- Change is an unavoidable fact: We must find ways to embrace it
- Don't assume you know it all -- new perspectives are essential
- Learn to live with uncertainty and don't get too comfortable
If you're facing a massive rescaling of your life, your first impulse will be to go into a whirring spin of activity, which is exactly what I did right after I was fired. I later discovered there's a lot of value to sitting quietly instead.
When familiar routines suddenly dissolve, it can seem as if all your supports are gone. For a while after I lost my job, I had the sense that I was in free fall. It's crucial, while absorbing the shock of the new, to make yourself feel well taken care of.
There's a part of the human mind that is often referred to as the "lizard brain," because it existed in even the earliest land animals. The lizard brain is concerned with survival; it likes the tried and true, so it's likely to pipe up right now, flooding you with adrenaline warnings of "Danger!" as you veer off course.
When I interviewed the eminent linguist Alton Becker, I asked what makes someone good at languages. It helps not to be too smart, he said, explaining, "Smart people don't like having their minds changed, and to learn a language, you have to change your mind."
Zen practitioners cultivate the "don't know" mind; they work to assume they don't know anything and in that way see the world fresh. This is a great way to approach change―as an opportunity to start anew, to consider all possibilities. Ask naive, wide-eyed questions of anyone who is doing anything you might be interested in trying. Listen seriously to arguments you might once have dismissed.
Why? Because now is the time to explore what it is that you really like. Catch yourself off-guard and see what happens.
It's dangerous to live in the aggregate, especially when you're trying to figure out your next move. One year, everyone knows you need an M.B.A. to succeed at anything. The next, they're saying that there are no jobs out there anyway, so don't even try.
When I began learning Hindi, my teacher encouraged me to get out and practice with native speakers in New York. I wound up asking a waiter for love (pyar) when I'd meant to request a cup (pyala). But in that way I inched into a new language. That anxious feeling does not signal that you're doing something wrong, only that you're trying something new.
When you start to turn this sudden shift in your life to your advantage, you might shake up a lot of people, especially the ones who aren't happy with how they're living. To them, your efforts to move forward may feel like a glaring searchlight that needs to be switched off and fast. To their descriptions of the terrible fates that will surely befall you if you dive headlong into a new life, respond with "Really?"
Discard physical clutter, tired ideas, old routines. Seeing things through another's eyes can help.