Kayla has just started freshman year at college, and her excitement is palpable! For most of her life, somewhat appropriately given the fact that she was still a child and young adult, her parents had a strong influence on most everything she did. This meant that Kayla was in choir, band, and a sports team in each season because they wanted her to be well-rounded and have plenty of extra-curriculars on her college applications. In that sense, her childhood was filled with lots of love and activities, and their pushing did help her try a variety of opportunities, many of which she discovered she liked. Still, the older Kayla got the more she wanted to pursue her own activities. Her parents were supportive, but not necessarily as open to risks as she was. Now that she is away from home, she has decided to try some new things. She wants these next four years to be filled with learning — not just from a textbook, but from life itself.
Bryan was just fired from his last job and is searching for something different. For the past two years he worked for a technology company, but because of “budget cuts,” he was now let go. Not many places were hiring, and Bryan took a job at a local coffee shop to earn some money. He didn’t think he would ever find joy working in a role that was beneath his education, but he is starting to notice that there is less stress in his life. To boot, he’s great with customers and fast with drinks, and his manager recently mentioned to him the possibility of becoming a swing shift manager. Conversely, at his previous job there were late-night and sometimes over-night installs, deadlines, and an expectation to work some weekends that pretty much dictated he didn’t have a life. Now when he leaves work, he doesn’t have to take anything home with him! In fact, some of his co-workers just invited him out for a few drinks after work. He’s thinking this new gig might not be too bad, but it’s going to require him to rethink his future.
Alexis had been in an abusive relationship for ten years before she finally left. Now that she is free, she doesn’t know what to do with herself — a good first step was to move back in with her parents until she feels more stable because they are supportive and don’t want her there forever, but knew she needed help. For right now, she has started doing things that she used to enjoy, including taking a class at a local community college in painting. Alexis has also has started swimming to help with her anxiety, and her friends and family have noticed a dramatic shift in her mood and willingness to engage — they are excited to see what else life has in store for her! Alexis’s story hasn’t been her own for years, and now is her chance to create whatever she wishes. She hopes she can find someone with no agenda to help her process both recovering from her relationship and deciding what comes next.
Learning How to Author Your Next Chapter
Life transitions can be complicated, confusing, and at times chaotic. Whether you notice it or not, there are times in our lives when we shift into new roles. These transitions can arrive at different stages in our lives, but that doesn’t make them any less worrisome. What seems to make these changes (e.g., graduating school, buying your first home/apartment, leaving a job, starting a new career) smoother is the idea that we have control over these shifts. By not feeling pushed or pulled in one way or another, these significant (or not so significant) life shifts become smoother. By using your own intuition, and making judgments about specific outcomes, you allow yourself to be the author of your own next chapter of life.
Having Difficulty is Normal
Many of us have been taught that we cannot take care of ourselves without the help of others — something called “learned helplessness“, or that we must always put others before ourselves — something called “co–dependence.” We may have been born into enmeshed families, be exiting a negative relationship, been given the role of the parentified child, suffer from self-doubt, or have stumble into drug or alcohol problems, to name just a few roadblocks. Consequently, we may find ourselves wishing to create the next chapter in our lives, but notice that thoughts, emotions, and others around us stop us in our tracks. This predicament is what makes becoming the next author of our lives so complicated and challenging. We not only have to decide and craft what we want for ourselves, but confront the notion that this may be in stark contrast to what we have historically believed we could accomplish or deserve.
How Do I Become the Author of My Own Next Chapter?
One of the first and healthiest steps toward becoming the author of your own next chapter means simply creating psychological (and sometimes, geographical) space in your life. In other words, many of the obstacles to becoming our own life/chapter authors are in our minds, so practices that encourage centeredness, mindfulness, balance, self-love, reliance on those who unconditionally support your ideas, and healthy boundaries (i.e., saying “no”) are key. In so doing, we naturally begin to unravel our own and others’ expectations for us — explicit and implicit roles, rules, and beliefs that impact how, whether, and to what extent we make decisions. For example, we may ask ourselves, “How have my tendencies around bounaries with others helped or hurt my ability to make my own decisions for my life? Do I allow others too much influence? Not enough?”
This unraveling process can be painful as we acknowledge the ways that our own thoughts and actions, as well as those of others’, have actually impeded our progress. At times, it may even feel overwhelming. And frankly, how could it not be? We have lived in a particular role for so many years, and now we want to change! Unconscious beliefs about ourselves and others could surface, and we may find ourselves feeling a pull to revert to our original life story which has primarily been authored by others. Having supportive friends, family, and a mental health practitioner can help you analyses what you truey want from your life. The more that you continue to relish in the joy of writing the next chapter of your life, the smoother this process becomes!
Interested in Knowing More? Here are some suggestions for right now:
TAKE…YOUR…TIME. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your life. Take each day as an inspiration for better things to come. Remind yourself that these things take time and that trying to rush through this process doesn’t allow you to relish in the joy of taking ownership over your life.
Love thyself. Continue to practice radical self-love. What does that mean? Very practically, during this kind of shifting, it may feel more comfortable to revert to old behavior patterns and life roles, but each time we do so, we notice that they don’t work as well as they used to. When that happens, remind yourself, “This is why I’m changing. The old way doesn’t work anymore — it hurts me! I love me too much to keep going that route!” Reworking the ways that you speak to yourself may be a pillar of your ability to author a new life chapter.
Love and be loved by others. Surround yourself with family and friends who unconditionally love you, and whom you can love in return. By filling your life with those who support you, shifts in your life story may become a little more comfortable. Having loved ones to talk to about your struggles and triumphs, without reinstating old negative coping mechanisms and beliefs, will help propel you into your new life chapter. If you don’t know anyone like this, consider speaking with a Change, Inc. St. Louis Therapist!
Let Your Life Speak. In his book, Let Your Life Speak: Finding the Voice of Vocation,world-renown author and teacher Parker Palmer said, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” Remember, when you’re searching for what to do next, your life is often already pointing things out to you. If you find that you have a lot of difficulty with a particular relationship, it means its probably time to work on that relationship. If you find that an inordinate amount of your time is preoccupied thinking about how much you hate your job, it’s time to either working on your thinking or your job. If you find that you daydream a lot about someone rescuing you from your debt, it may be time to talk to a debt counselor or to get serious about managing your money. Etc.
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