What’s so great about self-improvement? Society has an obsession with self help projects to aid us in our quest for happiness, peace, and low-stress lives. But are we searching for the right things? Here’s my take on what we’re REALLY looking for when we “improve” ourselves.
The process of change and growth is usually necessary, but it often feels uncomfortable. Learn from one huge commercial brand what they do to push through the pain in order to make progress, and why a little discomfort is good for you, too.
How do you know if you need a change? Despite the fact that transition can be uncomfortable and uncertain, many of us know what it feels like to crave something new, or feel a push toward a different path.
While all of us can benefit from breaking our of our rut every now and then, there are three clear signs that you absolutely NEED a change, stat.
I Just Can’t Take It Anymore!
It won’t surprise you to know that a major freak-out episode is usually a good sign that something’s gotta give. If you’re feeling like life stinks and everyone around you is conspiring to behave poorly, that’s a strong indicator that you need to change your circumstances.
When you find yourself lashing out in anger, ask yourself if your response is proportional to the immediate issue at hand. If it isn’t, you may have stayed too long in a situation that needs to be addressed, and your buried frustration is bubbling up. If your anger IS justified given the situation, then that can still a good cue to make a change, because there’s no use staying in a situation that makes you angry. Long-term anger doesn’t get better with time, it just turns into resentment.
I Could Really Go For a Nap Right Now
The flipside of the freak-out is feeling UNemotional. If you feel like you’re going through life feeling numb and hazy, you’ve completely checked out. The absence of strong feelings is a lesser-known – but still important – sign that you need to make a change.
Because there’s not a lot of drama associated with this feeling, you may not even realize you’ve fallen into this trap, at first. But if you’re always tired, detached, and you just don’t care about things as much as you used to, think back to the last time you were passionate about an issue. What was it? How can you recapture that excitement and engagement? If you find yourself just wanting to check out and take a nap instead of engaging in life, it’s time for an overhaul.
No Thank You, I Don’t Feel Like a Change
This may seem counterintuitive, but one of the main signs you need a change is that you don’t want change! If you’ve gotten so comfortable that the thought of transition makes you want to cringe, then you better sign yourself up for some, stat!
Why? Why would you willingly go through change if things are just fine? Because “just fine” doesn’t stay just fine for very long. Nothing in life stays the same, just because you’re enjoying it.
In fact, being too passive about your life isn’t the same as being low-key. “Just fine” probably isn’t good enough for you, anyway. All the best success are made by going outside of your comfort zone. So maybe things are smooth sailing now, but change is likely coming. So its best if you get used to it and prepare yourself by regularly engaging in small, transformational behaviors. Reading, learning, new hobbies… all of those things are little changes that take your life from fine to excellent.
How do I know if I need a change?
We all get handed change whether we need it or not. But if you find yourself in one of these three situations, it’s a red flag that change would be good for you. So jump on board and go along for the ride.
If you’re going through a divorce and struggling to regain your footing, these three mantras can help. Tell yourself these three short, memorable phrases to find emotional stability and hope for the future.
Have you ever had one of those times in life when you’re just on a roll? When everything seems to be going in your favor? Not that it’s all easy, but that it’s working – things are falling into place, and everything seems to be aligned.
Several years ago, I was flying high: I had started a small business that was growing successfully. I was winning awards and appearing in the newspaper. I felt important and respected. So important and respected, in fact, that another company approached me about acquiring us! Being asked to merge felt like a huge validation of our hard work, and as the leadership team sat down to discuss the potentially merger, we toasted ourselves and our success.
Within two months, we had made the decision to merge with the other company, and I moved our headquarters from my living room into their downtown offices. I traded in my daily yoga pants uniform for pencil skirts, and began my role at the new, larger organization.
I lasted there 9 months.
I had tears in my eyes as I handed in my letter of resignation. It was my shortest period of employment ever, made even more embarrassing by the fact that I was walking away from my own company, too, that was now a part of this larger company. A huge part of me didn’t want to do it, but I knew that I had to. I believed fully in the vision of the new organization, but it wasn’t a good match for me as an employee.
I had failed.
It was a failure not because the merger was a bad idea in the first place. The merger made sense. But in looking back, I realize I took the easy way out. I didn’t ask all the questions I should have. I got wooed by the money and the prestige. It’s not uncommon when one brand is larger and more established than the other: several months ago the merger between home technology companies Nest and Dropcam was revealed to have lots of uncomfortable tension that the two CEOs have gone on record saying they wish they had sorted out beforehand.
I take full responsibility for getting stars in my eyes about the promise of being acquired by a larger company. I didn’t do my due diligence, and I didn’t spend enough time thinking about what I was getting into. The good news is that the merger has paid off for several aspects of the organization I founded, and that was my first priority above everything else. But it wasn’t a great move for me, and I didn’t know it because I didn’t do my homework. It’s an embarrassing mistake for a founder to make.
No, I don’t regularly appear in the newspaper anymore, but when I handed in my resignation letter, I did take some time off to publish my first book. As with most things in life, the pendulum ends up swinging back and forth and evening things out in the long run. I do important work in different ways, now, and I’ve landed in places I might never have gotten.
So… have you ever had a failure that haunts you? What are your best ways for getting over it? I’d love some feedback for another blog post about picking yourself up and dusting yourself off after failure, so send me your stories!
“I don’t want to do this anymore.”
The thought didn’t hit me all at once; it crept up on me over a few months, until it was right behind me, breathing its hot breath down my neck so I couldn’t ignore it anymore. For years I had been lugging my tap shoes and music books to class, running lines with a rehearsal partner late into the night. Taking voice lessons and ballet lessons and pushing my voice to hit a high belt, all in the hopes of one day taking center stage on Broadway.
The thought didn’t even hit me at a low point, as giving-up thoughts often do. On the contrary, I had enjoyed plenty of recent success. But the voice was still sneaking up on me that whole time, until one day I said out loud, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
I was only 21 years old, but as I said it out loud, I realized why I was finished: pursuing a career as an actress made me feel unimportant. Every single audition, I was surrounded by women who were prettier than I was, who could sing higher and kick higher. And even when I DID get the role, there was always this pervasive knowledge that if you said the wrong thing to someone in power, you would instantly be replaced by the line of 85 other women just like you who were waiting to take your role. I felt replaceable.
I turned to my roommate, my best friend, and said, “I want a job where people are glad I showed up. They don’t have to give me a standing ovation when I leave every night, but I want them to say, ‘Thank goodness YOU’RE here today. We couldn’t do this without you. I don’t feel that way about theatre.” She questioned me for the better part of an hour, testing my resolve and making sure I wasn’t just feeling low self-esteem. I finally said, “You know what, when I was a kid and thought I wanted this job, I thought being famous sand being important was the same thing. Now I know being famous and being important aren’t at all the same thing, and I just want to be important. Being famous doesn’t matter.”
I moved on to jobs where I felt important, and I WAS important. I solved problems others before me hadn’t solved. I earned praise and respect. But I still wasn’t immune to the shame of having given up on my dream. Years down the road, I received an out-of-the-blue email from an old friend high school friend – a friend with whom I had once had a very kind relationship. “I’m so glad you decided to pursue a more traditional field,” she wrote. “I knew all along that it felt irresponsible and unrealistic to try to pursue a career in theatre, which is why I never wanted to do it professionally. I’m glad you finally realized that.” I pushed back from my computer as if her words were acid. I hadn’t given up on my dreams because they were unrealistic, I wanted to shout. I chose to leave the field! I could have made it if I had wanted to!
I wondered: did people think I had given up because it was too hard? Did they judge me for not being strong enough or willing to work hard enough? All those people – my parents included – who had supported my dreams… had I let them down?
I thought being famous sand being important was the same thing. Now I know being famous and being important aren’t at all the same thing, and I just want to be important.
I struggled over that email for two weeks. I wondered if I had chosen the wrong path year earlier, and if it was too late now. But smack dab in the middle of my existential shame crisis, I got the reminder my work was indeed important, when I was hired to be the spokesperson for a local nonprofit.
I’ll likely never be famous, in the way that 12-year-old Courtney planned to be. But I’m far more important than I ever imagined. In my work as a speaker and author on resilience, I have the good fortune to touch lives with my words. After one of my recent presentations, a woman left behind a note for me at the table where she had been sitting. “You made the struggle of becoming a mother at age 14 make sense in my life,” she wrote. I keep that note by my bedside, although it’s a bit smudged where my tears fell on it as I read it the first time.
Letting go of your dreams isn’t easy. It means coping with grief and loss. It can mean debt and financial struggle. It can mean redefining who you are and your place in the world. But changing your path can also mean achieving significance in a way you never imagined.
If you’re struggling with a dream that isn’t loving you back, ask yourself if you’re pursuing the correct goal. Has getting what you want become an obsession, rather than a passion? If you wouldn’t have to feel shame or guilt over “giving up,” would you have chosen a different path by now?
Pursuing significance over fame is the best decision I ever made. And I’ll never give up on that.
Divorcing parents have to address head-on the powerlessness and fear of change children feel. To help your children cope with the stress of divorce in a healthy way, here are a few things to try that will help them feel in control.
Courtney’s new research suggests that not all resilience strategies work for all situations. If you’ve been using strategies you thought SHOULD work, but you’re still stressed, you’re going to want to check out “The Successful Struggle, to find out how to pick the right tool for whatever is challenging you.
Yale University students this week held a “March of Resilience” in response to recent events dividing the school around racism and inclusion. The participating students, of all races, chanted statements of belonging and unity.
Seeing the title of the march got me thinking: what do resilience and racism have to do with one another? How do they intersect?
Living as a person of color and facing racism is undeniably a struggle. And all struggles require resilience to manage and overcome. While I am a white woman, my own son is a young black man, and I see firsthand the struggle he faces to achieve acceptance (and sometimes even safety) in our society. My son has shown the ultimate resilience in the moments when he has to attend class with his head held high less than five minutes after being handcuffed by police for questioning because he “looked like” a suspect in a campus computer theft.
I wonder, however, if “resilience” is the solution to overcoming racism that we should be focusing on. Resilience is a necessary tool for anyone who is oppressed, but resilience is a one-person job. Resilience is a way to cope after the fact.
So I am grateful that my son is resilient, but I wish he didn’t have to be.
Those who face racism – or oppression of any type – need to be resilient in order to keep moving forward and making change. The experience of racism can in fact even lead to a profound resilience that motivates and inspires transformation. But resilience is not the only solution to racism, particularly not on a large scale. To eradicate racism, we need more than resilience. We need legions of resilient people of all backgrounds marching for change.
When we talk about people who are strong and resilient to adversity, what often comes to mind is someone who possesses inner toughness. We picture someone who can single-handedly conquer anything the world throws at him.
But when it comes to surviving tough times, “single-handedly” is exactly the wrong way to do it. Resilience, it turns out, is a team sport. Research on coping suggests that some of the most successful techniques include leaning on other people.
When we manage our challenges by surrounding ourselves with others, we reap several benefits: the guidance and feedback of others, caring support, and perspective. Look for three kinds of people who can support you, to provide each of these three benefits.
When you need guidance and feedback, get support from someone in the know. If it’s a personal issue, maybe turn to a professional therapist. If it’s a professional issue, find a trusted mentor in the workplace. These people can offer suggestions for managing whatever struggle you are facing.
Sometimes we just need a person to say “I understand. I’m here for you.” That’s when you turn to friends and family for caring support. Finally, it can really help to get perspective on an issue. For that, turn to someone who has walked in your shoes, or who currently IS in your shoes. When you lean on one another, you find the perspective to realize you aren’t the only one struggling.
Resilience is a team sport, not a solitary activity. When you lean on others in a tough time, you get three main benefits that help you bounce back. Find your tribe, your support network, and lean on them. It doesn’t make you weak, it actually helps you deal with the situation faster. And that’s what real strength looks like!