What’s Holding You Back? Thoughts on Change

Have you been considering changing careers?  Now is a great time to begin seriously plotting your exit strategy.  With the winter solstice’s arrival, we begin the upswing (at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere) toward longer daylight each day and, img_20161104_183125358implicitly, greater personal energy.  One writer described the winter solstice as the return of Yang energy (Yin representing the counterbalancing energy that dwindles until the winter solstice).  With the return of Yang energy (or simply greater sunlight if you prefer) we have an amazing opportunity to ride along on the upswing.  What’s holding you back?

Many highly sensitive people may find ourselves feeling anxious about change.  Change and anxiety go hand in hand in many senses but anxiety that is paralyzing prevents us from making the changes we may already know we need to make to improve our lives.  Make no mistake, anxiety serves a purpose in alerting us to the need to consider or reflect on our proposed change before making a choice.  Reflection and deep consideration are hallmarks of sensory processing sensitivity.  Without deep processing of all stimulation, our trait would be of little value.  With deep processing comes an examination of the situation including how the change will affect us personally (how we experience change), how it will affect our families, and how the change will affect our careers.  Within each consideration, anxiety will exist regarding our desire for positive outcomes and an avoidance of negative results (which go hand in hand with change because change always involves some level of risk).

There is a certain security in knowing what to expect but routine that does not vary significantly may also be stifling or limiting in time.  For sure, we all have to earn money to pay for our daily living but within that we are also more than pawns in a never-ending game of exchange of monetary resources (money) for goods and services.  Our societies may be set up on a monetary basis but we know as highly sensitive people (a number of whom are likely gifted individuals) that life is more complex than simply maintaining a rote existence akin to being a machine.  We know that to be alive, curious, creative, and deep thinking and deep feeling means we ask questions that are fundamental to understanding whether we should take one course of action or another.  We know that being creative demands of us that we occasionally shed our skins and emerge from often long processes of ambiguity sporting new skins of iridescent hues.  Much as the butterfly must undergo a chrysalis stage to emerge as a spectacularly beautiful, fragile sailor of the atmosphere we must be willing to enter a chrysalis stage at times where life may be uncertain.  Anxiety about entering such stages is entirely normal because we prefer definite outcomes, in fact, in Western societies we have been conditioned to think in a linear fashion where A+B must equal C.  I challenge us to do and be more.

Highly sensitive people experience stimulation cognitively certainly but we also experience stimulation somatically with emotions serving as the conduit through which we become aware of the need to focus on what is in front of us.  Emotions are messy and unpleasant at times and they create a ton of useless anxiety that may be very difficult to manage but they do serve as an activating mechanism to begin the deep processing our trait is known for.  Once we begin to feel and think deeply we often find ourselves stuck in loops that are difficult to break.  Is it a wonder that we may at times fear change even when we know it may be the best course of action?  Who wants to intentionally feel and think in a chronic loop of overlapping thoughts and waves of complexity?  It can be daunting, not to mention paralyzing.  How can we break through this wall?

Often, we need to seek the counsel of others who have proven themselves to be trustworthy and knowledgeable.  Often, our own counsel is one voice in what should be a choir of voices informing our choices.  Putting together your own wisdom committee may be essential to working through the complexities in a huge life change.  Why would we consider that our own counsel is sufficient when we are so close to the situation?  Why would we think that others may not be able or willing to serve on our committees?  Many highly sensitive people may have experienced adverse childhood events (ACEs) that make trusting other difficult.  If you have experienced ACEs trust may never be easy to give but the reality is trusted others may be the key to fully understanding and appreciating whether and how we should move forward with a change we are considering.  Your wisdom committee may consist of several knowledgeable people who you know well (and who know you), but there may be others you need to recruit with specific knowledge of an industry or a given local area.  Why would anyone serve on your wisdom committee?  Because you will be willing to serve on theirs!  It’s a reciprocal situation of give and take.  You may feel less than enthused about asking others to serve but rest assured those who are willing to serve will feel no hesitation in helping you; those who hesitate will be of no value to you.

Highly sensitive people are typically highly intuitive and perceptive.  Many of us may be quite used to following our gut instincts but gut instincts may be quite wrong as well.  This is where your wisdom committee will allow you to objectively assess a situation and reflect on your “instincts.”  Facts and empirical experience have a way of informing a situation so we may base our decisions on more than gut instincts.  Intuition does play a valuable role in decision-making but we must temper it with realistic assessments that may run counter to what we are feeling.  One of the hazards of being a deep feeling person is we feel everything more deeply than may be warranted.  Having a wisdom committee that can reign in our instincts in service to a larger gain may be just what we need at times.  There are other considerations that may weigh heavily on choices we make: our families.

Few of us make decisions in a vacuum.  Most of us have spouses or significant others and children or extended family who may factor in a great deal in the decision-making process.  What becomes of our kid’s educations if we move to take a new position?  How will our partners adapt or adjust to being in a new area or do they even wish for us to make the change?  What if we have an extended family member we are a caregiver for?  What happens to them?  These questions are all valid and should go into the mix of aspects that we should consider and plan for.  No decision we make will occur without affecting the lives of those with us and around us.  Again, this is where your wisdom committee comes into play in offering objective views from a variety of viewpoints.  Cumulatively, once you have these viewpoints you have a richer tapestry of hard-won knowledge from competent professionals and trusted others to base your choices on.  What happens when we have input from our wisdom committee?

Once we know how others think and feel about our proposed change/s we must be willing to enter a chrysalis stage to allow for a period of reflection in which we weigh the many factors involved in any significant change.  Career may seem like the most important issue in life on some levels but beyond a point, career serves no function.  The sum total of who you are is more than the career choices you have made or will make.  Life consists of many layers of complexity that exist in a time and place.  Wait a year and circumstances may be entirely different.  Career, then, is one layer of complexity, albeit a thick layer that does demand our fullest focus and energies, in a larger mosaic of interrelated and interconnected webs of complexity and synergistic dynamisms.  Depending on the stage we may be at in our career may determine much regarding a change.  Early career people may benefit from (indeed need to make crucial changes) while mid-career people may be focused on finding a niche within an existing career that offers more variety, greater creative challenges, and pay.  Late career people may need to weigh and balance issues of health and/or desires to work on the most meaningful contributions.  Wherever we find ourselves in career stage (perhaps you have had no one particular career) we will need to do our due diligence in accurately assessing and evaluating the best information we are able to collect.  When we confront anxiety with this “case” we may find that it retreats to some extent and we begin to feel more confident and at peace (at least tentatively) with our decision to make a change.

As 2016 draws to a rapid close and the winter solstice offers the promise of new light and life we are afforded the opportunity to connect with the natural upswing of natural daylight in developing inside our chrysalis cocoons before bursting out ready to confidently take the steps necessary to effectively initiate positive change in our lives that is well-considered, well-timed and balanced between gut level instinct and rational thought processes.  Highly sensitive people may be quite creative people in forming and reforming our lives to meet our needs.  In that regard, we embody creativity in a deeper, more meaningful sense than is possible for a society that views creativity and creative people as impractical dreamers.  Dreamers we may be but dreamers of lives that are founded on more than the profit motive or superficial, trite notions of conforming to a preset, arbitrary, stifling “box” of beliefs, values, and norms that run counter to our best instincts for meaningful existence and creativity enacted.

Change is often anxiety-producing and we should move beyond bearing the weight of the world upon our shoulders alone.  In 2017 I challenge you to move beyond anxiety by forming your own wisdom committee to reduce your fears, enhance your choices for positive change, and develop confidence in your ability to control your life and contribute to the health and well-being of others through conscious, embodied action.

Dr. Tracy Cooper is the author of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person.  Dr. Cooper consults on a one on one basis with people in career crisis and transition offering his unique vision and leadership in working through often difficult change processes.  He appeared in the documentary film Sensitive-The Untold Story with Dr. Elaine Aron and others articulating the current conceptualization of sensory processing sensitivity and the most significant aspects of the trait.

For a limited time, Dr. Cooper is offering a winter solstice discount of 20% on individual consulting and Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person, only at drtracycooper.com, as a way of extending his services and work to a wider audience.  Empower yourself in 2017 by investing in yourself in 2016!

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