things. Just goes to show that learning something new challenges more than your understanding.
So, here I am again. Taking a risk, learning something new, finding it scary. Wondering if I’ll ever get the hang of it. And what I have to conclude based on past evidence is that, yes, I will get through this tough period of uncertainty, and through perseverance I will make it work for me.
Look to Others
The second thing that has helped me at this time has been seeking out others with similar experiences. All I really want to hear is “I was in the same position, and it worked out in the way that I wanted it to”. I just need that reassurance. I have never been all that good at actually asking for help, but I am good at research, and finding out how other people have gone about things that I need support with. Podcasts and Instagram (of all places) have been very helpful (well, they have been as helpful as they have been unhelpful).
Choose Your Sources Wisely
The third thing that has helped is being discerning about who I listen to. I get quite disheartened when I stumble across get rich quick gurus (that also call themselves coaches – which they are not), who sell the idea of minimal work for a seven-figure reward. And sure, wouldn’t that be nice, but actually in this regard I practice what I preach. I am not looking for abundant material riches, but rather work that I enjoy, believe in, am motivated by, and that chimes with my deeply held values and beliefs. So, I am being disciplined about tuning out the noise, by reading, listening to, and following like-minded people. The unfollow button is my friend.
Finally, I manage my expectations. Through research and exploration I examine what is most likely to work, and what is most efficient when starting an online business. I remind myself that by doing the work to a high standard, the business will start to become more visible and productive. This is the toughest one to achieve, but as in all things time & effort & dogged perseverance = reward (probably!).
If you are experiencing change of any kind these kinds of approaches can be helpful. Even for the lock-down scenario.
The mental check list for managing change:
1. Ask yourself have I ever felt similarly to how I feel now?
Well, of course, none of us have experienced anything quite like a lockdown before (current time of writing is mid-pandemic). But we will have felt some of the same emotions like uncertainty, and fear and frustration. As humans we are endlessly emotionally resourceful, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of this. In all situations we will have some experience that will provide useful insight into how to manage our current predicaments.
2. Seek support from others with similar experiences so that you feel less alone and can see that others have trodden a similar path, had the same anxieties and doubts, and yet have made a success of it. If they can do it, then there is no reason to believe that you are any less resourceful or capable. You can do it too.
3. Choose the voices that you allow into your psyche. It is no good becoming disheartened because you are setting your benchmark according to those with whom you have few shared values. Be clear on who you are and what you want, and keep your company accordingly.
4. Manage your expectations. Be realistic, be kind to yourself, do what you reasonably can do not what you think you ought to do. Good things will come.