I recently had the honour of attending the military retirement of a very close friend (almost more of a sister really). On the day of her retirement, she had served almost 21 years in the Royal Canadian Navy. A very respectable achievement to say the least. I was so pleased to be able to be there at the moment when she was celebrating the end of one chapter and readying herself to take the next step; because it’s at these moments, when we’re experiencing big life changes that truly magnificent things can happen.
It’s at these junctions in our life’s journey that we have the opportunity to explore who we really are. If we can be brave enough to let it happen.
Change can be good, but it can also be terrifying; especially when the change is forced on us by something beyond our control. My friend wasn’t really ready to go. She’d planned to stay with the Navy until mandatory retirement at age 60 (quite a few years yet for her). But life doesn’t always cooperate, and she found herself transitioning from the military back into the civilian world and a new career.
Watching her struggle with the reality that her life was changing irrevocably, it reminded me of my own departure from the military and my own battle with big life changes.
MY OWN EXPERIENCE WITH BIG LIFE CHANGES
I don’t mention it often in my blog, but I served in the regular force of the Royal Canadian Navy for seven years. It’s actually where my friend and I met. I was there at the beginning of her naval journey, and I watched her adjust to those big changes too.
We were posted to the same ship for most of my career, and we had a lot of fun together; as well as cried our share of tears on each other’s shoulders. I too had planned to be a military ‘lifer.’
I didn’t have any plans to change careers – that is until I did. Life has a funny way of messing with our plans.
As a single mom, I was finding the operational tempo of the Navy just too demanding. My son needed me to step away from that particular dream.
It wasn’t an easy transition. Nor was it the first time I’d experience big life changes (that would have been the birth of my son), but it’s on my mind now after watching my friend struggle with her own life changes.
You see, leaving the military isn’t just about changing careers; it’s a whole lifestyle change. Plus, the military is like having a second family; a family that I didn’t really belong to anymore.
Leaving the military involved multiple life changes.
WHAT DID I DO?
I wish I could say that I handled those changes gracefully, but that wasn’t the case. I held onto a lot of anger and disappointment for a very long time.
Instead of looking at those life changes as an opportunity to explore my personal potential, I resented them.
I did do things to move myself forward; I finally went to university like I’d planned to before the birth of my son, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I did it because it seemed like the thing I was supposed to do, rather than as an expression of my own dreams.
I fought the change.
Looking back, my approach probably caused me a lot more anxiety and heart break than was really necessary.
DID I LEARN ANYTHING?
The whole process wasn’t a complete loss, however. I did learn some valuable lessons about how to transition gently when faced with big life changes.And let’s be honest, knowing how to go with change, rather than fight it, is a critical life skill. Life is always throwing changes at us. Click To Tweet
My most current change is the arrival of my invisible, undiagnosed and chronic illness. By looking back at the lessons I learned from leaving the military, I can hopefully transition into my new life as a ‘spoonie’ (a term for people with chronic pain – you can learn why here ) with a bit more grace and a few less tears.
Here’s what I learned from my own life journey.Facing change? Here are some tips to make it a smooth transition. Click To Tweet
10 Tips for Handling Big Life Changes (or the little ones too)
A change is a loss, and you need time to grieve that loss.
It could be the loss of a particular identity. In the case of my friend, she lost her status as a serving member of the military. It’s going to take her a little time to let go of that identity and embrace her new one: veteran.A change is a loss, and you need time to grieve that loss. Click To Tweet
It could be the loss of a career.
Or the loss of friends, loved ones, your home or your health.
Whatever the particular loss is for you, you need time to come to terms with that loss. Give yourself room to grieve in whatever manner works for you.
We’re all familiar with the rituals that surround losing a loved one, but we’re not so versed in grieving loss of other kinds. But it’s just as important to go through the grieving process with all kinds of loss.
So take some time to say good-bye and grieve what you’re leaving behind, so you can move forward.
Give yourself time
It took time to create the life you were living before the change, so give yourself time to find your footing afterwards. The process isn’t going to happen overnight; be willing to let it happen.
This will be especially important if the change happened suddenly. The more warning you had, the more likely it is that you started thinking about what’s next. But even then, even if you had ample warning and started thinking and planning, the reality of how the change is going to impact you won’t be apparent until the change has happened.
Life changes have a tendency to surprise us; we think that things are going to go one way, and they go a completely different one. My friend had decided to go to school and retrain in a new profession, but then she was offered a job opportunity that mimicked her role in the Navy. She decided to take the job – it wasn’t something she could’ve foreseen when she was making her plans.
Be gentle with yourself, as you go through the process of assimilating the change into your life. It’s natural to flounder a bit before you find your footing.
When life changes we have the unique opportunity to try new things and explore different elements of ourselves. But, in order to do that you need to BE BRAVE and embrace new opportunities, people, places, goals, jobs – you name it.
Don’t just do the most obvious thing because it’s the easiest.
Take a chance and take a few risks.
Of course, there are going to be times when a change is so abrupt that you need to react instantly to ensure that you can still keep a roof over your head and food on your table – and that’s okay. But don’t shy away from opportunities to go a different way. It could be just what you needed.
When life throws curve balls at you, it’s okay to dodge them and take a swing at something new.
Dreams are always important; they can sustain our souls in the most mundane situations.
We don’t all get to live out our dreams. Most of us are stuck on the hamster wheel of modern life. So when big life changes hit, it’s so important to keep dreaming. That’s how you figure out what makes you the unique person you are.
Dreams are going to be what help you figure out when to be brave and try something new. They’re going to help you figure out how to live in your new reality. Which direction to go.
Use your dreams to keep spice in your life and find direction when you’re struggling with change. Your life doesn’t have to mimic your dreams to be fulfilling, but if your life can replicate the flavour of your dreams even a little, then you’ll be much more fulfilled and content.
Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of living on a tropical island where you can work from your hammock on a sandy beach (okay that might just be my dream), but you know deep down that this could never be a reality (I don’t actually handle the heat all that well). What if you could plan a vacation every year in such a place? Or perhaps you could install a hammock in your backyard and while away the occasional summer afternoon reading.
You can read about how I downsized my dream for adventure so it would fit into my actual life in Adventure Wanted: Tropical heat a must.
Dreams give spice to your life, so while you’re going through change, before you get stuck in the rut of everyday life, do some dreaming and try to incorporate it into your new normal.
When a chapter of your life is ending, it’s so easy to keep looking back and regretting what you’ve lost; this is unhealthy for your emotional well-being. No matter the reason for the change, whether it was because you wanted to make a change or because life forced it on you, it’s important to embrace your life in whatever form it is right now and reach for the future.
If you spend all your time looking back, you won’t be able to see the opportunities that are coming your way because of the life changes you’re experiencing. Every change brings with it new possibilities, but you have to be looking for them to take advantage of them.
Keep in mind that when we look back it’s usually with rose-coloured glasses. Things always look better when reminiscing than they did when they were reality.
When I get to thinking about what my career would look like right now, if I’d made the choice to stay in the military, I have to remind myself that I would’ve had to put all those years in – all that time away from my son. I only remember the great times I had and the job pride. I’ve forgotten the tears I cried every time I said good-bye to my son because my ship was sailing; not to mention his tears.
Remember to look forward as you transition, so that you can remake yourself into the best you yet.
I know that I just told you to look forward, so reminiscing might sound a bit contradictory. But it’s not healthy to cut yourself off completely from your old life. Things have changed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look back at the old way with fondness.
It’s good to look back and remember things with fondness, as long as you aren’t stuck in the past, refusing to let the past go. Preventing your new life from taking root.
Memories are special and should be honoured; so as you charge ahead with the new you, it’s good to take time to revisit the past and smile with nostalgia at the good times.
It isn’t about mourning your glory days; it’s about celebrating your history.
Try new things
Change means disruption. So, while your life is being shaken up, take the opportunity to try some new things. You just might find some things that are a perfect fit for you and your new life; things you had no idea you’d like. Stretch yourself.
If you’ve moved, you can try new restaurants or go to community events.
If you’ve left your job, take some courses.
If you’ve gotten a divorce, meet some new people or join some clubs.
Change, even good change, is very chaotic and can cause a lot of stress, but it’s also the perfect time to expand your horizons and learn something new about yourself.
When change hits, you might be tempted to hold everything up to the measure of your previous life. I caution against this. As I talked about earlier, things usually look better when you look back at them than they were at the time. It’s like childbirth, women tend to forget how really terrible the pain was or, let’s be honest, they wouldn’t have more than one child.
So be extra careful to not compare your new reality to your old one. Your new situation will have its own merits and its own problems, just as your previous situation did.If you’re constantly looking back and comparing, you’ll never settle into the changes. Click To Tweet
Be gentle with yourself
Change is hard. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be so many blogs posts out there about how to deal with it.
12 Ways to Deal with Major Life Change on Purposefairy.com
How to Handle Major Life Changes Like a Spiritual Warrior on Mindbodygreen.com
4 Ways to Deal with Big Life Changes on lifehack.org
So be gentle with yourself as you navigate through the changes.
If you get emotional – that’s okay.
If you have trouble making decisions because it seems like too much – that’s okay.
If you aren’t ready to let pieces of your old life go – that’s okay.
Let yourself grieve.
Let yourself adjust.
Let yourself flounder.
You’ll get there.When life changes: Let yourself grieve. Let yourself adjust. Let yourself flounder. You'll get there. Click To Tweet
While you’re trying to adapt to your life changes, take some time to take care of yourself. Do some self-care.
Remember, you’ve gone through change before, and you’ll come through this too at your own pace.
Be in the moment
Last but not least, try to stay in the moment. Don’t spend all your time looking back and regretting what once was or looking forward and planning your future. You’re still living right now, even in the chaos of the change.
Make it about the journey not just the destination.
Embrace the change and be present to see it unfold.
Not sure how to get started? Don’t have the time to take on one more things? Checkout 5 Ways to Practice Mindfulness When You Don’t Have Time to Meditate by Beginbettertoday.com
WHAT ABOUT MY FRIEND?
My friend is still in the midst of her life changes. She’s still working on letting go of her old identity and embracing her new one. I wish I was closer, so that I could be there to ‘hold her hand’ while she navigates her new course. But since I’m not, I’m hoping my tips for handling life changes will help her on her journey.
Have you gone through some big life changes? How did you weather the transition? You can tell your story and leave your tips in the comments below.
This is for my friend who is facing some very big change – not her biggest – but challenging all the same! I know she has the strength and talent to master her new life 🙂 .
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