Life Coach Tal Fagin reflects on her own struggle as she helps a reader who is having difficulty navigating a perfect storm of family issues, career developments, and an injury.
Around this time last year, I got my first puppy. I was immediately smitten with my furry, little 10-pound bundle of cuteness, but I was also a bit thrown. And by “a bit thrown,” I mean completely rattled. Let’s just say, those early weeks were not exactly what I had expected.
At around the same time, I received a note from a reader seeking advice on how to navigate difficult life transitions. Lost in Transition found herself “struggling” and “jolted” by a series of recent changes. She described a “perfect storm” of family issues, career developments, and an injury, all of which had left her “frustrated and flailing,” unable to “regain her footing.”
She felt troubled that, despite her usual resilience and resourcefulness, she just couldn’t find her rhythm. Instead, she was feeling “short-tempered and irritable, snapping at everyone…and unfairly annoyed at the world.”
As was I!
As is so often the case in coaching, specific struggles lend themselves to universal lessons. The query helped me crystalize my own sense of frustration in those early, sleepless days of puppy-love, and to admit that I had been pretty testy myself. It helped me to see that I was a little lost in transition, as well, and it motivated me to devise a plan.
I am thrilled to report that one year later, I dutifully took all of my own advice, and my family and I are all much better off for it. More importantly, there has been a lot of growth around here. My pup has grown to an impressive 70 lbs, as I have grown more and more deeply attached to him. River has helped us grow even closer as a family, and has helped me grow as a person in ways I could not have imagined.
Now, on the dawn of a new, equally difficult transition, I felt the need to revisit last year’s column. It has proven reassuring and helpful once again, at least to me, and I thought I’d repost parts of it here, in the hopes that you agree.
Whether it’s a new puppy or a new baby, whether it’s a graduation, retirement, promotion, break up, illness, marriage or big move, every life is peppered with transitions. They can be terrifying or thrilling, draining or invigorating. They also tend to be trying and stressful and damn uncomfortable.
We humans love predictability and routine, which add to our sense of control. We might know we don’t really have any—that anything can happen at any time—but we structure our lives to feed the illusion, allowing ourselves to get comfortable in our seemingly safe, organized existences.
Transitions remind us of life’s uncertain, precarious nature. They thrust us into the grey, despite our preference for black or white, and they tend to bring up a whole host of mixed feelings.
When it comes to navigating life’s inevitable in-between periods, I would invite you to try the following:
Practice Patience. Change is always uncomfortable, adjustments take time and everything does eventually pass. At the heart of most suffering is a belief that things should be different—right now. Impatience and irritability come from a stubborn refusal to accept reality as it is, coupled with a subconscious but powerful sense that there is something to do about it. Intellectually we know we are in the midst of a journey, that there is a process at play and we just have to be patient. Emotionally, however, we crave immediate results, a final destination.
When you catch yourself feeling frustrated and flailing, try taking a deep breath, followed by another. Notice any signs of tension in your body, focusing one at a time on your shoulders, your neck, your head, your fists, etc. Try relaxing whatever is tight, releasing whatever is gripping. Start with the body, then do the same with your thoughts. Let go of anything that is causing you pain, and whisper soothing sweet nothings to yourself instead.
Summon Self-Compassion. Forgive yourself for struggling. Many of us have a tendency toward self-blame. Often, it is not only our circumstances that get us down but a sense of disappointment in ourselves for not handling it all more gracefully. Buddhists call this “the double arrow,” because the pain comes not from what is happening to us, but from our own self-imposed harsh judgment. Try extending yourself some compassion instead. What might you tell a friend going through similar difficulties? Would you attack him for his inability to just buck up and get on with life, or might you offer some kindness instead?
Feel Your Feelings. Somewhere along the way, our culture became obsessed with “happiness.” In the process, it has become almost unacceptable to feel anything but. We all know the correct answer to that ubiquitous “How are you?” is always “fine,” or even “great!” What about when you are not fine, and even far from “great!?” What about when you are stressed or struggling? They say what you resist persists, and I have found this to be entirely true in my own life.
In difficult times, you might benefit first and foremost from simply sitting with it all—whether it’s fear, angst, uncertainty or any of those common feelings we are all so desperate to avoid, numb or deny. Try feeling them, instead. I wouldn’t suggest getting stuck there, but taking a few moments to let it all wash over you might expedite the process and ease your sense of struggle.
Look Back. Whoever you are, I am willing to bet you have faced and overcome tough times in the past. We all have. What did you endure? How did you manage it? What strengths did you draw upon to help you get through?
Lost in Transition mentioned a general sense of pride in her abilities, specifically her resilience and resourcefulness. What are you proud of? What qualities have buoyed you in the past? What might you have done differently? Reflecting on your past—your ability to handle challenges and emerge triumphantly, or at least learn valuable lessons—might provide a much-needed boost to your reserves now.
Look Ahead. We all favor definitive answers over the unknown, we all prioritize end results over process, but why? If I were to hand you a crystal ball, to assure you that your future is bright and that all would turn out well, how would you handle this time of uncertainty differently? Try closing your eyes and summoning some wise future self, one who is healthy, vibrant and secure. Feel the comfort and confidence of that future self. Inhabit it. What would she say to you about this time? Would she say the stress was worthwhile, the anxiety value-added? Or might she suggest a more relaxed approach? Can you feel the tension slip away? The calm settling in? Linger there as long as you need to. Luxuriate in it as often as you like.
Reframe the Pain. Transitions, as you know, give rise to all kinds of unpleasantness. Lost in Transition felt uncomfortable, frustrated and “entirely thrown.” Other adjectives clients have used in describing times of change are “unsettling,” “disturbing,” “miserable,” “shaky” and “terrifying,” to name just a few.
I say, what about “opportunity?”
I have yet to meet a negative I can’t reframe, at least in part, into a positive. When it comes to navigating transition, I would encourage you to do the same. What might you learn from this experience? What else do you stand to gain? When I hurt my back a few years ago, I had to take more than a month off from any physical activity. After a brief period of aggravation—where I tried to force my body into compliance by pursuing my usual routine, only to exacerbate the injury—I decided to make the most of my new reality. I doubled down on my commitment to coaching, took up meditation and have been forever changed by—and grateful for—the opportunity to grow.
Reach Out and Touch Someone. We, humans, are social beings. We thrive on feeling connected to one another, and we benefit greatly in times of pain from friendship and emotional support. At the same time, as a culture, we value strength, endurance, and self-reliance, making it difficult for us to express vulnerability or reach out for help.
When you find yourself feeling unsteady, I would encourage you to reach out—whether to friends, family or a professional—and seek the support you need.
If you can’t think of anyone, just call me. I’d be happy to coach you through, or if you prefer, you can just play with River. Watching the joy it brings him to chomp on a stick, has a way of making all seem right with the world.