By Janine Taylor-Cutting
When we think about making a change, we often visualize an immediate, major shift in our career, relationships, habits, or environment. Change is often a slow process, though—more like an evolution than a pivot. Contemplating a change can feel overwhelming, but it can be helpful to understand that there are stages one may navigate when making a change.
In my work as a counselling therapist, I often help individuals work through changes in their lives. As a human, I’ve navigated my own changes as well. I’ll use my own recent career change as an example of how change manifests itself in our lives.
Years before I left my job as a school counsellor, I had been daydreaming about opening a private practice. At first, when I thought about doing this, my mind would always give me a big no, and my practical self would list the reasons to stay on my current path. Slowly, however, I started to imagine what my space would look like and what presenting problems my clients would bring. This is the “contemplation” stage.
Shortly afterward, I found myself completing professional learning that was targeted for counsellors in private practice. I registered with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association and became licensed as a Canadian certified counsellor. I bought professional insurance. At the time I was thinking that perhaps I would see a few clients in the evenings; I didn’t dare dream about leaving my secure position. This is the “preparation” stage.
It was around that time that I was diagnosed with cancer, and I was off work for more than a year as I went through treatments. I read so much about healing from trauma during this time that I decided to pursue some more specialized training. I invested some of the money I received from my critical illness insurance into professional learning and completed training to become an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapist. My plan was still to return to work in the education system, and I did so for a year around the same time that I opened my private practice. This is the “action” stage. Sometimes an event, person, or experience will work as a catalyst in one’s life and drive a shift into action. The thinking and reading that I did during my sick leave enabled me to take the leap and do something that seemed out of reach just a couple of years before!
For me, it was during the action stage that the big decisions had to happen—should I move fully into the private sphere? There is so much to consider when one is making a change like this—finances, pension, insurance (especially for a cancer survivor like me!). It took me a full year to make the decision to resign my permanent position with the school district, and even after I did so I re-applied for a part-time position and then rescinded my application—twice!
I spoke with a counsellor myself, consulted my financial advisor, and spent countless hours discussing these plans with my husband and other family members and friends. I went on two overnight trips to the cabin to be alone and journal about it.
Finally, I made my decision. And then I found myself overwhelmed with emotion for a day or so. This was so different from what I had imagined for my career path that, even though I was excited to be doing something new, I was sad to be leaving behind my tenure in the school system.
I was also terrified about what the future would hold for me as a small business owner and counselling therapist in private practice.
This fear, grief, and anxiety are a part of making a change. Any change can bring discomfort. As humans, we find comfort in security and the known, and branching off course can seem almost unnatural at first. Knowing that this storm of emotions is part of the process helps one to deal with it. Take the time to grieve and say goodbye to the old. Honour it; it is a part of your life story.
Moving through change with fidelity means recognizing that there may not be a fast track and that things might seem messy. Contemplating a decision can clog up your mental space and is exhausting. The stages I described may happen without our knowledge, and afterward we can see that we were moving where we needed to go. Trust your instincts. Give yourself time. Take breaks from thinking about it, or schedule a time each day when you do your contemplation. When you feel that you are embroiled in a dilemma, tell yourself that you don’t have to say yes or no today. Check in with your emotions and notice how things feel in your body. Remind yourself to move forward with an open heart and a curious mind. You might be amazed at where you end up!
Janine Taylor-Cutting is a counselling therapist and owner of Valley Counselling & Therapy in Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland and Labrador. Janine is also a blogger, a cancer survivor, and a patient advocate. She loves spending time with her husband and three teenage children, walking her dogs, and reading.
You can view her blog by visiting her website at https://JanineCutting.com.