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How to Know When It's Time to Change Your Life

It takes guts to change your life. Realizing something about your life is fundamentally wrong is a harsh truth to accept. Self-awareness will help you come to this conclusion sooner, but few have the willpower to do something about it. Courage, determination, and perseverance are required for you to do something about it, to alleviate the never-ending stress caused by living the “wrong way”. How do you know when you’re frustrated by the monotony of life? How can you tell the difference between needing a change in routine and lifestyle? I’ll help you understand how to change rhythms, allowing you to live a new life, and how to recognize when it’s time to change tempos.


There’s a moment when you’re sitting in your room, questioning your life’s choices. It’s not so much, “Why did I choose this degree?” That comes later. The first thought you think that indicates you need a big change goes something along the lines of, “Why am I still working at or doing XYZ?” Wondering “why am I still here?” was the first sign I needed a change. I was feeling frustrated with my part-time job and I started to wonder about my longevity on my way home. I hadn’t realized at the time, but this was the first clue that something was going wrong. I wasn’t feeling fulfilled and doing the mandatory shift duties around the clock no longer made me feel accomplished. I call this step, “discovering the seed of doubt.”


The next sign was dreading going to work and coming home, also known as “threat of the mundane.” The frustration from being unfulfilled at work follows you home. Little things start bothering you, and the chores begin piling up. Your life starts to feel unmanageable. Some remedy this by going out more, creating a new routine for managing chores, or outright ignoring them. The latter leads to you feel more overwhelmed as the day goes on. It becomes easy to ignore your postponed responsibilities while you try to figure out something is amiss. By now, you will start to wonder if something is wrong in your life. The friction will catch your attention and your subconscious will consider possible solutions.


art by Lola Estok

From here on out, we’re in dangerous territory. If you choose to ignore this feeling of disappointment, you become complacent. You start to settle in place, feeling as though there is nothing you can do to get rid of this feeling. Everyone eventually finds themselves at this step: complacency. This is when you tell yourself, “It is what it is.”


I call it, “hitting snooze”. Some turn to self-medicating, others turn to friends for emotional support. Both decide to sit in this feeling, to wait it out and see if it will change while doing nothing to make sure that it does. Those who decide to reconfigure their habits find temporary relief, but the keyword is temporary. 


Luckily, everyone also wanders over to the next step: getting hit with a renewed sense of agency. You’ll come home one day, look around, and wonder, “What have I been doing?” This step is called, “false awakening,” because for a little while, you might feel like you’re handling things and getting a grip on the disappointment. Things start to perk up.


Seeing the seemingly insurmountable tasks taking up space in your home gives you a rush of urgency. You start to take charge, clean the dishes piled up in the sink and do laundry, but a nagging feeling remains that you aren’t doing enough. You’re not taking care of the real issue, and it is what keeps you awake at night as you enjoy your freshly cleaned room.


You will bounce between these past few steps for a while, interrogating yourself, occasionally getting hit with a mudslide of What If questions. I call this, “the confusing tap dance." This is when your mind becomes foggy, unsure of how to handle current and new stressors.

This is the moment when you wonder, "Why did I get my degree in XYZ? Why did I decide I wanted to learn how to ABC?" You will dance back and forth as you try to reassure yourself that you made the right choice. Sometimes, you will feel better. Other times, comfort will come from a trusted individual in your life as you look around for guidance.


These questions will make you uncomfortable and lead to you seeking solace from others. As the dance increases in tempo and you become more unnerved, the questions will increase and you will begin to avoid answering them. This brings us to our next step.


Eventually, the discomfort gives way to consideration, and this will be what scares you from completing these thoughts. You stop asking for the opinions of others as you become more concerned with the path you have chosen. Who can blame you? No one talks about changing your life; there isn’t a guidebook. It feels scandalous to even consider changing industries, focusing on yourself, or moving to a different state. Still, you’ll think about it when you can’t sleep. I call this, “avoiding the call of the void.” You’ll do everything you can to not look right into it, right into the hypothetical future these What If questions provide, but you will always feel the pull. At this point, you will regret most of the big or life-changing decisions you've made recently and will wish you were a time traveler so you could warn your Past Self. Things don’t click into place until you’re at your wit’s end, finally confirming what your subconscious knew from the start, “I am not happy with the way things are.”


art by Lola Estok

You can only go up from here. This thought occurs when you’ve gone through the cycle again, wondering why you’re still doing what you’re doing, feeling unbothered as you sit in your messy space, which doesn’t always have to be physical. The lack of mental clarity is a key piece to realizing you need a lifestyle change. Once you realize how unhappy you are and that something fundamental must give, then you can move forward. It will dawn on you as you are cleaning the dishes again, “This isn’t what I want to do.”


You may have gone through all of this already, racked your brain for how to change your life, and maybe you realized you can’t afford to do so right now. Maybe the necessary change costs too much of your mental health, physical health, or emotional safety. Uprooting yourself and putting faith in yourself and the people around you can be an immensely vulnerable experience. Maybe you have done all the legwork and estimated that the cost is too high. What do you do then? The difference between those who answer the call of the void and those who don’t is that those who don’t still feel frustrated. They start going through the motions and mentally check out of life. How do you make sure you don’t do that?


You start small. I recommend breaking down your desired change into big chunks. Say you’re in New York and you want to start a farm in Georgia. Maybe you have the money, but you don’t have the mental capacity to look into raising chickens or learning how to drive a tractor. You grab the easiest task you can: building your physical strength. Or maybe you want to become a movie star. You can’t afford the professional headshots yet, but your current job pays decent enough. What do you do? You practice monologues in the mirror or study people during your daily commute.


Remember, it takes determination and courage to change your life, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it all at once. Some people do, and more power to them, but if you have limited resources, you have to work with what you have.


You might be asking, “I don’t think I need to change my life, but I know I need a change. Any advice for me?” Try something you’ve always wanted to do. Bungee jumping? Go rock-climbing. Get used to feeling the cable carry your body weight. Want to learn how to cook? Watch popular cooking channels on YouTube. Want to run a marathon? Look into highly recommended running shoe brands.

The key is to build momentum in one sect of the lifestyle change you want. You need to begin building the necessary experience to enable your success. This is how you grow as a person: you learn more skills that align with your current or desired lifestyle. You give yourself the required space to grow and you water yourself. You treat yourself with care and patience, and you don’t berate yourself for making mistakes. You recognize growing can be painful sometimes, and that part of the process of becoming taller and stronger is allowing yourself to stretch.


Most people shy away from changing their life because they don’t like not knowing the future, knowing for sure that everything will work out. So they stay right where they are and they shrivel up. Why curl up when you can stretch and get a gauge of your true abilities? See how far you can reach.

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