What can I do to feel more positive and confident while riding out uncertaintiy in "transitional" phases of my life?
May 25, 2009 6:30 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to feel more positive and confident while riding out uncertaintiy in "transitional" phases of my life?

I'm in my mid 20s, and after a pretty traumatic breakup, have just moved back to my home town. I haven't lived here for 3 years, and while it's great to be back amongst my old friends and have a chance for a fresh start, it's also quite unsettling that I haven't got a long-established routine or a clear future plan now. I'm trying to use this as a time to reconsider what I want for my life (now that my plans with my partner won't be happening) and get in touch with who I really am etc... but I can't help feeling uneasy about the fact that nothing's really happening right now... I'm about to start studying, I've applied for a job, I'm keeping busy with training for my sport, but right at this moment there's nothing major that I'm passionately working on and towards, that I can pin all my hopes on (I realise this is unhealthy and almost definitely the cause of a lot of my unhappiness).

I've felt similarly before, and always just either stayed in an unhappy situation to avoid this happening and tried to "make it work", or jumped into a poor but distracting situation to avoid having to go through this. These situations have been both geographical, career or relationship situations, but my response so far has always been the same.

This time I want to stick it out and not just run away from it. I feel like this is my chance to become more authentically "me" and comfortable with that, and make better choices from that position, and hopefully end up being comfortable and reasonably happy day to day without it being pinned on some future awesomeness, but I keep being tempted to either run away (distract myself with things I don't really want or literally move overseas again) or hide in my room forever cos it's just too hard.

What can I do to face this time in a positive, constructive manner?
posted by Chrysalis to Human Relations (7 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, in addition, how can I feel more confident making decisions/choices? I keep second guessing myself and spending copious amounts of time considering and weighing up and worrying about potential outcomes and then delaying making decisions at all, in case I make the wrong one, which keeps me trapped in not really taking steps in any direction. People keep telling me "you always forget you're not locked in to anything" - but I always feel like I will be, since I'm so terrified of these transitional times.
posted by Chrysalis at 6:42 PM on May 25, 2009

Best answer: First let go of the notion that 'nothing is really happening' and that 'this is unhealthy'. Your life is happening (and already sounds filled with friends, studies, job and sports. And, taking time to think about longer goals is perfectly healthy.

Second, everyone is very good at distracting themselves and being absent in their body, so rather than get down on yourself, recognize that you are doing well to acknowledge this.

Third, learning something new (that is acting in a new way) is always uncomfortable at first, but you'll be surprised at how quickly you can get comfortable with practice.

My suggestion is to focus on a few things you can control and that will be helpful to your confidence. The first is to start with gratitude. You are lucky to be alive, have what material things you have, and have the opportunity to make these choices. When you get a bit lost in your thoughts come back to that.

From there, you can remind yourself that you are human. You are going to make mistakes, but you can act and speak about them with your own voice and make your own choices. Do not expect your choices to be perfect; they won't be.

Then you can look at the fact that not making a decision is a choice. You are electing not to act. There is nothing invalid about this choice. In fact, for some of us our challenge is to not take on too much at once! But, when you consider your options, explicitly think about whether that is the choice you want. Get away from treating it as a default and think of it as a selection.

Finally, I would encourage you to embrace this place in your life. Acknowledge that you are unsure of the next step in your path but be open to the possibilities. Give yourself the time and space to be uncomfortable with not having the thing to pour your hopes into. Practice every day coming back to being grateful, human, with choices and possibilities. Deal with it explicitly daily whether in conversation, meditation, a journal, or just sitting and thinking.

You may find that as you do this new things will open up for you and it will become clear when it is time to make a new choice.
posted by meinvt at 7:43 PM on May 25, 2009 [10 favorites]

I feel for you-I think those of us who've been there know how you feel. I am nearly 40 now and continue to mentor/work with people your age and in your situation. Honestly, I don't think that there's much you can do except keep your head up and keep plugging. You mention studying soon, so that's one great direction to keep moving towards. You're obviously still hurting from a break up, but everything will get better. This period in life is a tough one because you're between two worlds: growing up/college, and the rest of life. We end up in purgatory until we've transitioned off into the next phase of life. The hard part is that you can't force it: it will happen naturally, but the truth is it could take years. Regarding your decisions/choices, all you can do is go with your gut. I think back about many questionable decisions in my life. Some are unknowable: how might things have turned out had I stuck with a previous girlfriend, or had I not gone to grad school, or, etc. But, you can't look back - make the best, rational decisions you can and blaze forward.

Having said all of this, I look back at that period in my life and don't miss it one bit. I was stuck for a few years before getting through to the other side, and they were the most confusing and uncomfortable years of my life. Keep your head up! : )
posted by SciGuy at 7:53 PM on May 25, 2009

My advice to you is find any agency in town that is involved with the things you are most passionate about. Volunteer with them. Do this again. And again.

Filling your time up in service is the greatest way possible to get out of your head and be present for others, others who have either gone through the same situation you are currently in, or ones far worse.

I told myself four months ago when I became part of the new, cool, Laid Off Club that I could either:

a. marinate in self-loathing and despair and doubt my ability to change my circumstances,


b. realize I now have the gift of twelve more free hours a day to start some fantastic projects.

Since then, I've become a certified Community Organizer, a leader in ocean conservation, and the host of two community radio programs.

I'm still looking for work, and dealing with hard questions, but I'm also now known as a leader in my community, I have an enormous network of mentors who are also my dearest friends, and I'm getting tons of stuff done that benefit people I share my community with.

Get out the door and out of your head - go volunteer instead!
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:34 PM on May 25, 2009 [9 favorites]

Try picking up a book on transitions by William Bridges. I learned a lot about why we go through these phases in life, and that in turn helped my confidence (at least, it reassured me that there might be a meaning behind all of it, and there are ways to ride it out and even take advantage of it).
posted by elisynn at 9:10 PM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Bridges transition model. He makes the point that the transitions are where our identity actually happens; they are the places in which we create ourselves, in which possibilities exist - not when everything is set and humming along.

Also seconding getting involved locally in causes you care about.

Third, I'm like you, prone to overthinking and anxiety in these situations. You have some good irons in the fire - it's not like you're slacking. Keep experimenting with these building blocks of the future, but give yourself a rest. You have plenty of time. Things will fall into place. If you find you are obsessing and stressed, then your problem isn't transition really, but the anxiety you feel over uncertainty - a separate issue, and one that can be worked on and improved. Reducing anxiety is a great life skill that you could get started on now.
posted by Miko at 9:32 PM on May 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

Re the decision-making process: there's a quote by someone that goes, "In the time it takes you to decide what to do, I can do it wrong and once again correctly." While that, well, doesn't work all the time, it's good to remember (at least if you're getting hung up on small stuff). What do you have to lose, really?

Indecision is really making a decision in itself: to do nothing.
posted by Xany at 2:11 AM on May 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

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