By Jenna Catalon
In January of 2018, my life looked very different than it does now. I was warmer, with the Santa Barbara sun as a constant companion. I had a car, and in my 30-minute between-class breaks, I would drive it down to the beach and skateboard the length of East Beach, breathing in the salty air. Whenever I find myself in a deep dive of archived photos from that time, I become a brooding character, with Heathcliff-y slumped shoulders and Kristen Stewart eyes.
Since then, I’ve learned a whole lot about new beginnings through a cross-country relocation, a perilous entry into the DC workforce, starting fresh at two (!!) completely different workplaces, and stepping into new relational roles in my personal life.
At times, I’ve felt like a tragically far-from-solved Rubix cube in the hands of a toddler. The most notable of my many mix-matched colors were:
- My role in my family
- My identity as a friend
- My sexuality
- My identity as a born-and-bred Californian (lost on the East Coast! Help!)
- My hopes for my career
But maybe you can pinpoint a similar moment in your story? Maybe you’re currently in a prelude to a big life change or working on coming down from one. Perhaps you’re feeling the tensions of being “new” at something or starting to think having two feet on solid ground is a pipe dream. Whatever the case, I’m here with a silver lining.
Through all the newness of the last few years, I’ve learned that while change is hard, you can still make it good. Here’s how I turned my transitional moments into lessons I’ll always carry with me.
1. Listen to your commuter buddy, your barista, and those who take time to be kind to you.
Where are my lovers of chaos at? I appreciate you folks so much — how you thrive whilst the rest of us are just sitting here reposting “mercury in retrograde” memes. I admire your ability to cope. I don’t cope — I lie down in the center-most point of my living room, and I cry and cry and cry. In the latter part of 2018, I did that a lot.
My “non-coping” mechanism of choice was a regularly scheduled midweek crying session that hit me hard as I faced the acute challenges of unemployment and buying a real winter coat for the first time. Looking back now, the most effective tool I found for navigating such a chaotic time was something I learned in my literature classes: the power of narrative.
Others’ stories and experiences, though sometimes wildly different than my own, equipped me to face the chaos that often accompanies big life changes. Listening taught me everything from “here’s how I successfully began a fruitful career in this city as a young woman of color” to “we stand on the right side of metro escalators and walk on the left.”
So I started seeking out more stories and more opportunities to listen. I set up coffees and informational interviews. I listened more in conversations with family or complete strangers, at my office, at home, at political events, religious meetings, when online. I was always listening (something you can do too!), and I learned that when you tune in to the experiences of others around you, you just might find the tools you need to keep moving forward.
2. Identify (or create!) a path to understanding.
I’ve never been astrologically savvy (that Mercury-in-retrograde-meme bit earlier is the extent of my Professor Trelawney-esque energy), but I’m a sucker for personality and aptitude tests. Right before I made my move to Washington, D.C., I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment by Gallup, and the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator test. These types of tests return insights into your character, fears, motivations, strengths, hopes, dreams, etc., but I found them to be most helpful in helping me figure out how I related to the new people and places around me.
For example, it seemed to me as if D.C. as a city valued the “E”, or extroverted, personality trait, where as my hometown placed more value on the “I”, or introverted personality trait. Identifying this was helpful in learning to understand those around me. Whether or not they identified as extroverted themselves, we were all moving through a space that favored a more outward-facing disposition.
My advice is to find (or create!) a system for understanding yourself that helps build bridges between you and your environment (and especially the people in it). This might look like a personality test, star signs, or something you invent for yourself. Take time to learn about yourself.
In doing so, be careful to not reduce yourself or anyone around you to letters, numbers, or signs. Rather, use your system as a jumping-off point. If SparkNotes were enough, we’d never have cause to read a whole book, but it’s in the act of reading that the real growth occurs, right?
3. Acknowledge tension, and learn to celebrate it.
If you’ve ever moved cities, you know that there’s a period of time where you’re adjusting to a new normal. Part of that means acknowledging that some of your relationships may change in the process. For me, the distance I placed between myself and my family post-move caused major points of tension. Contrary to popular belief, FaceTime can only get you so far.
In the midst of change, I’ve found it helpful to locate where those points of tension exist. In my experience, I felt them when communicating with my family electronically, over long distances. For you, that discomfort might arise when friends are slow to respond via text or a romantic partner across the country is on a different schedule from you.
Once you’re tuned into that gut feeling that something isn’t working, use it. You can succumb to the tension or grow in light of it. You can transform uncomfy feelings into a sort of internal alert system for opportunities to improve yourself and your environment.
I’m not claiming that this is an easy task. However, I am submitting for your consideration that it’s worth it. Not sure where to start? Try this journaling exercise: fold a page in half, make a list of what’s not working, and on the other half list opportunities to change the status quo. See where you can connect the two.
4. Nourish your community like you would a house plant (and remember to water it).
The single most buoyancy-increasing thing in my two-year-long attempt to keep my head above water was plain and simple: community.
I was raised in a tight-knit faith community — my sense of belonging developed faster than my ability to walk. In this, I recognize that I was lucky. So many of us grow up feeling out of place or like we don’t belong, and I got a taste of that recently.
Forgoing my beach town of 90,000 people for a metropolitan center of more than six times that size left me feeling lost in everything and beholden to nothing. It took finding (and regularly attending!) a well-fitting faith community and (Alisha did not pay me to say this) plugging into online communities like Girls’ Night In that rebalanced my sense of belonging in the midst of change.
Faith may not be your story. Maybe you prefer to surround yourself with others who speak Arabic like you do, fellow dog moms (or cat moms!), bowling club members, or others belonging to the online gaming community. Regardless of what type of people you gravitate toward, I’ve learned that investing in a community makes weathering the turbulence of change more bearable; and that’s why it’s my favorite lesson of all.