There are two ways to think about starting over. There’s the dramatic kind: a full-stop start over. A divorce happens. Start over. You’re terminated from a job. Start over. An accident happens. Start over. That was my case.
As a teenager, I had a car accident that inspired me to strive for a different quality of life. I had been a depressed, upset young man, and then the accident made me recognize the importance of life. It gave me a reverence for life and shaped my intentions to fully live, love and matter. I chose to completely shift how I was showing up in the world, how I treated others, what I wanted to contribute.
That kind of full-fledged restart is scary. But I’ve found that those full-stop second chances in life end up being monumental breakthroughs for people.
When that fear strikes you, don’t expect it to go away. Dramatic restarts will always cause doubt, worry, uncertainty and fear. I suggest that you anticipate that reality, and then honor the struggle. Expect there to be hardship, and decide that you will meet it as an opportunity to grow and show the world what you’ve got. Honor those big steps outside of your comfort zone because they will make you better.
So one way you can look at big changes in life is to say, “I’m scared of that.” Another way is to say, “I’m excited for this. I’m excited for the growth that comes with facing something I’m not good at or prepared for.” You can choose to meet fear and change just like you choose to meet life—with reverence. Everything we face is a chance to stretch and serve more. That mentality makes us feel fully alive. But you’ll never feel alive unless in some ways you’re at the boundary of uncertainty.
Another type of fresh start is the daily reset. This is just waking up and choosing to have a fresh mind and set of intentions for a new day. It’s not as dramatic as a full-stop life change. It’s more subtle and straightforward. It’s the simple decisions we make to want to be better dads, moms, lovers and leaders. It’s about setting goals to be better that come from a desire to experience life more sweetly.
Both kinds of starting over have the same building blocks. So when a second chance comes along, use that opportunity to be more intentional, courageous and appreciative. You don’t have to know the full path yet. Just take a few small steps in a few directions and figure out which path feels right to you. Once you find the path that feels right and fulfilling, start marching. When things go wrong, remember to honor the struggle. It’s all going to make you stronger. Trust that.
You’re never going to enjoy anything in the first few yards of a fresh start, which is why I’m always coming back to “honor the struggle.” My team and I conducted a three-year research study analyzing high performers and what made them successful. We found that they love facing new challenges, and that whatever they’re doing, they bring full engagement, joy and confidence to the experience.
The issue is getting started. I know it’s hard. You might not have the confidence yet, but you can choose to engage in the journey with joy. Just keep marching and believe in your ability to figure things out. You are stronger than you think, and the future holds good things for you.
In 2011 I was in Mexico at a bachelor party when I wrecked an ATV in the desert. I was driving, hit a little pillow of sand, and before I knew it, I was hitting the ground and rolling. I kept hearing boom, boom: the hundreds of pounds of metal bouncing inches from my sand-filled helmet. Please don’t let that land on me, I prayed.
It didn’t, but I got knocked out. When I came to, I had snapped my wrist, broken a couple of ribs, thrown out my shoulder and suffered a walloping concussion. I lay in a hospital bed for hours in searing pain. After my car accident 17 years earlier, this was the second time in my life I’d faced mortality. Back then, I’d asked myself a series of questions: Did I really live? Did I love? Did I matter?
The first time I faced the end of my life, I didn’t like my answers. This time, after almost 15 years of trying to live a more intentional life, I was happy with the answers. Did I live? I felt that I had. Did I love? Yes, fully. Did I matter? I felt like I had, because I led each day with the intention to serve others. I was OK with what I call life’s final questions.
I didn’t know it at first, but the ATV accident had caused traumatic brain injury. I had damage to my left prefrontal cortex, cerebellum and hippocampus. My executive functioning and emotional control were off. I struggled with making decisions, and my memory was horrible.
It took two and a half years to recover from that brain injury, and that was probably the hardest fresh start I ever had because I had to learn how to reuse my mind. When your brain is injured, you do many things you don’t know you’re doing—you’re short with your loved ones, you have anxiety and you can’t make decisions. I had to get back in control of my mind and emotions.
People frequently ask, “How’d you do it?” One day at a time.
Every day I would get up and say, Remember, Brendon, you’re compromised right now. You’re going to get upset easier. In those moments, try not to be. Try to remember to appreciate the moment. Take a pause, and have intention in what you want in that situation. Bring the joy; don’t wait for it. Honor the struggle; don’t hate it.
Often after a fresh start, you have to learn to coach yourself. You have to talk yourself through it. Soon all of those awkward and difficult situations become easier.
There are going to be difficulties on every new journey you choose or are forced to take. There will be challenges, hardships and rough patches of disappointment. But if you can talk yourself through it all, believe in your ability to figure things out and bring joy and intention into the darkness, it will be a much smoother ride.
Take it from someone who knows a thing or two about bumpy rides.
Step into the cave
If you walk into a dark cave, you’re going to feel fear and anxiety. That’s natural. But you can also enter that cave as an explorer, with a childlike curiosity and joy.
Hold your flashlight out, take that step and ask, Wow, what might I discover in this amazing new space?
That shift to bring joy into the cave versus fear and anxiety can change your life. It helps you adapt with more ease. You might not know what lies ahead, but you can always be confident in your ability to remain curious and joyous. From that place, you’ll more quickly find your footing and path.
Bring curiosity and confidence into the cave, my friend.
Moving off of a linear career path shifts you toward having a less conventional career. That means you might need to take a less conventional, more creative approach to opening up opportunities. For example, instead of relying on job boards or traditional recruiters who tend to favor traditional candidates, you might need to focus on relying more on building connections through networking.
When you walk away from your current career, be prepared to face external judgment from colleagues, friends, family and other professionals in your sector. Most people who want change are generally motivated by internal values and priorities others can’t necessarily see, e.g., more time with family, more fulfilling work and more personal growth. For example, landing a cushy promotion is easy to spot. However, gaining more personal fulfillment might be less obvious to the casual observer. That means you can’t get too fazed by external judgment or criticism from people on the outside looking in who think your career seems off-track.
Changing careers is not for the faint of heart. It requires dedication and persistent commitment to creating the change you desire. It means continuing to move forward even when you feel like you’ve exhausted all of your options, and making one more phone call, going to one more networking event or applying to one more position. Often that final push is what makes the difference, and that requires commitment and drive, remaining laser-focused on where you’re trying to go and not staying down for too long when facing hurdles along the way.
Change requires time, so the idea of flipping overnight from one profession to another is not realistic. Intermediate steps may be necessary. For example, enrolling in an evening course while holding down a full-time job, working toward obtaining a certification over time or taking up a side project that might not generate the desired returns in the short run. Being realistic about the time it takes to make a major change prevents frustration when progress takes longer than you had hoped.
Starting over almost always involves making a decision with an element of risk. Whenever you walk away from anything in which you’ve invested time, you really never know if you’re going to uncover something better or worse than your current situation. This is why moving on is often harder than holding on. At some point, though, you have to be willing to take a brave leap in order to pursue more meaningful work. Playing it safe is often not enough to deliver the kinds of significant shifts that make a real difference to your circumstances.
This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine and has been updated. Photo by AlessandroBiascioli/Shutterstock