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  • Sara Johnson

Report from the Change Lab

The dog sitting next to me in the sunshine is warm to the touch. When I pause in gently petting his sun kissed torso, he glances over his shoulder and taps his tail more. His familiar persistence makes me smile. Not so far in the distance I can see the ocean and the hills under a light blue cloudless sky. I can even faintly make out the sound of seals barking at the pier (a few miles away - yet it carries on the air). Though this view and this dog and all of this beauty in front of me is temporarily mine, I’m still swimming in awe that I get to experience all this. My footsteps through this chapter of my life reverberate: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Let’s be absolutely clear though: a lot of the times this chapter of my life also reverberates: WTF, WTF, WTF (are you doing)?! Alongside the deep gratitude is a rather perplexed feeling about how different my life looks and feels these days compared to a few years ago.

As a coach I think a lot about change, transformation and the human experience of doing things differently in our lives. What helps change flow with ease? What brings about the greatest resistance to change - particularly when the current “way” is clearly no longer working? Will the familiar always win out over the unfamiliar?

Launching my coaching practice has coincided with some of the largest shifts I've made in my adult life, giving me the experience of walking the talk and modeling being a messy human in the midst of change. What have I learned thus far and what are the questions that have supported me along the way?

Report from the Change Lab, 5 Years In

Expect discomfort

I can confirm that change can feel super uncomfortable! Is anyone surprised by that? Trying something new means you’re a beginner in an area of your life: a state that is challenging for many people. However, discomfort doesn't mean your choices and changes are wrong. There are very few changes that feel 100% easeful and intuitively right; expect a bit of self-doubt and even a desire to return to the familiar. Often a gravitation to the familiar is a message to tune in with more self-compassion, care, and acknowledgement of the challenges of change.

A question I've returned to: How can accepting and flowing with discomfort support me through this change?

Oh the feelings

My experience of change has included waves of feelings that have surprised me. For instance, I’ve had various periods of intense grief for what I intentionally let go of. I wondered: how could I be sad about something I chose? Turns out, you can proactively change and also grieve what you’re releasing: that’s allowed. I’ve also felt renewed confidence, bolstered by a sense of possibility and recognizing what I’m capable of. I’m proud of myself and happy I’m trying new things in my life, stumbles and all. I’ve also felt a lot of straight up fatigue. Like the discomfort, I have worked to welcome my feelings during this chapter of change, without being overly driven by them.

A question I've returned to: How can I validate my feelings without acting on them in moments where they feel particularly charged or large in scale?

Shout-out to the helpers (past self included)

Who were the people who believed in the new work of art you were creating when it was still a rough sketch? Who saw the vision and cheered it on enthusiastically? I’ve been thinking of every room and home I’ve passed through (so many) since 2018, and the people who have literally hosted and ushered me through this change. I’ve been thinking with gratitude about the helpers and those who gave words of encouragement. Particularly my former coworkers who said I wouldn’t regret pursuing a new career later in life (and the ones who reminded me it wouldn’t be the last time I started over - wise ones!) I’ve also found myself smiling, laughing and tearing up a bit when I remember the Sara who rushed home from work, burst through the front door, grabbed her then partner by the shoulders and screamed, “I’m ready to change my life!!!” That earnest sweetie: I love her and honor her brave leap! She had no idea what that declaration would lead to.

A question I’ve returned to: How can I acknowledge my cheerleaders - and my past self - for helping get me here?

Prepare for the unexpected

For all the planners out there get ready because a lot doesn’t go according to plan. Change can bring a certain level of cringe - so fun! - with numerous missteps, stumbles, and false starts along the way. I’ve allowed myself to acknowledge that my planned changes have naturally led to other unexpected changes. Relationships have ended and relationships have begun. I’ve lost my favorite sweater. I’ve returned to the place I thought I was leaving forever - whoops. There have been big, loud, confident risks visible to all, and just as many tiny, doubt-filled, clumsy steps forward that I’ve navigated quietly.

A question I’ve returned to: How can I align my plans with my values and vision for my life (not someone else’s vision for my or their life)?

Change is felt in the body

Change is absolutely processed and felt through the body. I’ve experienced gratitude and grief and exhaustion and celebration, and noticed these as sensations in my body as well as thoughts in my head. I’ve cried a lot! Even in public places! I’ve felt angry and I’ve shouted a few times about what's going on. During a few phases of particularly intense change, I’ve found myself sleeping later in the mornings. I’ve felt a huge necessity to spend less time on my small screen and more time in nature, moving my body. I’ve felt a call to put my hand on my heart often while breathing and speaking kindly to myself. Caring holistically for myself through change - and giving recognition to the impact of change on my body - has been so important.

A question I’ve returned to: How can I care for my body’s experience of this change in the present moment?

I know my learning isn’t over yet and that this list barely scratches the surface of what’s been discovered and uncovered in this change lab. I know that change is consistent. I know that change is part of being human. I know less and more than I did when all this change began. I'm finding ways to increase my self trust as this change continues to unfold and surprise me. I'm taking it one day at a time.

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