Deciding for yourself that you are ready to take a risk and live and work differently is one thing. Trying to talk about it with your friends and family is another thing.
So, you decided to quit your job, change jobs, work from home, and/or take “time off” from a traditional worklife in order to explore yourself and potentially launch your own business or freelance work. Fabulous! No matter the path you take in this endeavor, inevitably, you will end up sharing this news or even discussing your motives and ideas with those closest to you. Though we would all love for this to be an easy scenario, it is often fraught with uncertainty, hurt, confusion, doubt, speculation, and worry. Here are some tips when attempting to talk about your new life with friends and family:
1. Don’t expect everyone to get it or celebrate it
Sometimes the ones who love you most might hurt you the most when you attempt to make a significant change in your life. For those who are closest to you, change in your life might feel like a change in their lives too, and change is often scary. A change in your life might even remind them of changes they would like to make in their lives but have been too afraid to pursue. Remember that any harsh words from them might be a sign of their fear about the consequences of the transition you seek and the risks you are taking. It is important not to go into your new life transition feeling dependent on everyone’s approval and instant acceptance of your decision. Try to respect their concerns while still loving and encouraging yourself and maintaining your conviction and confidence in your own judgment.
2. Don’t try and force everyone to be on board
This decision to live differently is about you, not others, and yes, they also have a right to their opinions. Don’t waste energy trying to change their thoughts. This is not to say that you do not need support. We all need people! Who do you really need on board with you? Focus on these people, these relationships, and these conversations.
3. Changing your life and routine might impact your regular interactions
Once again, it is easy to overlook the impact of even small shifts in your schedule and your mode of operation. These shifts might change some of the regular conversation times or the auto-pilot conversations to which you are accustomed with your friends and family. It is easier to explain a traditional day-job in a daily conversation, “I went to several meetings today. I gave a presentation.” Etc…It can be much more ambiguous when you are starting over with your worklife. You might not have as many “big splashes” to report from your performance at work during the day. For example, about a week into my new life after leaving my traditional job, I said to my Dad, “I am sure you are wondering what I am doing with my time these days. The reality is that I am constantly working, thinking, planning, and exploring, but this does not always equate to a number of meetings or presentations from day to day. This time is more exploratory as I prepare to launch a new life. I just want to share with you that I am applying myself and excited about what I am doing.”
In addition, I was in the habit of calling my parents almost every day on my way home from work. Well, now that I am working from home or working from a mobile office every day, I don’t have a driving-home-from-work-time anymore. I had to think about when I could reach out to them, maintain the amount of conversation we enjoyed, and find new times that worked for both of us so we could naturally find new normal times for our chats.
4. Try not to shut people out, but don’t be a dartboard either
Be brave enough to share what you will of yourself, own it, and let others worry about it if they have a problem. On the other hand, try not to subject yourself to everyone’s opinions all the time either. Making a new life transition can feel very vulnerable, and you might not need to make yourself vulnerable to everyone all the time. Maybe there are some people who don’t need to know all of your details. Maybe you decide not to bring up certain details at your family holiday gathering. The point is, it is ok to include others in your life while also protecting yourself.
5. When you do want to explain yourself….
Realize that probably everyone understood your traditional job fairly easily. They might have one too, and you might have been able to complain about it together, such as, “Geez, these worthless meetings!” “I know, tell me about it!”, “My boss is breathing down my neck!” “Mine too!” – This time for you is probably more about a mission or a vision and you might change your mind every day right now in terms of how you will execute your plan or whether you have a plan or the details of your plan.
It may help you to create a little elevator speech for this time in your life to make it easier for you to share a bird’s-eye view of what you are up to in conversation. This spiel will change every now and then, but it can be handy. In this case, your speech might be more about goals and a mission rather than tasks and functions, and that is ok. Here are some kickoff phrases: “My mantra right now is abc and I am currently exploring ways to xyz…”, “I am networking and finding mentors in the abc fields while learning about their approach to xyz….” “I am interested in abc and I am researching how to hone my skills in xyz to see where these skills might lead to opportunities.” “I decided to step away from my traditional work in order to create time and space to explore other modes of work where I can use my skills and talents, and right now, I am in that phase of exploration and discovery.” Etc…
6. You might not have the same “busy” description that others do
It is easy to become defensive when you’re not even provoked because you are still wrestling with your own struggles about what you are doing, how you will do it, and how different it feels from your previous worklife. For example, your friends who are still in their traditional jobs have all of the same handy phrases to describe their stressful, busy daily grind. “I work at the office for 70 hours per week these days.” “I will finally get some peace when I can finish this annual report.” Being “busy” in our culture is often displayed as a badge of honor and it represents the significance of our contributions to society. So then, what if you don’t sound as “busy” as your friends anymore? I have a couple of perspectives on this.
First if, like me, one of your goals in making a transition is to actually feel less stressed and have more time for yourself and your family, then you can simply own it. Stay committed to that goal and admit to yourself and others that while you are working and working towards new goals, you are in fact, not as busy, not as stressed. You might inspire others!
Second, you can recognize the incredible value of having space and time to think and create. It is relevant work to spend time exploring, researching, thinking, and planning. If you are only ever doing, and doing until you are exhausted, how are you supposed to come up with new ideas and achieve a level of vivacious curiosity and inventiveness that actually propels you into effective actions? It is often a traditional work environment that, while perhaps just a necessary evil, generates time-suckage through excess meetings, hierarchical decision-making, reports on reports on reports etc… There have been studies that suggest that companies who actually plan for their employees to have what I call “thinking time” derive some of their greatest inventions from this time. (and, I assume, not from annual reports!)
You don’t need to do everything alone during your worklife transition, but you also don’t owe everyone an explanation of your decisions and actions. We’ve all heard the advice about focusing on those who bring you positive energy. That applies here too. Who is in your support group or who can you recruit?