3 Ways to Stay Grounded During Life-Changing Moments

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Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash.

I went into this year knowing that it would be a time of Big Transitions for me as an individual and for my family as a whole. My husband and I both graduated in May (him from a PhD program, and me from Social Work School); over the course of the summer, I will be leaving the job in parish faith formation that I’ve held for the past eight years (!!!) and starting a new career path as a therapist; and we are adding a third (and likely last) child to our family in the next few weeks.

On top of these milestones, there have been various smaller ones along the way: passing my social work licensing exam; celebrating my best friend and my sister by throwing showers for their first babies; hosting an inaugural cookout in our new neighborhood; welcoming new cousins-in-law into the family through weddings; and attending nieces’ and nephews’ baptisms and birthday parties.

Suffice it to say, it’s an exciting time of life for our family, and as a person who ordinarily welcomes any and all opportunities to make a toast, arrange a tablescape, and give thanks to the people and circumstances who carried us to the Big Moments in our lives, I expected to feel nothing but joy and triumph as we entered this season of celebration. 

Instead, I’ve just wanted to nap.

With the milestones abounding, feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion have trumped my usual propensity to delight in festivity, and I’ve been tempted to throw in the towel on marking the transitions with pomp and circumstance. Even the thought of throwing a backyard barbeque, or writing a silly (yet I’d like to think meaningful) poem commemorating the occasion – something I’ve done in the past – felt beyond my energy capacity.

But while I’m all for letting go of usual expectations and creating space for rest when it is needed (and it is needed), I’m also self-aware enough to know that I’ll regret eschewing all reflection and celebration in the face of such significant life experiences. Keeping the challenge of this balancing act in mind, I’ve embraced a few practices with each milestone to help me determine how to both meaningfully and realistically honor individual occasions.

I journal about the experience at hand

Getting clear in my mind and heart about the personal significance of a milestone moment makes a tremendous difference in how I feel about the moment itself. 

For instance, I spent much of my last semester of social work school feeling surprisingly out-of-sorts about my upcoming graduation. While I was thrilled to be wrapping up tuition payments (I cried actual tears of relief when I paid my last term bill back in January), delighted to be offered a job at the outpatient mental health office where I had been interning, and eager to regain some evening free time as my courses concluded, I also felt disillusioned by the financial impacts of getting such a degree (realizing that my family is eligible for governmental financial assistance on my new salary after spending over $100,000 on the degree itself was a low moment), frustrated by the way in which my university handled an assortment of issues that came up over my years there, and unsettled by the lack of official closure to this huge chapter of my life (I earned my degree through an online program, so didn’t attend the in-person commencement service). 

RELATED: How to Keep a Spiritual Journal (With Writing Prompts to Get You Started!)

With all these thoughts and feelings swirling, it’s no wonder I felt out-of-sorts about my graduation milestone. I oriented myself by sitting down with a journal and reflecting on the following questions: What were the highs of my social work training experience? What were the lows? Which people made a positive difference in my education? Who and what am I feeling most grateful for in this moment? What are my key learnings from the experience? 

I think intentionally about what will make the moment feel special

Once journaling grounds me in my feelings around an event, I’ve found that I’m more equipped to name some practical actions that will set the milestone moment apart from all the other moments of life.

To continue with my graduation example, I learned through journaling that my most positive feelings around earning my master’s degree came from the relationships I formed with classmates and professors along the way. I also discovered that I was feeling icky about the absence of a celebration planned for the actual day of graduation since I wouldn’t be attending commencement.

With these two insights, I decided to take myself and my family out to lunch on graduation day and then go home and spend a portion of the afternoon writing notes of gratitude to the people who impacted my growth so significantly these past several years. 

I did what I determined would honor the moment

After I’ve journaled about the experience at hand and put serious thought into what will make the milestone moment feel special, all that’s left is to take the action steps that I’ve determined. For me – a person for whom decision-making always feels harder than putting the decisions into action – this is the easy part. In the case of my graduation, it was as simple as scheduling a family lunch and devoting a chunk of time to writing thank you notes on the day of commencement. 

Additionally, since the highlights of my social work school experience were learning interesting material and the fact that the degree prepares me to launch a career that I’ve dreamt of for years, I honored the moment by treating myself to a gift that will allow me to keep learning and that will support my new vocation: a subscription to “Psychotherapy Networker” magazine

Even as life events and transitions are often joyful, exciting, and cause for celebration, they can be overwhelming, and, well, tiring. For me, taking small, concrete steps to reflect on and honor the occasions helps me make the most of the milestones in my life.

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