Transitions are a scary, inevitable part of life. We may know in our brains that nothing lasts forever, yet this knowledge doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to digest the reality of moving cities, changing careers, or ending a relationship. The transition from the comfortable to the unknown is always met with feelings of doubt and anxiety.
I recently made a difficult adjustment from being an independent bachelor and English teacher in Chiang Mai to living back at my parents’ place in NYC, with no job, staring at the same four walls that encapsulated me while I was a teenager.
It is a readjustment that at times is hard to swallow, but there are two things that prove most beneficial in adjusting to any imperfect circumstance:
- Keeping busy. Both the mind and the body must be exercised in order to feel happy and healthy. In order to keep the mind busy, it must have matters that are worth attending to. It doesn’t have to be life-changing work, but doing something to get your ass out of the house and off your phone will increase vigor. For me, this has been exemplified through daily yoga practice and choosing to work at the library instead of my room.
- Keeping things in perspective. Nothing lasts forever – not the beautiful circumstances nor the flawed ones. There is no rush: At 27 years old, Oprah Winfrey was fired from a journalism job, Mark Cuban was working as a bartender at 25. Opportunities can arise at any given moment and you must be willing to close one door before another door can be opened.
“Nothing happens until something moves” Albert Einstein once wrote. We ought not to be afraid of change just because it is easier to stay course.
I recall a few couples in college who everybody knew were not staying together after senior year, but stuck it out anyway. Simply because of the law of inertia – it is easier to stay in a failing relationship than it is to break it off and start anew.
Our hostility to change is, at its core, a fear of the unknown. Fear is entirely natural and even essential for all animals’ survival. However, often this fear of the unknown is greater than what it is we fear. We are scared of being alone, but may find once we are alone, we are content with our autonomy. We debate breaking up with a discordant partner for ages, only to recognize once it is done, the fear was far worse than the action itself.
What if someone dumps my ass?
I’m glad you asked. It is true that heartbreak is an experience that leaves you completely mind-fucked and the pain seems to go beyond emotional grief. In fMRI brain scans of people who have recently experienced a breakup, the same brain systems are actually shown to be active as people who were experimentally subjected to a sharp physical pain1.
In English, we use words like, “my heart is broken“, “my heart aches“, or “it feels like I got hit by a truck” that demonstrates not only the similarity between physical and emotional pain, but the severity of the emotional processing.
After going through my own breakup last year, I was both hurt and in denial. I would not and could not accept the fact that it was over. Surely, she will realize her mistake and apologize, I told myself repeatedly.
One of the most common reasons for our suffering lies in the intense discomfort we feel towards change. We want situations to be different than the way they are, or we want people to be different than the way they are.
One of the beautiful things about this internal battle is that it provides room for growth and maturity. Few people would argue that you are the same self before and after a heartbreak. Your world gets turned upside down and you feel like a shell of the person that once was. Then, somehow, through time you grow and emerge stronger; a more resilient, deeper thinker than the self that came before.
True change only can occur outside of one’s comfort zone. It is these kinds of disturbances that allow us to step back and see where we stand in the thick of it all. The disruption breaks the consistency of life and makes us question: am I where my friends and family want me to be? Am I where I want myself to be?
Singer, Ariana Grande smashed both Spotify and Youtube records for streams in 24 hours with her song, “Thank you, Next”, which focuses on giving gratitude to the people who caused her the most pain in life – acknowledging that it took a heartbreak (or three) to teach her invaluable lessons about love, patience, and pain. The lyrics don’t follow the classic “Fuck my ex, what a waste of time” radio narrative. Rather the message is uplifting and clear: Heartbreak → self-love → confidence.
Heartbreak teaches us what we will and will not stand for in a partner. It helps us grow into more complete versions of ourselves, so that we will not project neediness in our next relationship. It forces us to learn to love ourselves by finding out what is important to me? What do I like to do by myself? What am I good at? If you’re still figuring these things out, it can sometimes be exacerbated by being in a serious relationship.
We might like to imagine life transformations as the ugly caterpillar turning into the beautiful butterfly. However, the biggest life developments usually occur after experiencing unwanted, ugly trauma. When faced with these life-altering moments, we are forced to re-evaluate our deepest motivations and decisions. They allow us a chance to turn inward and reflect on how will we now pursue happiness?
Previously, I’ve written about how cultivating more than one rigid concept of your “self” is advantageous to your emotional well-being. Transitions are a point in life where you find yourself newly single, or in a new city, or a new job in which you are forced to re-define that “self” one more time. In a sense, transitions are watching the old you die while simultaneously awaiting the new you to emerge.
The new person that develops after a difficult change will not necessarily be better or worse than the prior self. It is in fact, just different; other labels are unnecessary. Life is not without problems, so each life phase brings new problems, and with it new opportunities for growth, as well as new people to meet and fall in love with.