As a mom, it’s the day you’ve always anticipated, the one that feels like it will never really come. But it does—and it did. It’s the college drop-off.
We took our son to college two weeks ago, and as we moved him in, I busied myself with unpacking, room setup and a bulletin board we had to go get. Surely this busyness and total distraction would make it all easier, right? Yet inside I knew that this hot August day was a lot bigger than a bulletin board. One chapter was closing while another opened.
I’m a career girl and always have been. Work has been an important part of my life, so I thought (and friends told me), You have your career—you are so busy with clients and your business. It will be easier for you.
All true—except my theories on how busyness makes it so much easier were off base. Adapting to change has more to do with who we are than what we do.
New beginnings have the power to firmly put the past behind you. It could be anything from taking your baby to college (or kindergarten) to moving to a new city, surviving a divorce, making a big career change or losing someone.
Even when change is good, our personal definition of normal undergoes a dramatic overhaul. But because of it, we have the opportunity to start again and write a new chapter with intention.
Here are some practical steps for a positive start to your new chapter. Yes, I’m working on these, too:
1. Carefully plan your first month (and shake up your routine).
After we took my son to college, I scheduled several fun events over the next few weeks, knowing that my first month would be the hardest. I organized fun dinners with friends, football games and girls’ nights out. My husband and I played local tourists and visited some places we’d never been right in our own town. And we planned when we’d see our son next.
2. Do something out of the ordinary.
Last week, with some encouragement from a friend, I took my first hot-air balloon ride in Santa Fe—which was definitely out of my normal. At first, I was a little uneasy, but it turned out to be one of my most memorable activities ever. It was a reminder that change can be exciting, too.
3. Take off your hero cape.
You can’t do this by yourself. (I am working hard on this one.)
Scholar and author Brené Brown says that vulnerability is the key to connecting with others. For self-reliant people like me, this is hard—I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. But accepting support is a healthy part of relationships. Let a friend or family member know when you are having a tough day or afternoon. It’s OK for someone to check on you for a change.
4. Rediscover what you enjoy.
This is especially true for those parents who drop their kids off at college or kindergarten. Your busy lives can become so consumed with family and hectic schedules that you completely forget what you like to do.
I recently asked a friend what she would enjoy doing in her free time if there were no restrictions or expectations. She finally admitted that she really didn’t know anymore. If you have a long pause after this one, keep going back to it until you have your answer. What was fun when you were 10 years old? Make sure you didn’t forget in the midst of being a busy grownup.
5. Be kind to yourself when you have a low moment.
When starting a new chapter, there will be setbacks and low points when you think, Can I do this? or Will life feel normal again? Expect them. Allow yourself this reality. Talk to a friend, write in your journal, pray or meditate, and find your own way to learn and regroup.
The adjustment to big changes isn’t linear. It isn’t that each day gets better and better. It’s a wavy line that moves up and down. Accept that one day or hour may just be harder for no obvious reason.
6. Contribute to something bigger than you.
Contributing to something bigger than you changes your perspective. Also, in those times when you are completely self-focused, you can turn it upside down by concentrating your attention on something beyond yourself. Your definition of ‘bigger’ may be helping those in your community or your extended family, or it may be providing an opportunity for those that work in your business.
7. Rewrite your story.
This is your chance to do something you have always wanted to do. Rather than look back and miss what has changed, think about what you can do now that you couldn’t before.
It’s never too late to start your new business, write your first book, begin a new career, volunteer at the nonprofit you’ve always admired or go back and get the degree you’ve always wanted. The years will go by regardless, so you might as well be where you want to be as they do.
Starting a new chapter can be scary, it can be sad, it can be exciting… all rolled into one.
I’ll be working on these things right along with you. Let’s do this.
If you’re starting a new chapter and aren’t sure where to start, enroll in the Win the Day Accelerator with James Whittaker. In the comprehensive, 8-part program, Whittaker will walk you through how to gain clarity about your unique path, create a success plan that guides you toward your goals and set your self up to Win the Day, every day.
This article was published in September 2015 and has been updated. Photo by @Nastyaofly/Twenty20
Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.