Ask Elaine: I finally made big changes, but feel more unsure than ever


Hi Elaine: I’ve made some big changes over the past few years that I thought would bring me closer to the life I wanted, but I still feel discontent and unsatisfied. In early 2020 before the world shut down, I decided to stop attending the church I grew up in. In 2021, I went part-time at the job I held for a decade to focus on my business and finally left completely a month ago, beginning my career in full-time entrepreneurship. I convinced myself that I needed to make those changes to feel happier, but I feel more disconnected and uncertain than ever before.

I often wonder if I should move out of my home state of Arkansas — something I contemplated even before the big aforementioned changes, but I don’t know if I’m trying to run away or if a move is worth considering. I’ve literally lived within a 45-mile-radius my entire life.

In some ways, I love staying here because I have great pride in my community and want to do what I can to make it better. In other ways, I feel like a change of environment may be what I need. To sum it up, I’m someone who has recently pivoted in a direction I chose, yet I still feel like something is missing. How do I know if yet another external change is needed or if I just need to shift my mind-set and be grateful for the pivots I’ve made so far?

— Pivoted, but now what

Pivoted, but now what: Have you ever heard the saying, “Wherever you go, there you are?” Seems like it might apply here. Just because we make external changes, frustratingly, it doesn’t mean they will yield the results we want — especially not right away. I’m a big believer that the most meaningful and sustainable change happens from the inside-out. It isn’t necessarily the big, sweeping shifts in our external reality that usher in the lasting change we seek. Real change happens over time in the tiniest moments, day after day, choice by choice.

However, sometimes external shifts can support internal shifts. The question really is how much of what you’re feeling is environmental? I don’t know and neither will you until you do some deeper interrogation.

Take the pressure off a potential move and stop judging any of the other changes you’ve made recently. Detach from trying to answer the question of whether you are leaving or staying and prioritize learning more about where you are right now.

Let’s explore the root of your discontent, since it’s harder to figure out what would make you happy without understanding the depth and complexity of what’s contributing to your unhappiness. When you really sit inside your dissatisfaction with life, what is at the root of it all?

Have a question for Elaine? Submit it here.

You mentioned that you made all of these changes to get closer to the life you want. I’d love to learn more about that life you’re imagining for yourself. Can you describe it? Have you written it down? If so, where are the gaps between where you are and where you want to be? Get really specific. This can help illuminate the deficits in your current lifestyle and help guide you toward the most impactful shifts.

It’s worth considering that some of the dissatisfaction you’re feeling could be a result of isolation. Starting a business is lonely. Doing it in a pandemic is even more lonely. On top of that, you walked away from some significant sources of community. As dysfunctional as church families and colleagues sometimes are, they provide a sense of familiarity that can become little anchors in our lives (for better or worse). Without any strong sense of belonging to a community, it’s easy to feel untethered. If stepping away from those communities was the healthiest decision for you, what other places can you tap into that are in line with the direction you want to go in? Seek them out.

Also, make a commitment to discovering what makes you feel good every day, knowing it may require other changes, such as adjustments to your diet, more time with the right friends, and perhaps breaking thought patterns that keep you feeling stuck. It may also require distancing yourself from places and people that reinforce the mind-set that you’re looking to leave behind.

In the meantime, congratulations on making big, brave leaps of faith some people hem and haw about for years and never actually live out. Just because you don’t like where you’ve landed doesn’t make these changes mistakes. Avoid thinking of happiness as a destination. Happiness is often fleeting and there are so many factors that play into our feelings, and many are out of our control. But introducing and reinforcing a renewed mind-set with daily positive self-talk practices can improve your reality, no matter where you live. And I highly recommend therapy to help navigate so much change all at once, and to rule out any mental health conditions that could be contributing to your sustained malaise.

Remember: No matter what other people’s lives look like from the outside, we are all figuring out how to be happy as we go. Give yourself permission and the patience to do the same.

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