On the day I left my last job, I expected to feel relief. Elation, even. I’d been counting down the days until I could walk out of that building for the very last time, the way a kid counts down to Christmas morning. And I did feel massive relief and joy and excitement on that last day.
But what I didn’t expect was the wave of grief that came over me as I turned off my office light for the last time.
Where was this coming from? I was happy to be leaving that place, so what was this unwelcome sadness? It baffled me at the time.
Since that day, however, I’ve come to understand that all endings naturally come with a sense of melancholy — even things you desperately wanted to end, but especially things you hoped would never end.
Life transitions are complicated affairs (leaving a job, ending a relationship, moving away from home, hitting a milestone birthday, graduating from college, getting married, going back to school, adjusting to an empty nest, etc.), and it’s normal to experience a vast range of emotions.
The rapid and intense shifts from joy to fear to grief to guilt to excited anticipation — often in the span of mere minutes — may make you feel like you’re a shaken-up soda bottle about to burst. You might wonder if you’re going crazy.
WE’RE NOT TAUGHT HOW TO DEAL WITH THIS STUFF
Even though it’s perfectly natural and healthy to experience an array of conflicting emotions during times like these, it doesn’t always feel that way in the moment.
Most of us are dealing with some kind of change or transition, big or small, in at least one area of life at any given time. Sometimes one massive change will throw every area of your life into chaos at the same time.
And yet, almost no one is taught how to process these life transitions in a healthy way.
We fumble our way through, doing the best we can, all the while wondering, “Is it normal to feel this way? Am I doing this right? Should I be handling this differently? Shouldn’t I be over this by now?”
I absolutely don’t believe there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to deal with the changes life throws our way — we’re all complex, multi-faceted people with equally complicated life situations. But there are a few things that have worked for me and/or my clients that might help to ease your path.
YOU’RE NOT WRONG FOR FEELING HOW YOU FEEL
I was coaching a client recently, Marissa, who confided in me that she was feeling extreme guilt for having mixed emotions about being pregnant.
On one hand, she was overjoyed to become a mom. She’d wanted kids and a family for a long time, and she’d been ecstatic to find out she was pregnant.
There was another side of her, though, that felt sad and nostalgic for a phase of her marriage that was about to end for good. Never again would it be just the two of them — just her and her husband against the world — and a small part of her was already grieving the end of those freedom-filled years of early marriage.
Marissa hadn’t told anyone but me about these mixed emotions because she felt ashamed of feeling anything but pure joy, like she was “supposed” to feel while pregnant.
I emphasized to Marissa, just like I’m emphasizing to you right now:
Contrary to what you might have learned growing up or observed in society, there is no “right” way to emotionally process any ending or any new beginning in life. Whatever you feel is valid for you, and there is no shame in it.
YOU’RE COMPLEX, AND SO ARE YOUR EMOTIONS
In fact, feeling complex, mixed emotions doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. On the contrary, it’s proof of your real, raw humanity. It’s validation that you’re alive and playing full-out in the game of life.
If you’re NOT feeling a wide array of normal human emotions, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more evolved or mature — it actually may be an indication that you’re numbing in some way. It likely means you’re disconnecting from yourself and your life.
So please, please don’t make yourself wrong for feeling whatever it is that you feel in the middle of a life transition. Instead of numbing or quieting or judging your emotional reactions (or projecting them on other people), try this approach instead …
HOW TO GET THROUGH ANY TRANSITION
- Fully grieve what you’re leaving behind. Even if you think you won’t miss it, there’s likely some aspect of the situation that will stir a pang of nostalgia. Go easy on yourself during this grieving period, and don’t rush it. You may just need a day to feel sad and disappointed, or you may need months of intense grieving. Give yourself what you need.
- Find a way to get the mixed emotions out of your body. The worst thing you can do when feeling ALL of the emotions is to keep them quiet and bottled up. Depending on how you do your best processing, try writing, drawing, talking it out with someone who can really listen, beating a pillow, going for a run — whatever will allow the emotion to move through your body. One of my clients does a quick watercolor painting most mornings to express whatever she’s feeling that day. The only rules here are: 1) No filtering or watering down your emotions, and 2) No judging how you feel.
- Sit in the discomfort of the in-between. There’s usually a time gap between an ending and a new beginning, and it can be a scary place filled with tons of open space and uncertainty. As challenging as it might feel, try to sit with the discomfort of the empty space in the meantime, without filling it with mindless distractions or trying to rush through it. This is a temporary phase, and if you can hang in there for a little while, the space will fill back in with something even more amazing than before.
- Visualize your ideal version of the next phase. Use the in-between time to get super clear on what you want next. Visualize it, write about it, talk about it, act as though you’re living it already. Start to feel excited anticipation for what’s coming your way, and expect that it will show up soon.
I’d love to hear how this relates to you. Are you in the middle of a life or career transition right now? Has it been making you feel emotionally all over the place? And are you willing to give yourself permission to feel however you feel during this change? Leave a comment to let me know!
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