The Unfulfilled Change
If a change that you were expecting doesn’t happen, this is an unfulfilled change.
When you have been planning, dreaming, imagining, preparing, rehearsing for a thing and the thing doesn’t happen you will need to draw on the same kinds of resources that you do when you make a conscious and deliberate change.
The first time an unfulfilled change happened to me I was seventeen. I had applied for university – the kinds of universities that wanted good A’ Level results – but one of my teachers had provided a bad reference and a low predicted grade. (As an adult it confounds me that the guy’s personal dislike of me influenced his professional judgement like it did, as a child I thought it was some sort of a reflection on me).
I got a much higher grade than he predicted, but by that point I had been rejected for seven of the eight courses I applied for. And the one I was offered was one that I’d chosen in a hurry as a filler. A good course, but not one that I wanted to do.
What strikes me is that even now, many years later and way past the point where this has any relevance to my life, I feel that I have to justify this thing that I had no influence over. The whole episode knocked my confidence for years. I decided to delay going to university so that I could apply a second time with my actual grades. But that meant a hurried decision about what to do with my year off, my spirits crushed, my confidence in tatters.
At that point in my life I didn’t really have the resources to make the most out of the change. To all intents and purposes the year was a bit of a write off. I didn’t struggle to get my first pick of courses second time round, but in my mind I was not worthy, I was an imposter. That stayed with me.
The resources you need after an unfulfilled change
This kind of thing happens all the time – you don’t get the job you want, you find out that you can’t have a longed for family, the wedding you dreamed of is called off, you are gazumped on your dream home. And a number of factors influence how you will cope.
I was particularly vulnerable, and very young when this particular plan of mine was blown off course. I did have one great resource which was my own perseverance, tenacity, and desire. But I wish I’d had a few more resources to smooth the journey and help me to cope with the disappointment.
The coping strategies needed are ones that modify the situation; those that control the meaning of the problem; and those that help you to manage stress in the aftermath.
Coping factors for unfulfilled change
1. Your perception of the context of change
When I work with clients, I find that the most important part of a change process is their perception of the context of an unfulfilled change, and the story that they construct around the unfulfilled change.
So if a client is changing career, and they have applied for several jobs that they haven’t got, their resilience and desire to carry on is impacted by the way that they perceive the situation.
If a client is able to think that failure to secure roles is part of a broader process of change, learning and experimentation, they will be more tenacious and resilient than someone who thinks that they are simply undesirable for the roles they are applying for.
If the story is that each failed interview is an opportunity for information gathering, learning and feedback, failing an interview has positives as well as negatives. Whereas seeing a failed interview as proof that you aren’t right for the job will decrease confidence and motivation, which is entirely negative.
Further a client that views applications and interviews as an opportunity for them to scope out the new industry and companies, and not simply to try to prove their worth to those companies, will feel a positive and optimistic. Whereas the client that thinks in black and white terms. e.g. that a job interview is about acceptance or rejection rather than exploration and connection, then it is going to be much more emotionally charged and potentially painful.
Working with a coach is hugely beneficial to changing mindset and getting support with adapting the stories that you tell yourself about unfulfilled changes. There are also a few things that you can do to help yourself to do this if you tend to lean more towards a black and white approach.
Look at problems from all angles. Write down all the possible reasons that a change did not occur, both positive and negative.
Don’t take everything personally, but rather look for evidence about what you can (and should) change, and what you have done well.
Recognise that you have managed all the crises in your life to date, and will weather this one too.
In job hunting remember that the search is not one way. They are assessing your suitability AND you are assessing theirs.
2. Having a flexible and rich definition of yourself
Perhaps what was most devastating to me about my pivotal unfulfilled change was that it profoundly challenged my self-concept. I identified myself almost entirely in terms of being a good girl, an academic achiever and a model pupil. Given this I couldn’t understand my teacher’s dislike of me because I tried hard to embody those things. More than that the rejection challenged my whole sense of who I was – no longer the successful student but a reject not doing the thing I had always dreamed of doing.
This is where it is useful to have a flexible definition of oneself, one that is broad and far-reaching. I now think of myself very differently, not only in terms of the roles I take on, but also my traits and characteristic, my interests, my relationships, my skills and aptitudes.
It is unhelpful to define oneself rigidly, or to identify completely with a particular role or characteristic. Change can happen suddenly and without your input, so it is important to have a rounded sense of self.
A diversification in self-concept doesn’t take the sting out of any disappointment that arises in the moment, but it certainly diminishes the time it takes to adjust and assimilate and problem-solve. The most challenging changes are those that challenge your roles and identity.
Frequently reflect on your personal strengths back these up with evidence. Write them down. Look at them when you need reassurance.
Engage in fun hobbies
Congratulate yourself on your achievements and recognise that failure can facilitate growth
Surround yourself with people with whom you feel at ease and relaxed
3. Weighing Up Your Options
It is always better to be in full possession of the facts. If you assume that because a particular door has closed that all doors are closed you may be ignoring other options. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, sometimes a closed door is a closed door. But it will give you a sense of order and control if you are able to be flexible in your thinking, to seek information about alternatives to your unfulfilled plans, and take action. The future may not quite look as you thought it would, but it could come very close.
Figure out which elements of your unfulfilled change are out of your control, and which you can remedy.
Think in terms of what you value so that you can make adjustments that align with what you want even if they are not “perfect” (is anything ever perfect anyway?).
Seek comprehensive information
Take action towards your revised goals
4. Practicing Self Care
The term “self care” gets bandied about so often that it becomes almost meaningless. So what does it mean? Self care is paying yourself due care and attention. It is the kind of caring that you probably show to others all of the time.
Self care can be any or all of the following non exhaustive list:
Feed yourself well
Indulge yourself once in a while
Wrap yourself in a blanket when you need it
Do the things that you know cheer you up
Say kind things to yourself
Give yourself a break
Be your own cheerleader
See the best in yourself
Stand up for yourself
Do something frivolous just for the sake of it
Do something fun
Maintain the health of body and mind
Allow yourself to wallow in self pity
Self-care can stave off the more anxious responses to stressors in the first place, or it can soothe and strengthen you through stressful times. You should make caring for yourself a priority every day, not just when you are feeling out of sorts. But self-care is particularly important in times of change.
If you aren't used to doing things for yourself, have a list of self-care suggestions at the ready
Self-care isn't another item on your to do list: it's about being kind and compassionate to yourself
Choose activities that you want to do, not ones you think you ought to do
Coaching for Unfulfilled Change
A coach can be a great help with managing disappointments, and recalibrating after an unfulfilled change. So while you may think of coaches as working with you only to initiate and implement change, a good change coach can also help you to make the most out of missed opportunities, non-events and unexpected twists and turns.
Since early 2020 we have all been in a state of enforced limbo, with many plans on hold and with some dreams having fallen by the wayside. It is not clear what a new paradigm of “normal” life will look like, but certainly many of us have experienced unfulfilled change, and may continue to do so.
At a time like this, these tips are particularly useful: be flexible, tell an optimistic story, be creative in weighing up your options, take the best care of yourself. (And get a coach that can help you with all of that if you can!)
A chemistry call with Trevnee is free and will help you to figure out if coaching would be useful for you. Book one today by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.