Major life and career shifts bring with them a host of nerve-wracking feelings. Whether it’s an exciting promotion or a significant setback, it’s natural to be overwhelmed by the circumstances. The anxiety can be part and parcel of being in a state of flux, but it doesn’t need to define your approach to change and how you handle it. From small rituals to embracing the in-between, we gathered insights on how to make it through times of transition from those who have been through it all.
Making a leap into uncertain circumstances wouldn’t be such a daunting step if there were a roadmap to show you the way. Brian Buirge felt the trepidation of diving into the unknown when he was about to embark on a two-month road trip with his business partner as they were preparing to launch GFDA. “The most important part of the experience was embracing the unexpected.” Waiting for the “what ifs” to materialize is the quickest way to disappointment. In Brian’s case, relishing in the unpredictability of his tour was what made it a success, and the obstacles that inevitably presented themselves pushed him beyond his comfort zone.
Stanford University Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck points out how a fear mindset can hold us back from taking risks. Failure is inevitable but still carries a heavy stigma that needs to be dispelled. Accepting that not every project or idea will be a success can give you the breathing room that lets unexpected possibilities take root and flourish.
The perspective and support of someone who knows you well can push you outside your comfort zone. Erik Rodin looked to a trusted advisor for support when striking out on his own with his company Able. “Having mentors has given me trust and confidence that no matter what I’m faced with, I’ll be okay.” A trusted sounding board can be the confidence-booster that gives you the necessary push to dive in. For Erik, his mentor’s “honest and direct” perspective is a continual source of ambition and courage.
Whether it be a promotion or a major career transition, you might get caught in the mire of working through the details of the endeavor. Take the time to step back and remember what gives you the drive to keep going. As artist Ilya Milstein points out, “That’s why working on personal projects is so crucial, to develop and expand. I’ve seen a lot of people who have fallen into the trap of doing the same thing again and again and again. They’re miserable but don’t see how they can reframe their career.”
Kursat Ozenc teaches at Stanford’s d.school, and studies the impact and value of rituals in teams. “Often thought of in a religious or spiritual context, rituals can be any series of activities that helps connect people to something bigger than what’s directly in front of them.” Setting up specific routines can be the soothing presence you need to recenter your focus daily.
Whether it’s a pro/con list, a stream-of-consciousness journal, or a running catalog of tasks, putting your thoughts and to-dos in writing can be a boon to your productivity and help you prioritize what matters. When a handful of creatives shared how they manage their to-do lists, we found that good ol’ fashioned paper is still the gold standard for getting organized. In times of upheaval or change, taking a minute away from the screen to sketch out your ideas can bring much needed clarity.
Major career upheavals come with a lot of unknowns and stretches of uncertainty. It can be tempting to make snap decisions just to feel in control. But as career coach Tina Essmaker puts it, “Being able to hang out in that state of ambiguity long enough to know what’s next for you [is important]. If you try to make a decision out of fear or a scarcity mentality, you’re probably going to make the wrong one.”
As tempting as it might be to measure your progress against others in your industry, it is ultimately debilitating. Artist Lisa Congdon found herself starting on an entirely new path in her early 30s, having been through a personal upheaval and finding herself with a whole new set of questions to answer. The transition was difficult but remembering that there is room for everyone helped her through the process. As she said, “Just because someone else you admire has some amazing accomplishment doesn’t mean that your work has any less value, or that your path is any less significant.”
Author and podcast host Julia Bainbridge’s career has been defined by exploring human interconnectedness and loneliness. She hosts a podcast that examines how technology has worked to distance us from each other and what the effects of that distance are on our relationships and lives. Introverts or extroverts, we humans are social creatures who need to reach out every so often to feel necessary connection, especially during times when everything is in flux.
Bainbridge also acknowledges that time spent alone can be necessary and healing, and work as a jolt to your creativity. As she says, “I am my most creative in moments when I am alone — when I’m on a quiet walk, not listening to anything on my iPhone. That’s when I come up with ideas.” If you’re struggling with big life changes, it’s worth taking a time-out with only yourself for company.