How do you get unstuck when life is not what you imagined it to be?
By Bo Ren (Technical Project Manager, Opower)
You’re in your 20s, a couple years into your first corporate job and you feel stuck; you’re in a less-than-ideal living situation; you’re in an unhappy and unhealthy relationship but you just can’t seem to leave. Let’s be honest, life is pretty low, underwhelming and overwhelming at the same time, and downright shitty. Your post-college years are not what you imagined. You thought you’d move to NYC, go to grad school, meet that Mr. Right etc…Instead you embarked on a circuitous path full of unexpected twists and turns.
This was me at 25. Less than ideal.
After two years at a clean-tech startup, I called my 20-something life malaise “one big de-bugging triage”. For some reason, ascribing a corporate, software, seemingly asinine name distanced me from my misery. How do you get unstuck when life is not what you imagined it to be?
After reading about the notion of a life pivot on Medium, I quickly realized it was time for me to pivot. Unlike the Pinterest pivot, we’re not talking about a startup—pivoting your life as a minimum viable product has a lot more at stake. We spend our entire life building this MVP, shipping it, and iterating it through time. We may have an idea or plan for where we want to be or what happiness looks like, we encounter unforeseen hurdles, readjust (iterate), course correct when necessary (pivot) to continuously ship the MVP called life. No one wants to claim a failed product especially when it’s your life.
So I began my life pivot over two months: ended an unhealthy relationship, moved out of an unhappy living situation, and quit my job. In that order.
Scared shitless sums it up pretty well. I was scared shitless and ridden with anxiety. Anxiety about whether I would find a new apartment by the end of the month. Anxiety about whether I would find another job. Anxiety about being single again. Anxiety about running out of savings. Anxiety about managing my anxiety. Free flowing anxiety seeped into every crevice of my life.
Making a decision to change is easy, persisting to make that change is the hard part.
These are the 10 steps I took to embark on a life pivot:
Quit Being Unhappy
Staying an extra day at a job or relationship where you feel like there is no room to grow robs you an extra day from doing meaningful, challenging, fulfilling work. If your role is not the right fit, if you’re under appreciated and overworked, if you’ve outgrown your job—quit. Quit being a cog in the wheel, quit being unhappy, quit giving yourself excuses. Quit so you can devote all your energy to pursuing to new opportunities and embarking on a new journey.
Set Yourself a Timeline
Give yourself one week to sort out your angst, let go of the anger and the past, and start focusing on what you really want to do. Use this time to mourn, detach, purge, move on, and start exploring new options.
Increase Your Luck Surface Area
Talk to people about your passions, your experiences, and what you want to do. Broadcast yourself. Let people know you’re on the market for a new job or apartment through social media outlets. Look at shared LinkedIn connections with your existing network and ask for introductions. Don’t underestimate the power of friends of friends. Two of my four job opportunities were referrals from friends of friends. Your friends and old coworkers may know you well but it’s the tertiary connections of mutual friends that expand your horizons.
Take the Plunge and Find Your Flow
You’re like a shark, keep swimmin’ or you’ll sink. Runners don’t look back when they’re sprinting ahead neither should you. Keep sending out new job applications, start interviewing and gain traction. Once the momentum builds, you’re going to get into the flow. Work won’t feel like you’re working. Interviews will become conversations. Your performance becomes natural in the ebb and flow.
Fail Fast and Celebrate It
Each interview that doesn’t work out, each demo presentation full of technical glitches brings you closer to what your ultimate goal. Learn from your mistakes early when it’s still cheap.
Count Your Small Wins
Small changes occur a day at a time, ultimately, a lot of change accumulates within a month or two. Small things going right when everything seems wrong will make your life pivot more bearable. Some of my small wins: 1. avocados on sale at Trader Joe’s 2. free washers during the day at the local laundromat w/ pin ball machines 3. my Birchbox arriving a day early.
Don’t Conflate Uncertainty With Risk
Embrace uncertainty and risk but realize they are separate notions. Some of the best things in life come with risk. You don’t need game theory to tell you to hedge your bets and that high risk yields high return. Take calculated risks and accept uncertainty as a double edge sword. Uncertainty is also a sense of possibilities.
Talk to that random recruiter who messaged you, entertain a spontaneous last-minute chat with a startup founder, say yes to unexpected things that come your way. You’ll be surprised by what the universe can conjure up when you become receptive.
Find Side Projects
Learn to knit, fix a light bulb, frame your pictures…do something to preoccupy and structure your day while you’re waiting to hear back from recruiters and interviewers. Do things that you can’t do with a full-time job like attend a 9am vinyasa yoga class or go on a mid-afternoon urban hike. Career woman, it’s time to get in touch with your domestic side. Bake rhubarb pie, drink wine while doing so, and enjoy it!
When you get that offer, apartment, or find that special someone, don’t forget to celebrate. Congratulate yourself for braving through the shitstorm, for staying gritty, for not losing hope. Realize that you’ll undergo many life pivots throughout your 20s and beyond. Each time the pivot will be different but after each pivot, you’ll become fitter, happier, and more productive (to the words of Radiohead). Life comes in many rounds. Pivoting is not about wining each round but rather recognizing when something isn’t working and changing your approach.
Ben Huh, founder of the fail blog and the Cheezburger Network, said he hopes in five years he will be wrong about his future because whatever projection he makes today is based off his present limited knowledge. Embrace uncertainty. If life goes exactly as you planned then you have probably missed out on some amazing opportunities and detours to arrive at your destination. Sometimes you shoot for the sun (it’s not a straight trajectory) so you course correct and take detours before arriving. Keep pivoting–you never know when you’re going to make a quantum
Women 2.0 readers: Have you ever faced a life pivot? How did you manage it?
About the guest blogger: Bo Ren is a technical project manager at Opower, building a SaaS platform driving energy efficient behavioral change. Prior to software, she worked in cross-functional product and customer support roles at Sunrun. She also navigated the nonprofit space working at the ACLU of Oregon and Graff Lab building an urban aerosol art sanctuary in Los Angeles. She studied psychology and economics at the University of Southern California. Follow her on Twitter at @bosefina.