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:
You are allowed to feel however you feel. ALL of your feelings are valid, not just the positive ones.
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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Kristen (+ Rachel)
I just learned that after almost 2 years of job searching I’ve been offered a position that entails a major move – away from a decade of community. I’m in the heart of figuring out how to sell a house, downsizing my stuff, find a new place to live, figure out how to remain active in my hobbies in a new place. I’m beyond thrilled to be leaving my job and haven’t yet had pangs of nostalgia over leaving my work. But my community and home will be sorely missed.
This was really timely for me. Thanks!
First of all, congrats on the new job!! It sounds like you’ve been ready for a change for a while now, and it’s finally happening. That’s exciting! And yet, it’s also got to feel a bit sad to leave the community you’ve built over the past decade. No wonder you’re feeling a whole array of emotions right now! That’s a lot to process — both logistically and emotionally. Glad this post hit home at such a perfect time for you! And good luck with your new adventure. 🙂
Your post really spoke to me. Even though some might not classify this as a huge life transition, I went through many of the same thoughts and emotions after my partner had cheated on me. I was very confused and wondered how I was supposed to feel. When I felt that I wasn’t feeling the way I was supposed to, I would judge myself. And in the end that only made it harder on myself.
The way I found myself viewing it was, the old relationship he and I had vanished. And I had to make a choice on whether to build a new one or to drop it. I feel like after people go through that grieving process you talked about, they go through the same thing. Do I start my own business or walk away from my dream? Do I take a leap of faith or stay in my comfort zone?
Looking back now, I was too harsh on myself. I think many people get like that when they feel confused and frustrated with life changing experiences. It helps to have a strong support system: family, therapist, friends etc. I think that can be applied to any large shock/ transition one goes through.
All in all, I wanted to say that your post was well written and elicited my own feelings and thoughts. It also helps to review ways to push forward when you don’t think you can.
Thank you for sharing 🙂
Allie — Wow, what a painful situation that must have been! And extremely confusing too, I’m sure. I’m betting that people in your life (family, friends, etc.) had their own emotional reactions to it as well, which probably made you even more confused about how YOU actually felt. And then piling self-judgment on top of the conflicting emotions makes the whole thing hurt even more.
I’m glad you gave yourself a grieving period, and it sounds to me like you can now look back and understand that everything you felt in that situation was perfectly fine. It’s what you needed to feel in order to move on. And you’re right — eventually you come to a place where you have to make a decision: Do I move forward with this, knowing that things are irrevocably different, or do I let this phase of my life pass on? It’s a tough choice, and only you can know what’s best for you.
I’m happy to hear that this blog made you feel less alone in your mash-up of emotions. Thanks for sharing!
I find that events and complexities of emotions that occur in response to them can at times be confusing. When I get bogged down in the confusion, I try to deal with the event by moving past it and trying not to judge the goodness or badness of it. The hard part can be in deciding if I need to take an external action because the action I take can open a new set of complexity. On the other hand, it can end up clarifying and simplifying life in the end. What challenges…time for deep breaths!
Susan — I love your approach of trying to not judge the situation as good or bad. It’s a challenging thing to do, for sure, but it feels WAY less weighty without all of the judgment. And you’re right, depending on the situation, sometimes taking action can really help clarify things and ease the chaotic emotions. And other times, you won’t be ready to take action for a while, and that’s perfectly OK, too.
I have just been fired from my job and am going through a lot of emotions right now. The firing was unexpected because I’ve been on maternity leave so it’s been very hard to take.
Your blog is giving me the steps I need to follow to get through this. Thank you!
Monica — Oh wow, getting fired while on maternity leave … that’s a LOT to take all at once! I’m sure you’re feeling so many different emotions, and tons of uncertainty, too. But I’m glad that this post seemed to show up at just the right time for you! Give yourself permission to go through the steps I listed above in your own time, without trying to rush to get answers immediately. You’ve got this! (And congrats on your little one! 🙂 )
Perfect timing very helpful.
Love when the timing works out just perfectly like that! Thanks, Dan!
Hi Kristen, Wow, this really hit home for me today and came at the exact right moment. I started a new job exactly one week ago and even though I was so excited, I’ve also been feeling conflicted about the change and loss of my old coworkers and comforts of my previous job. I can recognize that I’m having a hard time sitting with the discomfort, especially with everyone asking how it is and me not knowing how to answer authentically without being negative. I’ve definitely been filling spare time with mindless distractions like thriller novels and know I could be processing my emotions better, so I bought a cute notebook today and will work on the visualizations. Thank you so much for giving me the push and next steps I need.
Alysse, how funny that this topic showed up for you at the perfect moment! I always think it’s so cool when that happens.
Starting a new job is bound to create a TON of conflicting emotions, so I’m not at all surprised to hear that you’ve been feeling everything from excited to uncomfortable to confused to hopeful. That’s incredibly normal, especially in the first few weeks of a new job. I’m so excited that you bought a new notebook for visualizations, though! I have a feeling that could be very powerful for you. Thanks so much for sharing how you’re handling this!
This post came at the right time for me. I recently found out I’m pregnant after miscarrying just 10 months ago, and I’m struggling with what I’m “supposed ” to be feeling. I’m grateful to already have a child, excited to be getting another chance, and frightened at what could happen with this pregnancy. I like the idea of drawing what I’m feeling, it seems like a fun way to process the many emotions I’m feeling right now. Thanks for this!
I can only imagine the huge range of emotions you’re probably feeling right now, Michelle! Any woman in your shoes would be riding an emotional roller coaster right now, with extreme highs and lows along the way. There is absolutely no way you’re “supposed” to be feeling right now — there’s no such thing as a “right” or “wrong” way of processing this emotionally complicated situation. I promise that anything you’re feeling right now is normal. The best thing you can do is just find a way to express all of that emotions — and it sounds like drawing could be a great option for you! I’d love to hear how it goes, if you decide to give it a try!
Number Three! Such a challenge for me! So busted, but feel better knowing I am not the first to get sidetracked with “but I am supposed to be DOING a thing”.
#3 is SO HARD! You’re definitely not the only one who gets caught up in that. It takes a huge amount of courage, patience, and consciousness to sit in the in-between without trying to DO all of the things or distract yourself. But it’s worth it in order to leave space for the next awesome thing to show up!