The first steps to changing the way you spend your days

Have you ever had a sense that you need a new way to spend your time? Perhaps you are unsatisfied with your job or career prospects. You might have spent time raising children or caregiving and are ready for something new. Or perhaps you woke up one day, after pursuing what “success” meant to you and realized that you wanted something else entirely.

You’re not alone. Job search website Indeed did a small survey last year in which it found that roughly half of the people surveyed had made a big career change. One out of five caregivers leaves the workforce involuntarily, according to researchers at Harvard University. And, of course, we can’t underestimate the impact of the pandemic. Recent Pew Research Center data found that roughly half of adults say their lives will remain changed significantly after the pandemic. Think about the implications: So many people are in jobs or roles they don’t want or have had their lives upended through no fault of their own. Of course they’re going to want change. The question then becomes: How do they create it? 

Extreme life makeover

I regularly hear from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who want to change how they spend their days. For many, it’s a scary time. We may draw a hefty measure of self-worth from our careers or roles. Changing them entirely also changes the equation by which we determine who we are and our “worth” in the world.

I understand that fear. I’ve changed my role several times and adapted it for what I needed in my life at the time. I left the corporate world to build a small business in my 20s. When my daughter was born, I reinvented myself as a freelance writer, even though everyone said it was hard to make a decent living that way. (It is, but it’s also more than possible.) It is scary. What if the changes we make don’t work out? What if we change things and aren’t any happier or satisfied? 

What if we looked at the prospect of change—real, life-affirming change—as exciting instead of terrifying? It’s an opportunity to create something new. And, if you’re in a position where you’re safe and have the resources you need, for now, you’re in an even better place. You may pick a period of time as a development and training period to plan and prepare for the changes you want to make.

The first step to creating change

When I talk to people about creating vocation or avocation changes in their lives, my first advice is to be sure you’re not mistaking burnout or just being tired of wanting real change. You don’t want to throw away a career you actually like because you’ve had a temporary setback or are just run down. Take a little time to think about what you want. Rest. If you can take a couple of days off to read, relax, and daydream, all the better. I know that’s not realistic for many people. But try to find at least some downtime to ensure you’re not tired.

If you feel better, great. If not, then it’s time to start getting an idea of what you want next. What moves you? What makes you happy? What have you always wanted to do, but circumstances got in the way? Whether you use a notebook, laptop, smartphone, or journal, write down these thoughts.

A note here: Don’t skip that part. Writing down your goals does a few things for you. First, it helps you crystalize them. You focus on what you’re writing, and it becomes clearer in your mind. Next, it gives you a touchstone. You can refer back to your journal, document, or notebook at any time to remind yourself of what you want.

This is also the time to think big. Did you always want a career in the arts? To work with animals? To be a chemist? There are so many opportunities out there that you don’t even know about. Think about this:

  • Donald and Doris Fisher opened their first Gap store in San Francisco when he was 40
  • Morgan Freeman got his breakout role at age 50
  • Julia Child got her first cooking show when she was 51
  • Sue Monk Kidd published The Secret Life of Bees at age 53
  • The late Gladys Burrill ran her first marathon at the age of 86
  • Marion Thomas finished her bachelor’s degree at age 90

What would have happened if they assumed change was too hard or that they were “too old” or “too something” to keep pursuing their dreams?

What about you?

And then consider all of the options that aren’t about winning an Academy Award that may still create exciting, dynamic ways to live your dreams. I know someone who studied to be an actor but didn’t like the erratic income that can come with the territory. That person works at a major motion picture studio as a liaison to the people who make movies. Another is an accountant for Broadway shows. Think about all of the roles that exist that aren’t immediately visible but which offer remarkable opportunities to work in glamorous or life-changing industries.

Spend some time thinking about where you want to go next. This is a fun exercise! Assume anything is possible and allow yourself to think big. Next week, we’ll start talking about creating a game plan for making those dreams a reality.

Gwen Moran

Gwen Moran is a writer, author, and speaker who wants to help people cultivate more joy and fulfillment in their lives. She is the creator of Bloom Anywhere.