Five ways to re-evaluate your life – and make that big change

·9-min read
After such an odd and claustrophobic period, this desire for change is understandable
After such an odd and claustrophobic period, this desire for change is understandable

For much of the past 18 months, we’ve been living our lives in an enforced sense of stasis. Looking for a new job, finding a new partner or moving house – most of these changes have been made impossible, thanks to the Covid restrictions and repeated lockdowns.

Now, as the coronavirus crisis finally seems to be receding, many people are re-evaluating their lives. Where – and how – we work seems to be a major focus.

So done are people with the daily commute that many are moving out of cities altogether. Hamptons estate agents revealed that, during the first six months of 2021, Londoners bought an estimated 61,380 homes outside the capital, spending £24.1 billion (more than double spent in 2019) in the process.

Inside our homes, there is also upheaval. Divorce enquiries have rocketed. Stowe Family Law, the UK’s largest family law firm, reported a 95 per cent rise in the period January to March 2021 compared with the same period in 2020. “Around three-quarters of couples who separated or got divorced during the Covid crisis say they had no tensions before the pandemic began,” says Emma Newman, managing partner at Stowe Family Law.

Not everyone is considering dramatic life changes, of course. And for some there is no acute cause; it’s just more of a feeling. But it does seem that this restlessness is particularly affecting people in their middle years: a kind of accelerated midlife crisis.

Jenny Rogers is an executive life coach of almost 30 years, and the author of Are You Listening? Stories from a Coaching Life. Rogers explains that coaching differs from therapy in that it tends to be ‘career-based’: coaches need a working knowledge of mental conditions but do not diagnose or interpret.

“What now looks like the artificial busyness of pre-pandemic life probably distracted many people from classic midlife questions about work and relationships,” she says. “Stripping this away exposed the problems in a way that meant they couldn’t be ignored”.

According to Rogers, the pandemic has “shown the fault lines in everything”. Sheri Jacobson, director of harleytherapy.com, agrees. “For many people, the past year and a half has given the chance of a big re-evaluation,” she says. “Our ‘base levels’ and routines have been upended. Now we have to make a decision. We either cling to our past and get back to old ways, or refresh how we want to be in the world.”

After such an odd and claustrophobic period, this desire for change is understandable, natural even. But big life alterations can be nerve-wracking.

“When you want to make any change in your life it helps to have the frightening data about what will happen if you do nothing, set side-by-side with the glorious gains of making the change,” writes Rogers in her book. “If the fear is overwhelming, we get paralysed by indecision. If the benefits are unclear, we may also dither.”

But any choice for change throws up knotty problems – and, by extension, big decisions.

“The pandemic has accelerated changes that probably would have happened anyway,” says Rogers. “Decisions in general are a slow-burn – they evolve, and then a triggering episode encourages a person to finally make them. It’s now becoming increasingly clear that the pandemic has been a large, triggering episode.”

But how do we know we aren’t barrelling into hasty or incorrect decisions that we may later live to regret? Have we been ‘out’ for long enough to have perspective? Maybe we don’t quite understand our post-pandemic selves quite yet?

“All decisions are made within the limbic system, the emotional part of our brain,” explains Rogers. “It’s only later that we justify them with rationality. For example, when you are house-hunting and walk into that flat, you just ‘feel’ it’s right for you. Then you go away and work out the practicalities later.”

Jacobson adds: “No wise decision can be made without self-awareness. Fostering this quality is so important. We need to get in touch with our likes and dislikes, our assets and our flaws, rather than acting on impulse. Therapists talk about this as being ‘incongruent’ with our core selves.”

Some people might feel the solution to malaise lies in smaller, less dramatic changes. But Rogers is less sure. “I find that clients have typically already asked themselves those questions and may already have made those small changes,” she says. “If the feeling of unhappiness persists despite this, then major change is probably on the cards. A good question to ask yourself is, ‘What will happen if in a year’s time everything is exactly the same as it is now? How will I feel?’”

Here’s some expert advice before you take the plunge...

1. Draw up a list of criteria

“Ask yourself: what am I using as a benchmark for success?” says Rogers. “Is it money, for example, or a slower lifestyle: which is the most important?” She suggests examining the “push”: (the force that is driving you away from the status quo) and the “pull” (that which attracts you to something different.)

“These two elements should be in balance,” says Rogers. “You shouldn’t just be running away.”

How, then, does one define success? “Most midlife (or later) dissatisfaction is about experiencing a lack of meaning or purpose,” she says. “In early career you’re focused on establishing yourself, developing your skills, building a reputation, making enough money to support yourself – and a family maybe.

According to Rogers, satisfaction comes from knowing deep inside that you are contributing to something worthwhile rather than feeling the more fleeting pleasure at external validation (money, awards, promotion, nice titles). “As to how you know – you do know when you experience it,” she says.

2. Be clear where you need to make the change

“Clients may often present ‘work’ as the focus because it feels safe and familiar to talk about, but in their first session I routinely ask questions about family, friends, partner, home environment, leisure, health and money,” says Rogers. “How satisfied are you right now with each of these areas?’ This will often reveal serious imbalances. The question, then, is to explore how much importance or priority to give to addressing any of these, and how they interact.”

You might feel a change of job will ‘fix’ your bad feelings: but is something else going on, as well? Rogers says: “Work is such a big part of life for most of us that any misery there is likely to be a major strand of what feels wrong. A good question to ask yourself here is ‘What would need to happen to make this job a better fit for me?’” If the answer is “nothing”, she says, then it’s probably time to make a move.

3. Toss a coin... and see how you feel

Yes, this sounds flippant, but who hasn’t chosen ‘heads’ and then gone for the ‘tails’ decision? “Tossing a coin can really concentrate the mind,” says Rogers. “How will you feel if it lands the way you want it to: how will you feel if it doesn’t?”

By asking yourself this question, says Rogers, you can interrogate what you are saying “no” to, and vice versa. “By making a big change, you are always losing something,” she says. “It helps to consider the best and the worst of the long-term consequences, and how you can live with what you lose – as well as what you might gain, of course.”

4. Take up journalling

Both Rogers and Jacobson advocate journalling, which is basically the process of writing thoughts down in an unfiltered way, without tailoring them to a reader. Says Rogers: “If a person is hesitating to make changes, I find that if they can frame a question, they know the answer.

“If fear is holding someone back, journalling is a good way to ask: what is this fear, and how rational is it, really?” she adds. “Then you can begin to work out what is standing in the way of that change, and how to address it. What have you done in the past and what resources – be they things or people – have really helped?”

Jacobson adds: “Just the act of writing really helps. It can be cathartic to express feelings, to take stock of one’s thought process. In some ways, it approximates to therapy – you don’t necessarily receive feedback but can benefit from an outpouring of thoughts and emotions.”

5. Consider consulting a therapist

Neither therapy (nor indeed life coaching) are seen as self-indulgent or ‘American’ as they used to be. Therapy on the NHS is scant, and on a needs basis, but private therapy is a fast-growing area in this country.

For a qualified practitioner near you (or anywhere, on Zoom), look for accreditation with the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)

Jacobson also suggests free online resources, such as Yale professor Laurie Santos’s Action for Happiness or the Feeling Good podcast with David Burns

If you are considering therapy, Jacobs has this advice. “It’s worth taking stock with where you are ‘now’,” she says. “Therapists often ask for questionnaires to be completed, which can help you to start to gain some self-awareness.

“It’s also useful to have an idea in mind about your expectations. Spend some time thinking about what changes would like to make happen. None of this is essential but it can help to get the process started.”

Are You Listening? Stories from a Coaching Life by Jenny Rogers is available from Telegraph Books for £14.99. To order, visit books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514

Jenny Rogers is a speaker at this year’s Women Mean Business Live summit on October 20 2021 as a virtual event. It will bring together business leaders and entrepreneurs for a day of action, debate and networking to overcome the barriers that all too often prevent female-led businesses and professionals within the workplace from reaching their full potential.

Speakers will include NatWest CEO Alison Rose, Kate Bingham, Anya Hindmarch, Julia Gillard, Bianca Miller-Cole, as well as The Telegraph’s own Lisa Armstrong and Camilla Tominey.

For more details and to buy tickets click here

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