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Quality of Life: Making significant life changes with purpose

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Indiana Lawyer Commentary

If you have ever considered making a major life change, you know that it isn’t easy. Sometimes it seems next to impossible. There are times, however, when significant changes are necessary in order to move forward with your life. Because all of us will be faced with making transitions at some point in the future, here are some tips that might help with initiating and following through as you make life adjustments.

There are five steps that can be helpful as you make life changes. First, develop a vision of what is possible if you make the change. While it may sound a little “out there,” it has been proven that visualization can help to turn dreams into reality.

Second, acknowledge that change is scary. Virtually any change involves not only facing the unknown, but also letting go of the familiar. This can be terrifying sometimes — and often is so scary that it keeps people from making a change that, in the long run, would be much better for them. So, it is important to weigh the risks against the potential benefits. Compare the potential payoffs of the change with the personal cost of maintaining the status quo. What is the worst thing that could happen if you try to make the change? What is the best thing? What is the worst thing that could happen if you keep things as they are? What is the best? This type of assessment can be very helpful as you maneuver through life’s transitions. It may be helpful to enlist the help of a close friend, family member, or counselor to assist you with this analysis. Don’t isolate yourself in this process because there may be alternative courses of action or outcomes that you wouldn’t think of, or consider, if left to your own devices.

Third, don’t “over analyze” the situation. OK, I just told you to do a risk/benefit analysis and now I’m saying don’t over analyze. Attorneys are so accustomed to analyzing situations that there is some chance that you will get bogged down in the analysis stage and never move on to the action stage. If you come up with too many possible scenarios and outcomes, you will effectively paralyze yourself and keep yourself from taking any kind of action.

Fourth, consider the steps necessary to making the change. Acknowledge that some people may not understand or may be hurt by your actions and determine how to make the change with the least amount of fallout if possible. Write down the steps you plan to take so that you can chart your progress and have a feeling of accomplishment as you move closer to your goal. Realize that you might experience “growing pains” as you initiate the changes, and try not to let those pains keep you from making changes that could improve your future.

Fifth, don’t allow yourself to be blinded to other options if during the change process you come across information that makes the change seem unreasonable, or if it ceases to be feasible. It may not be an either/or situation. There may be compromises or alternatives that you could pursue that could serve a similar purpose to your original plan. Fluidity is often a necessary part of the change process. It may not happen as quickly as you had hoped, or the change may wear a different face than you had initially anticipated. This is not a reason to abort the mission entirely — just stay open and flexible to modifications to your first plan. A fallback option does not mean that you failed. It means that you are prepared for any eventuality.

Remember to stay optimistic and enthusiastic. This can be hard, but if you remind yourself that you are doing the right thing and your actions are taking you to a fresher, better place in your life, you can keep your enthusiasm for the task. Although frightening at times, change can lead you to a new and better life.•

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Jonna Kane MacDougall, an Indianapolis attorney, is assistant dean for external affairs and alumni relations at the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis and a former law school career services director. A professional career/life coach, MacDougall can be contacted at (317) 370-4361 or via e-mail at whatsnextforyou@comcast.net. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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