What to consider before making a life change

If there’s one guarantee about life — and careers, for that matter — it’s that change is inevitable. Gigs come and go, just like relationships, and our passions evolve from decade to decade. So when we are stagnant for a period of time, we might feel that undeniable urge to transform.

Most of the time, business coach Ivy Slater says life changes are positive since we recognize an opportunity to improve ourselves, stretch out our happiness and find more fulfillment. “As we grow and learn, we fully embrace what we are good at and what we truly want from our careers,” she continues.

But there’s one caveat here, Slater notes: “Change is a very good thing when it accompanies a plan.” All too often, we forget to strategize what pivoting means, what it requires and how it will feel every step of the process. That’s why psychologists and career coaches stress preparation as an undeniable part of making a decision, and later, a transition. Here, they share what to consider before making a life change:

Clarify what you want

It’s one thing to go through a few months of soul-crushing work on a project that was over-demanding and overcomplicated. And it’s another to have one week of stress and feel like it’s time to throw in the towel. When people are uncomfortable, they have a tendency to wiggle around, and look for a way out — whether in career, friendships or romantic situations. Transformational coach and two-time New York Times best-selling author Christy Whitman recommends sitting with the anxiety so you can clarify what you really want. This is a way to prevent yourself from ‘running away’ rather than marching proudly in a different direction.

“Before attempting to decide whether to move forward with any life change, pull back from the specifics of the situation and reflect on this area of your life as a whole,” Whitman suggests. Here are some questions to be transparent about:

-What do you desire to create in this area?  

-What improvements would you like to make?  

-What is already working well that you wish to enhance and continue?  

-And, most importantly, how would you like to feel in this area of your life? 

Write out your list of priorities

What comes before a change? A motivator. It could be an unruly boss that undermines every decision you make. Or, it could be the arrival of your newborn, which is making you want to spend less time at the office, and more time working remotely as your family bonds and grows. Maybe it’s the urge to finally take the leap of faith into the unknown world of self-employment.

Whatever the cause, Slater says it can be helpful to go old school and write down your priorities. This can help identify the key factors that need to shift in your life to bring you to the place you want to be. “If you get stuck here, reach out for support from a family member, friend, colleague or coach and brainstorm with them,” she continues. “Find someone who will help you dig underneath the surface to uncover what is important to you and help you identify the next steps to take in your journey.”

Access how stable you feel.

Another reason people often feel propelled to implement a big ‘ole life move is when they’re under a tremendous amount of pressure. Or when things out of their control are changing all around them, they yearn for the opportunity to make a decision for themselves. As psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. explains, this isn’t always a smart choice, since stability should play a factor in your decision-making process. “If things aren’t so solid in your life, it is more difficult to get life changes to stick and continue,” she continues. “It would not be so healthy to have just started a new job, but to simultaneously want to take swimming lessons for the first time in your life. The better way is to gain more self-confidence and time with the new job and then add in another life change at a pace that seems healthy.”

Determine if it’s a quick fix — or an actual solution.

By definition, a life change is dramatic, intense and important. This doesn’t mean it is inherently bad, but more so, that the purpose is to seek transformation, rather than opting for a quick fix. Think of it this way: do you really need to repaint the whole house, or is there a patch that you can correct and be done? If you’re only after the patch, it’s likely a choice based on emotions and impulse, rather than logic. To really have an impactful experience, Dr. Thomas says to dig deep — and think critically. “A life change should be made as a way to appropriately and directly deal with an issue or to broaden one’s world,” she continues. “it may help to remember that the purpose of a life change often is to better cope with and/or enhance the quality of one’s life.”

Once you’ve made a decision, believe in it

Imagine what’s waiting on the other side of this decision. A new, shiny title on LinkedIn? A gig that allows you to log your hours from the comfort of your home two days a week — or more? A lucrative hustle that can bloom into a flourishing business? Once you’ve settled on the decision, Whitman says it’s time to sit with it, rather than fretting. “Second-guessing yourself expends mental energy and creates emotional uncertainty and turmoil,” she continues. “Make a list of all the positive aspects of your decision, and of the positive changes that you’re looking forward to as a result.”