Cynthia just passed the bar exam, after trying unsuccessfully a year ago. To everyone’s surprise, she’s not glowing with joy. Instead, she’s feeling a big letdown.
“Ivan” just landed a new job, after searching for months.
“Karen” just sold her business for a 7-figure sum – enough so she may never have to work again. She’s feeling lost and dazed.
What’s going on?
Any transition involves loss – even when you’re experiencing positive change. So it’s not surprising when you experience re-entry shock as soon as you’ve finished that celebratory bottle of champagne.
Here are three steps to take before you reach the finish line. Once you’re there, you won’t feel like planning. And in my experience, anticipating a reward can be a great motivator.
1. Plan a big event to celebrate.
Transitions are best marked by ritual. Society has few rituals to celebrate getting promoted or landing a dream job after a long campaign. So we have to create our own.
Plan a big party and invite everyone you know. Get a cake. Serve champagne (if it’s part of your value system) and get someone else to drive you home.
2. Fill your calendar with activities you will enjoy.
When you’ve worked toward a goal for a long time, your days were filled with purposeful activity and (probably) interesting people. Cynthia, for instance, spent long hours with her study group. Karen worked 11-hour days with frequent calls to her business advisors.
Suddenly your days can seem bleak in comparison. Cynthia faces a daunting round of job interviews. Ivan has to experience a learning curve before he can dig in and begin to enjoy the job he wanted. Karen – a hardworking overachiever – needs a new goal to give meaning to her future.
Best to begin your new life with a busy calendar.
If your career days seem mundane, search elsewhere: art classes, camping, volunteer work and family time. Develop a project, in or out of your career.
3. Plan your next big win.
What will your next big meaningful goal look like? Karen wanted a new career in the arts. Ivan wanted to start his own business. Cynthia wasn’t sure – which is fine. A law degree can take her in many exciting directions. But she can begin by exploring options now, years before she needs them.
My own experience happened more by luck than design. As I completed my Ph.D. dissertation, I knew I would miss my classmates and friends in the Bay Area. In fact, I would miss everything about the Bay Area.
So I planned a six-week overseas trip, beginning right after graduation. My friends organized a great party and someone even made a healthy California cake. (Well, it had fruit on top.) Luckily, I had a job waiting. I’d started a research project, with a new goal of becoming marketable.
It worked. And I’ve repeated the pattern more than once, just filling in the blanks a little differently.