Change is hard—I’ll be the first to admit it. I like the idea of change; I enjoy the fact that change often leads to better things. But the actual process of change is terrifying to me. The physical act of taking a step outside of my comfort zone is enough to send me into full-on panic mode.
I can think of three major life transitions that were probably the most difficult changes in my life. One was moving to France when I was nine. The second was leaving high school for college. The third was leaving that first college for the second.
And the common demoninator between them was that they were completely life-altering. It wasn’t the same as painting your room or buying a new pair of jeans. These changes required me to pack up my things, move, and start my life over again in a completely new environment with a lot of people I didn’t know. They require you to completely leave your old life behind and replace it with a new one. The only thing that doesn’t change is (hopefully) you.
That’s not to say that big changes are the only ones worth fretting over. Small changes matter, too. They can be just as terrifying. But I like to think that what we learn from the big changes can help us get through the small ones. They have to at least make it easier, right?
So even though my three biggest life changes were similar, I think I learned something different from each one of them. They each taught me a different way to deal with change that hopefully you can learn from, too.
Also, if you haven’t yet, make sure to check out my most recent video. I talk about my 2018 resolutions and how I hate New Years and change. I think you might like it.
Sometimes changes are temporary.
When I moved to France at age nine, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I wasn’t just moving to a new home or a new school, but to a new country. And that country spoke a different language, had a completely different culture, and I was inevitably going to be completely out of my element. There was nothing to hold on to for comfort. Except a blanket that I ended up forgetting in a hotel room. Sigh.
I still remember walking into school on that first day. I recall feeling numb. Like maybe if my feet gave out from under me, I wouldn’t notice. And I remember all the eyes. So many eyes just starting, like I was something foreign. Well, I guess I was. I was the ultimate fish out of water, like I was pulled out of the Pacific and plopped into the Atlantic. They two may look the same from the outside, but there are really no similarities other they’re both big bodies of salt water.
The major thing that got me through this change was knowing it was temporary. I was there for two years, and whatever happened was going to happen. Regardless, I was going to get to go back home eventually. All I had to do was survive. I didn’t have to excel. I didn’t even have to do particularly well. In fact, I completely neglected my homework and responsibilities. And although I learned the language, I didn’t really care to remember it when I got back home. I just tried to make it through every minute until the timer ran out.
I think a good thing to remember about change is that it never has to be permanent. It’s not like you get one change in life and that’s it. There will be more changes, some better than others, but ultimately you get to decide. Even though some changes will be out of your hands, others won’t. You may take some detours, but eventually you’ll end up where you want to be.
Sometimes changes don’t work out.
When I left home to go to college the first time, I was pretty sure I was making the wrong decision. I wanted to go to college, but I wasn’t going to the right college. Regardless, this was where fate or karma or whatever you believe in decided I was going to end up. At least for awhile. So I had to make the best of it.
And I was determined to make it work. I wasn’t happy, but I was going to be an adult about it. No part of me wanted to live in a dorm, or to have a roommate, or even to be in Indiana. I didn’t want to be at this school or taking these classes or any of it, really. But this was where life had led me and that was that.
No matter how hard I tried to make this transition work, I felt myself turn into someone else. I was quiet, emotional, and desperate for friendship. Everything felt out of my control, and I made bad decisions because I desperately wanted to just decide something for myself. And ultimately those decisions led me to become someone I didn’t like.
I ended up learning that no matter how desperate you are to make some changes work, sometimes they just don’t. You have to be smart enough to recognize that. Change, in one way or another, can often be a good thing. The only time it’s not is when it changes you in a way that you dislike.
So take care of yourself. Take a change, but be smart enough—and self-aware enough—to notice when you’re not heading in the right direction. Sometimes you have to walk through a few doors before you know which one is the right one. Be prepared to make those decisions, and be aware enough to know which one is not the right one when you see it.
Some changes will feel like a step back.
When I left my first college for my second, it felt like a rushed decision. Again, I wasn’t sure if it was the right one (as it is with most change). But this time I was even more determined to make it work. In fact, I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. I’d gotten a second chance, and I wasn’t likely to get a third.
I was in a new state and I didn’t know a soul, but I was with my family and my cat and I felt comfortable. I was content to remain under the radar in order to finish what I’d started. Did I do it perfectly? No. I sacrificed friends and parties and “the college experience” for good academics and an early graduation date. I sacrificed a campus for living at home. And I sacrificed independence for comfort. But in a way, that ended up being better for me.
After this decision, I spent a lot of time wondering if it was the right one. I watched my friends make new friends while I had dinner with my parents every night. I was in a new city, but I made no effort to meet people or join things for fear of what happened the first time. To be honest, I felt really alone. But more often than not it felt like a better decision than the alternative.
What I learned is that sometimes it’s OK to take some steps back in order to take other steps forward. Not every change will feel like a grand gesture. Sometimes it will be the shake of a hand or just the courage to say hello. And maybe it feels like you’re giving up. Maybe it feels like you’re not doing enough. But I assure you, baby steps are still steps.
And a lot of times—if you’re anything like me—you use moments of loneliness to really find yourself. And where you feel empty, you fill it up with creativity and entertainment and excitement. So even if you’re life doesn’t look much different from the outside, you feel a lot more full on the inside. Or at least, you’re taking the necessary steps to get there.
Almost all changes will end up OK in the end.
I think it’s important to remember—during moments of change or stress—all the times where you believed you wouldn’t survive it. I can recall so many exams, presentations, birthday parties, first days of school, interviews, and more where I was so sure that this exact moment would be the moment where I would screw up my life for good. But life is a lot more forgiving than you think.
It all starts with allowing yourself to make choices knowing that they could be the wrong ones. What’s important is that you took the step anyway. Even if it’s not the right one, at least you’ll know. Which is more than you would have figured out if you’d stayed in your bed watching One Tree Hill and eating popcorn and writing in your journal for the fifth month in a row.
Change is inevitable. You don’t need me to tell you that. But what I want you to remember is that there is no change that will permanently define you. At least, not if you don’t let it. You have the power to decide how you are going to handle things. And sure, sometimes you are going to be afraid. That’s completely valid. But in those moments, just remember this one thing.
There are so many moments in life you don’t think you’ll survive. And then you do.