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Changing Your Life: The Long and Winding Road
by Marc Eisenson

       At some point, you've probably fantasized about quitting a job and pulling up stakes. We know folks who've done it on impulse and others who did it after months or years of thought and planning. It should come as no surprise that things tend to work out better for the latter group.

       While all it takes is a few words to quit a job, end a relationship, or even to resign from a time-hogging committee, it's often very difficult to do. Habits, the comfort of the familiar, and mixed feelings are difficult to sort through.

       Sometimes, we feel as though we have no other options, or we're so depressed by the day-to-day drudgery, that we've already used up all the energy we might have been able to direct toward making the change happen. Yet there's no reason to hold onto a job, for example, that no longer feels good.

Buying a Ticket to the Life You Want

       The trick to making life changes as painless as possible ... not only for yourself, but for your loved ones ... is to PLAN them, to be conscious about what you're doing, and when possible, to initiate the changes slowly.

       On the off chance that from time to time you might have the desire to change a few things in your life, and have not found the process to be a piece of cake, here are some possible ways to break those inner log jams that may be getting in your way:

Tell me what you want. What you really, really want!

       Sure, you want to win the lottery and have millions of dollars to spend on everything your heart desires. Okay. So spring for the dollar and a dream if it helps you get through the day, but while you're waiting for your numbers to come up, try to figure out what you truly desire. Even lottery winners have to know what they want before they write out the checks.

       When Nancy, a lifelong New Yorker, began to feel the need for a big change in her life (back in the late 70s), she didn't wake up one morning saying to herself, "Gee, I think I'll quit my terrific job, move to the country, fall in love, and start a small home based, consumer advocacy business." She slowly developed an itch for change.

       Over time, it became clear to her that she longed to live in the country and to have a garden. Also, she was burning out as a grant and loan maker at a New York City foundation. She obsessed for years before she could bring herself to make a change, but she did it, and you can too.

What's the hurry?

       Like it or not, you're used to the life you're living. You can bear it a while longer until you can comfortably take a next step, can't you? (But if you're in a dangerous relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline now: 800-799-7233.)

       Assuming yours is a typical middle class/middle age malaise, take a deep breath, remind yourself that change will happen eventually, and begin to think about ways to translate your day dreams into reality. There's no point in beating yourself up for not doing something sooner, or for not making up your mind, or for feeling the way you do.

       At first, Nancy spent long weekends in the country. That led to her spending a large part of each summer in a friend's Woodstock, NY home. Then one thing led to another ...

One small step can be big progress.

       Sometimes we're paralyzed because we focus on the whole, seemingly impossible task before us, rather than breaking it down into its tiniest, much more doable parts. Instead of saying, "I can't quit my job and move to the mountains, so I guess I'm stuck in this rut for life," how about beginning to investigate other job possibilities, or finding a way to spend a bit more time in the mountains? Nancy was stuck for years, because she thought she needed to know exactly how she was going to make a living before she could leave the Big Apple.

       By 1980, her fantasy was to run a store in Woodstock, which seemed a lot easier and more attainable than solving the problems of racism and poverty in New York City. Fortunately, she discussed this idea with a couple of friends who owned stores in Woodstock. Both volunteered to let her be shopkeeper for a day whenever she wanted. It only took a day at each to convince Nancy that life as a retailer would bore her to tears!

       An important step for you might be to begin talking to your mate or friends about your day dreams. Ask them to help you come up with an easy way or two to take another step, maybe even to try out your dream life. Sure, it might turn into a pipe dream, like Nancy's retailing idea, but ruling out what won't work is helpful too.

       Another important step you can take is to read some good books about life changes (one called Invest in Yourself comes immediately to mind). Or you could go for some career ... or couples ... counseling. Or you could go back to school or apprentice yourself to someone who has a talent you want to learn (perhaps evenings and weekends, possibly with pay, possibly not).

       Thinking about a move cross country? Go there on vacation first. Then if you love it, find a way to spend yet more time there. Ideally, you want to check it out for long enough so you can feel more like a community member than a sleep late, party late tourist.

Change the deal.

       While Nancy realized that opening a store wasn't going to be her ticket out of New York, she just wasn't comfortable chucking her job. Then one day, it dawned on her that she could negotiate a change in her work schedule. Her boss readily agreed to her proposal ... that she work in the City three days a week, and from home the other two.

       Nancy's next plan was to buy a house in Woodstock, move upstate, and stay with friends when she had to be in New York. Being in the thick of it less often might mean that she'd find work less frustrating.

       And once she settled into new digs in Woodstock, Nancy thought she'd surely find a way to make ends meet there. Little did she know that her house search would lead her to yours truly (who very briefly tried to sell real estate) ... and a life living on the cheap in a rented house 25 miles and as many light years away from Woodstock, helping hundreds of thousands of people to save money on their mortgages!

You don't have to dive into the pool.

       You can sit on the edge and just dangle your feet. Find a way to make the process of change an adventure. Visit one piece of your fantasy at a time ... until you're sure you're ready to dive in. Then if the water's too cold, or the sky looks threatening, you can always climb out of the pool. Whatever you do, please ...

Don't slam those doors.

       The real trick to pleasurably changing your life is to do it in such a way that you leave yourself some options. It's usually better to try for a leave of absence rather than storming out of the office. On the domestic front, it's far better to have a peaceful parting of the ways than a war that will hurt innocent civilians (read: children and your soon-to-be ex-spouse).

Here's that old card analogy again.

       But it's true. Having an Ace in the Hole can make all the difference in your future. A small side business that you start before you burn out, and build up before you need it, can make your transition from the tie and pantyhose world a lot smoother. In fact, the more Aces you have up your sleeve, the more options you'll have for modifying your life later. The more basic skills you have, the more things you can do for yourself. The less dependent you are on others, the less money you'll have to shell out.

With thine own debt be through.

       Let's face it, the biggest hindrance to life changes is often lean green. The more you owe, the harder you have to work ... and the less energy you'll have for exploring and implementing life changes. I've said it before, so I won't belabor it here, but making minimum payments on maximum purchases will put you into that debtor's prison without walls, but with exit doors that are too heavy to push open.


       Important life changes are often hard to make. They're on our minds for a long time before we can act. Sometimes, we go back and forth, even after we've made the hard decisions. Sometimes we have to hurt someone we love. As one wonderful woman said, in the midst of ending a relationship that had died long before, "It stinks!"

       Nancy and I know that this friend will eventually break free, although she sometimes doubts it herself. All the time and energy she's investing in therapy, exercise, friendship, and house hunting will help her to live happily ever after. There's no question about that in our minds. The only question is, "When!?"

       An old friend often said that waiting for something to happen would be a lot easier if he only knew exactly when that something would occur. So he'd set a date, not as a goal, but as a way of getting past the WHEN and onto the "What can I do to make it happen?"

       With determination, time, a good support network, and a belief in your right to be happy, you can and will change your life. When? That's up to you.

The Pocket Change Investor
The Secrets to Getting Ahead -- Even If You Have a Pile of Credit Card Bills, Hefty Mortgage Payments,
Loans Out on a Clunker or Two, & a Bad Case of the "I'm Tired of Living Payday to Payday" Blues.

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Reprinted from The Pocket Change Investor© 1998, Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman

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