or how to tell everyone you know that you’ve made drastic changes to your existence in one simple blog post. Grace with a side of sarcasm. Heartfelt insight peppered with self-deprecating humor. Seems easy enough, right?
Step One: Experience a loss.
My path to significant life change began with the loss of my father in May of 2012. Everyone in their life will lose a parent. Everyone will experience some significant loss – a pet, a loved one, a career. If I look for a tipping point in my life, the proverbial line in the sand, losing my Dad is it. There is the Jessica from before that loss and the Jessica after. There is the me that kept plowing forward, head nearly buried in muck of everyday life. And there is the me after, head up, seeking, bright-eyed, bolder. Maybe your significant loss was also a parent, a friend or a dream you had to set aside. In every turn-around story, in every transformation, there is a some loss that leads one to change. Nothing is the same after, or perhaps everything is the same, but you are different.
Step Two: Begin to question everything.
Post loss, you may begin to look around you and ask yourself what I call the Talking Heads questions (via their song “Once In a Lifetime”)
“And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself-Well…How did I get here?”
How did I get here? Do I want to live here for the rest of my life? Do I want to keep living this life, they way I have always lived it? Do I want to see the world? Do I want the job I have? Do I still love running? Are these people really my friends? Add your own questions. You might already be asking yourself a list of questions like this everyday, but maybe they just come in a different form. Maybe you have inexplicable road rage on your drive to work every morning. Maybe you find yourself calling in sick when you’re not really sick. Maybe you find yourself wondering what it would be like to live in Australia (shout out to my favorite children’s book character). Maybe, like me, you wonder what it would be like to have a mild form of pneumonia – nothing life-threatening – but just enough to hospitalize you for a few days. You know, so you could have a break from the world. Yes, that’s a true story. At my busiest, I believed that a bed-rest required disease was my only true chance at relaxation.
Step Three: Try New Things
During my 2013 running injury, I discovered a love of yoga. Not just a “this is a cool new hobby” love, but a deep “this makes me the me I’ve always wanted to be” love. I needed a break from running, from literally running myself into the ground with training, and yoga was a break, but also a whole new world. I enjoyed kettle bell classes, kayaking, rock climbing and knitting during my injury period. But yoga was physical, emotional and spiritual work. Maybe you’ve felt this magnet before – a place or an activity where you lose yourself. You are absorbed in it and you lose track of time. Maybe it’s scrap-booking, maybe it’s cooking, maybe it’s writing. If you want life change to happen, you have to seek out new things. Or go back to those things that you loved, but have set aside for the sake of being a grown-up. Dig out your watercolors, throw on those ice skates, dust off a recipe book and rediscover what you loved about the you that did those things.
Step Four: Find a Mentor
This person is going to be an integral part of your change. They might be the first person in your life who stops telling you what you want to hear and tells you instead what you need to hear. They will look right into your soul and say out loud what you have been afraid to say to yourself. I’ve found that in every instance, every time I’ve needed a guide, one has arrived. Sage advice can come from a book, a stranger, a blog reader or Mother Nature. At some point, you’re going to need some outside validation of what you are thinking but are too afraid to say. The mentor will validate your thoughts and, perhaps, give you the swift kick in the pants that you need to move on. The critical part here is that you, at some point, speak your truth out loud. Start with the mirror, say it in the shower or write it down in your journal. What are you hoping for? What are you dreaming of? I’ve been blessed with mentors, major and minor, who have given me the courage to change. They helped to shine a light on the path that I couldn’t see, which leads me to……..
Step Five: Be Fearless for 5 Seconds
…..and do the one thing you’ve been wanting to do. Think about it – you’re going to start running to train for marathon. It takes less than 5 seconds to click the button to register for the race. Want to go skydiving? It will take less than 5 seconds to lean forward and jump from the plane (or so I hope). Make a new friend? 5 seconds to say hello for the first time.
Or, in my case, it took me less than 5 fearless seconds to make the phone call to quit my job. That is a terrifying thing to type, but it’s the truth. I’ve left my teaching job and am seeking a new career. 2012 Jessica would have stayed, would have worked for another year or five, surviving while praying for a light case of pneumonia and a brief hospital stay. 2014 Jessica couldn’t do it. This decision was agonizing, painful, and included weeks of self-doubt, worry, tears and wavering. I’m here now, on the other side of my choice and I still have the worry, I still have the some of the self-doubt, but I also have an enormous amount of hope and excitement at the prospect of a career change.
During my yoga teacher training, my class mates and I were each given a river stone during one afternoon of instruction. I was perturbed when I realized that everyone else’s stone had a carving on it, a little symbol that they could take to heart and later find the meaning of in a small book. Imagine me, on my yoga mat, in a beautiful, sun-lit studio, staring angrily at a blank stone for an afternoon. What the hell? I turned it over a few times, convinced I had missed something. What did the woman next to me get? A bird? That was lovely. I got NOTHING. A stupid blank rock. It taunted me during my learning and practice that day. Finally, when given a break and a chance to look up the meaning of the symbols I proclaimed “Mine has no symbol!” My yoga teacher, bless her everlasting patience with me, nodded, wisdom shining like mischief in her eyes. Here’s what the little book said:
“You already know what you need. It is up to you to create the image you want and need to help you move forward. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and slowly exhale. Go beyond the clutter and chatter of your mind. Relax in to the depth of inner knowing and enter the place where the fountain of wisdom and self-knowledge lies. You already know what you need even if it is not what you want. Surrender your resistance.”
I copied those words in to my journal that day. I reread them 817 times between then and the day I called to quit my job. Like I said, mentors come in many forms-who knew a blank rock could say so much? Or that life could change in just five easy steps.