How To Take Charge And Navigate An Unexpected Change

How To Take Charge And Navigate An Unexpected Change

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Sometimes you need a push. You may not know you need it—you may even resent it—but a push helps (sometimes forces) you to change and can ultimately take you in a good direction. We coaches love to talk about inspiration and lofty goals, but the truth is that many people don’t take action until the status quo gets uncomfortable.

There are two forces that bring about action and change: pull and push.

  • Pull is what draws you forward and positively motivates you. It is a vision, a shiny object, a yearning, goal or aspiration. You reach for it because you want it. Pull is a bright future that excites us, sparks us and calls us to action.
  • Push is what drives you and necessitates action. It can be an external event or an internal discomfort, dissatisfaction or frustration. Push is a force that makes the here and now untenable and requires action.

A push led me to the most positive career move of my life. When my husband and I got married, we started a family right away and we agreed to a division of labor in which he earned the money (and provided health insurance), and I produced and was the primary caregiver for our three kids. Initially, we were both happy with this arrangement. I was burnt out on my law career and thrilled to be with our little ones, and he was super excited about his new job in San Francisco. But about four years into our arrangement, he was feeling frustrated in his work and trapped by his role as sole provider. The deal needed to change and I was pushed into the professional world. Thanks to this push (which I resisted at first), I found my way to becoming a coach. Eleven years later, I am thriving professionally and helping support my family doing work that I love. And I might never have done it without the push.

There are many similar stories from people who got laid off from jobs where they had been stuck and unhappy or who re-entered the workforce when a spouse was laid off or whose marriage ended. Or who find out they are pre-diabetic and change their diet and exercise habits. In many cases, though the precipitating event is hard, or even traumatic, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off and embrace the necessity to change. Frequently, down the road, they look back at these events as positive turning points.

We tend to idealize the pull and think of push as a bad thing. But let’s be real. Often times it is not enough to be positively motivated. Evolutionary biologists and social scientists tell us that we have a negativity bias, that we are wired to avoid being eaten by bears and not to smell flowers. It often takes both push and pull to spur us into action. Maybe you had an idea or a dream (pull) that you hadn’t acted on, and then things got bad enough at work (push) and you quit and start your own business. Or you were complaining about your boss (push), and a friend mentioned a job opening that sounded cool (pull).

So a push can be beneficial—but that doesn’t give you license to be passive or drift. In order to navigate the push well, you need to take ownership. Here are some ways to find the pull in the push:

  • Align the push with your values. Connecting to your values helps you tap into the positive future you are seeking to create. For example, I could have said, “My husband is making me get a job,” but that would have put me in the role of the victim—bad for me and for our marriage. Instead, I aligned with my values of partnership, balance, love and fulfillment (for him as well as me) and allowed these values to guide my search.
  • Find the pull: turn your complaint into an aspiration. If you are feeling miserable because of a toxic boss or a crushing workload, convert those dissatisfactions into a vision of what you are seeking: a great mentor, a supportive culture, balance. Pursue that positive vision. Tip: when you are asked in a job interview why you are leaving a job, it is always best to look forward to what you are seeking rather than backward to what you are escaping.
  • Act before a nudge becomes a shove. It is true that sometimes things need to get pretty uncomfortable before you are willing to risk making a change. However, don’t let things get so bad that you are desperate. Acting before the wheels have come off the bus allows you to be proactive instead of reactive.
  • Get into action, even if you don’t feel ready. An unwelcome push can damage your confidence and leave you uncertain of what to do. The best way to figure out is to try stuff. Start by updating your resume, researching places you might like to work and having exploratory conversations with people you know. When a baby bird is pushed out of the nest, the successful ones start flapping.
  • Be prepared. You never know when a push may come. Keep your resume up-to-date and maintain your network so that you have resources and support to help you if the push comes along.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you jumped or were pushed—as long as you take wing and fly.