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Planning for Change: How to Make Transitions Easier

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“The only thing that is constant is change,” said Heraclitus of Ephesus, the Greek philosopher (535 B.C.E.-475 B.C.E.), known for his philosophy that change is central to the universe. Writer and theologian Leonard Sweet once asked, “What is the difference between a living thing and a dead thing? In the medical world, a clinical definition of death is a body that does not change. Change is life. Stagnation is death. If you don’t change, you die. It’s that simple. It’s that scary.”

It’s true. Life is about transitions, about change. From infancy, to childhood, to teenage years, adulthood, middle age, menopause, old age…the cycle goes on, and how we adapt and change with these times has everything to do with resilience.

This concept—that life is change—has been on my mind lately, as I prepare to begin a new chapter in my career, transitioning from my 11½-year time at Northwell Lenox Hill to take on a new position as the Director of Women’s Cardiovascular Health, Prevention and Wellness at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City.

I recently took to social media to discuss some of the emotions I have been experiencing related to this transition: excitement, fear, anxiety, joy. I received many messages back from people who could relate, like “Thanks for talking about the fear during transitions,” and “transitions are great, but SCARY!” It got me thinking about how challenging change is for many of us. If change is an inevitable part of our lives, then we have all dealt with it, and know that it’s not easy.

Let’s look a little closer at what really happens when someone has to undergo a major life change. In many ways, the old normal disintegrates and a new normal has to rise up and take its place. There may be new rules, a new playing field, and there is always an opportunity for a new perspective.

Menopause is a good example. When I was discussing menopause in my blogs, I recognized how many women face menopause in much the same way they would face any other transition—into a new job, relationship, or any other life stage. Menopause is all part of the dynamic nature of life, of course, but arguably so is every other major change. Such changes force us to be more flexible and willing to redefine who we are and who we want to be. Staying the same is much easier, less scary and more certain…but it also leads to stagnation. And remember the words of Leonard Sweet: ”Stagnation is death.”

So what do we do with this fear that inevitably comes with big changes, especially when it feels debilitating?

For me, in the big job change I’m about to experience, being afraid, scared, or uncertain of the future has given me the opportunity to reexamine who I am in this new stage of my life. If this hadn’t happened, would I have the opportunity to flex those muscles? Probably not. I am reinvigorated in my search for my evolving core self, and that has helped me to move forward with less fear.

I recently ran a panel discussion for a Go Red for Women event in New York entitled, “Resiliency: The Key to Living from the Heart,” where we discussed the idea of resiliency as the backbone to approaching the challenges in life. Whatever your hurdle—sickness, career, family, or daily challenges—resiliency is about summoning the tools you have developed throughout your life and reassessing who you are as you use those tools. What have you learned in the past that can help you now? And what are you learning now that can help you in your next big transition? The panel discussion identified several key tools that can help:

  1. Get in touch with your internal moral compass. In other words, figure out what your convictions are and cultivate the strength to stand by them. This can help guide you through the unknown parts of your transitions with more confidence.
  2. Clarify your priorities. If you know what matters to you, and you clarify that for yourself, then you will have an automatic sense of how to get where you are going even if you feel like you are navigating without a map.
  3. Know where to direct your energy. Put your energy into the parts of your changing life that you hold to be most important, and let go of those things that matter less to you and that you cannot control.
  4. Have faith. You’ve navigated transitions before. You have the tools you need. You can do this.
  5. Remember that you are behind the wheel, and you are driving your own life.
  6. Road trips are always more fun when you bring others along. Having a team around you is critical to making the journey easier. Find support in family, friends, a counselor, your spiritual practice, or anything else that makes you feel stronger than you feel when you are alone.

My new position starts soon, and in these preparatory moments, I will continue to remind myself of my values, my priorities, my goals, where I will put my energy (and where I won’t), and who I can rely on for support to help me get through. I vow to stay open to whatever comes my way. Transitions can be scary, sure, but mostly they are opportunities to live the life you desire, and to truly live from the heart.

So grab that proverbial steering wheel and hold on tight. I’ve got this—and so do you!

Click here to buy Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s book, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life

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