When I moved my family of eight (Eva, me and the six kids) from the tiny tropical island of Guam to the relatively big city of San Francisco, I was full of optimism. And scared beyond belief.
While I was mostly sure this would be a great move for our family, I was nearly frozen by doubt. My kids were in tears, because we’d left behind everything and everyone we’d ever loved: an extended family network of literally hundreds of people who were our best friends, our support, our home. It felt horrible to see their broken hearts.
After a couple weeks of staying in my cousin’s apartment and house-hunting, we finally spent the first night in our new house in San Francisco. It was freezing. We spent the night with barely any blankets, because we hadn’t thought to buy very many, and I woke in the early morning numb with cold. When I discovered that we had central heating that worked (unheard of in hot and humid Guam), I was overjoyed!
Our new home warmed up then, but it took the kids months to warm up to our new city, and even longer to call it home. Eva and I had to make new friends, as we had none, and we had to learn our way around this strange new place.
This was one of the biggest life changes we ever faced, and yet we survived. We now love San Francisco and will always think of it as one of our dearest homes.
The lessons I learned while dealing with this major life change, and helping my family through it, taught me a lot that I now use in any life change.
You might be facing such a life change now:
- Loss of a job, or starting a new job
- Starting a new business or venture
- Starting a project that scares the crap out of you
- Loss of a loved one (see next chapter)
- Being diagnosed with a major illness
- Suffering a major injury
- A loved one getting a major illness
- Moving to a new home
- Losing your home
- Losing everything in a natural disaster
- Going to a new school
- Transitioning to a new role in your job
- Transitioning to a new phase in life
- Becoming a parent
- And so on
The list of major life changes could stretch several pages, but basically it’s anything that takes a major shift in mindset, that gets you out of your comfort zone in a drastic way, that scares and confuses you and fills you with uncertainty.
In any of these changes, your idea of who you are is forced to shift. If you move to a new place, you’re no longer “Annie from Ohio” but now “Annie who is a newcomer in New York City.” If you lose your job, you’re no longer “Tim the accountant at Deloitte” but now “Tim the unemployed accountant who was fired.”
This shift in your identity is often the hardest to deal with, greater than the actual loss in income or difficulties finding your way in a new city. We get used to who we think we are (our Mind Movie of ourselves), and our Childish Mind doesn’t want the change.
Luckily, we have the Zen Habits Method for dealing with this shift.
Let’s walk through my move from Guam to San Francisco.
How to deal with a move
When we moved to San Francisco, we had to shift from thinking of ourselves as “Guam people” and “having lots of friends and family” to “newbies in a city” and “barely knowing anyone.” This was difficult, especially for the kids.
Let’s apply the Zen Habits Method to this change:
- Spotlight: Try to be in the moment as we walk around and live in San Francisco, seeing our suffering with this new change as it arises.
- Plum Blossoms: See that this move is a part of the change-nature of life, but even if you didn’t move, there would be change every day, just less pronounced. Embrace the change in your life, as something new, exciting, full of learning and growth opportunities, an opportunity for reinvention.
- Create a Space: This major life change is filled with lots of smaller changes, from having to make new friends, to finding a new house, to figuring out who you are now. Deal with each of these things one at a time, as they come, giving each their own space.
- Mind Movie: See that you have a Mind Movie for what your life should be — which is what you liked about your life before — and that attachment to this ideal might be causing you suffering. Finding compassion for yourself, let go of the attachment to this ideal, and see what the reality of your new life has to offer.
- Grow a Plant: As you deal with each change, focus on the Intention of being mindful and of not being attached to your Mind Movie, but don’t be attached to the Outcome of being unattached. You can’t completely control your mind’s attachment, but you can practice the Intention of letting go, and see what happens. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the Outcome you want.
- Childish Mind: Your mind wants to go back to what it was comfortable with and wants to hold on to the idea of yourself that you’re used to. This Childish Mind wants to get what it wants and thinks that it is all-important. Instead, let it complain, but don’t take it seriously. It’s not important.
- See the Mountains: Instead of focusing on what you’ve lost, look at what is in front of you right now. Find things to appreciate about your current reality, about the change you’re undergoing, about the opportunities that come with this change. Find gratitude in the midst of this change.
- Dewlike Life: Life is precious, so don’t waste a moment of it wishing things were different, focusing on the past, wallowing in self-pity. Instead, make the most of each moment and appreciate each one for the wonder that it is.
As you can see, there’s a lot of overlap in these steps, because they are interrelated. Each step is another way of seeing the same thing:
- Mindfully see your ideal and the Childish Mind that wants the ideal and the suffering that results.
- Now let go of that attachment and focus on what is in front of you: embrace the changing nature of life, appreciate what you have, and find gratitude for every moment of this dewlike life.
This is the basic method of dealing with major life changes.