Dealing with a Change? Ask Yourself This One Question…
The New York Times ran a great essay late last year entitled “The Long Goodbye.” Inspired by Joan Didion’s 1967 essay “Goodbye to All That,” the article talks about loving and leaving New York City. This article resonated with me for a few reasons. First, I LOVE LOVE LOVE Joan Didion’s work (check out her collection of short stories, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, if you’re looking for a good read). Second, I lived in New York for five years in my twenties — crammed into a shoebox-sized apartment, eating Tasti D-Lite on strangers’ stoops, learning to box, staying out late eating meals that cost way too much, and waking up way too early to run across the bridges alongside barreling trains — loving it until I left it. And third, the article talked beautifully about a critical question to consider — maybe THE most critical question to consider — during any time of change:
AM I GOING TOWARD SOMETHING OR RUNNING AWAY FROM SOMETHING?
This sounds so basic, right? But it’s easy to fall into the trap of changing in order to run from something, with no future destination in sight. For example, I interviewed someone recently for a job who could give me dozens of reasons she wanted to leave her existing job, but no reason why she wanted to take the job we were discussing. A friend recently told me he was going vegan, not because of a commitment to animal rights or health, but because it “made it easier to resist some of his trigger foods” (i.e., fried chicken). I overheard a stranger talking about moving cities to “get out of the rain” (versus “go to the sunshine”). And I personally catch myself in “running mode,” thinking about fleeing the hectic pace of Silicon Valley without a clear vision of where we might want to go if and when we ever do.
Change is critical to growth, which is a core part of long-term well-being. But it’s also damn hard. It can take a long time and require significant effort, stamina, commitment, and sometimes even blind faith. The challenge of change, and the basic truth that we humans just don’t like it very much, reinforces the importance of having and listening to our own compass. When I left New York City in 2005, I followed mine. I went toward something — toward a place that suited my lifestyle and a partner I was madly in love with. And during the tough times that followed, the strength of this compass brought me comfort.
So I offer this simple little idea up to you, as you navigate life and its many crossroads. Before putting a change into motion, ask yourself one little question: “Am I going toward something or running away from something?” And if you’re going toward it, then run like hell and don’t look back.