Give Yourself Permission to Pivot

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I have a client - let’s call her Geraldine - who started working with me while on a leave from work, when she was planning to get out of a job from hell and into a career path that felt fantastic.

The prospect of a new, fitting career direction was so enticing that the process itself felt a little magical.

She was an effin’ courageous rockstar who started doing all the things:

Getting clear on her genuine strengths, talents, values, and the curiosities that light her up.

Reaching out to conduct Information Interviews with people in alternate fields of work.

Taking a college course to up-level her skills and learn about a new sector.

She was going along merrily - the journey had its inevitable ups and downs, of course - tracking her progress, feeling generally purposeful and focused, when she got thrown a curveball.

Geraldine got handed a new role in her organization, one that was a much better fit than her recent position - but not exactly the whole new, different, deeply-aligned career path she’d shown up for coaching dreaming of. In a heartbeat, it seemed, she was back to work.

Over the next few weeks, I witnessed her get muddled and disoriented.

Should she switch tack: focus on performing in the new job and stop attempting to craft the foundation for a radical career shift? 

She didn’t honestly feel like networking and developing new skills anymore! 

Meanwhile, she was also caring for her sick mother and found herself depleted and exhausted.

It came to a crux one session.

“I feel like I’m failing,” Geraldine confessed. 

“It’s taking everything I’ve got to handle the pressures of the new job, take care of my mom, and, frankly, my own health. I can see that I don’t have the same kind of bandwidth for this process that I did while on leave, but the truth is, I’m sad to say, I also don’t feel the same level of motivation and magic that I did a couple of months ago, when it comes to the big-picture career-building stuff.”

Aha! Boom.

Geraldine was pushing on, wet noodling and berating herself, judging that she should still be pursuing the same goals she arrived with, when what I was starting to hear was that it might actually be a time ripe for her to pivot.

I see this all the time: people pushing on, holding themselves to an agenda they previously set for themselves, even when the external or internal conditions have shifted (sometimes significantly), feeling increasingly tired, drained, and discouraged - soaked through with a pervasive sense of personal failure.

My encouragement at these moments is to help people consider if this is not actually the time for ‘efforting’ and forcing and ‘pushing through’ but, instead, to sink into a deeper invitation and opportunity: to let go of the old goals and agenda and pivot to face a new direction.

So, what does a pivot look like, exactly?

How do we know when a pivot is the wise path to take (and not just letting ourselves off the hook when the going gets tough?)

How can one pivot with grace and also take care of the parts of ourselves experiencing a discomforting sense of loss, disappointment, or failure?

If this resonates with you, please read on! 

Well, recognizing and navigating a pivot often starts with paying attention to your body and your energy levels (make no mistake, listening to and honoring our body’s wisdom is radical in our hyper-rationalist dominant culture). 

So, please think of a situation where you wonder if you might need to change direction in your life and consider:

  • How do you feel when you keep taking action on your current agenda: for the most part energized (even if spent) OR more drained and depleted?

  • When you turn to your to-do list, do you actually want to do most of the listed tasks or is it more a matter of judging that you should do them? 

(Hey, I’m not pretending that we’ll love and intrinsically enjoy all the things required for meaningful progress in our work and lives. However, when we’re aligned with a fitting path, my experience is that we understand and accept the challenges of even the difficult or tedious tasks and find creative ways forward, steadily sustained in a deeper way). 

If you’re experiencing more resistance and heaviness than enthusiasm, curiosity, or motivation, please pay attention instead of just pushing on.

This is the wisdom part: daring to trust our bodies more than our mind’s thoughts, rationalizations, ruminations and building confidence that our energy levels and instincts are giving us potent information about our life direction, much like a compass.

(Side note: if the concept of connecting with your body in such a way is foreign or feels intimidating or out of reach for you, please check out Martha Beck’s outstanding book, “Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. She goes into depth on how to access our inner wisdom through our bodies and I highly recommend this resource).”

In Geraldine’s case, once we dug deeper, she came to realize that she was indeed ready to pivot - and in a significant way.

Paying attention to her instincts and trusting herself to make a wise decision, she determined that it was actually time for her to push pause on her long-term future career development and focus her attention in simplified new directions.

With relief, she realized that her new goals - for the time being - were simply:

  1. Care for her health

  2. Care for her mom’s health

  3. Maintain a decent (not outstanding!) level of presence and performance at work 

And that’s it.

More than that, she realized that her body, heart, mind and spirit needed to get off of a hyper-focused, productivity-oriented track and to shift into a season of greater rest and play.

The woman was exhausted.

We talked about how our dominant culture tends to value and focus on growth, growth, growth, and more, more, more - whereas nature will always remind and demonstrate to us that natural rhythms of life include periods of maturation and productive harvest and also seasons of slower growth and total fallow periods.

By the time Geraldine got off the phone with me, we agreed that her life and coaching goals had evolved and that this next chapter of her life would be infused with less strategy and ticking checkboxes on her to-do list and more fun, leisure, and relaxation.

So, if you’ve got your own version of needing to shift direction, change goals, and the whole flavour of your life, please start by giving yourself permission to do so.

Next, here’s my suggestion to take good care of the parts of you that may be disappointed, feel a sense of loss, or nagging failure about this whole pivot:

Honor your shift consciously.

Don’t just drop the old path and shove yourself onto the new one without care or attention - because that’s when you may well get muddled, disoriented, and may find yourself wet-noodling yourself, like Geraldine.

When you catch yourself here, please take yourself in hand and, instead, pivot with awareness, deliberation, and much compassionate gentleness.

 Please consider - even if this sounds a little woo woo - creating a little ritual.

Here’s a sample example:

  • Set aside 10-15 minutes: light a candle or ring a bell: establish some time to connect with yourself and the shifting currents of your unfolding life.

  • Turn to the items or objects that symbolize the old path you’ve been walking. Recognize what they represent and mean to you and thank them for their presence. (For Geraldine, that meant looking at all the Information Interview templates, continuing education course notes, and reflective insights about herself and her ideal future work). 

  • Put them away: out of sight and out of mind. 

    • If this path is something you’re done with for good, feel the feelings that accompany letting go. Along with relief, there be some grief. Maybe a little, maybe a lot.

    •  If you know that this path is still vital and important and sense that you may or definitely want to resume it at a later date - but you’re honoring that now is simply not the time - tell these items that you will be back and thank them for the groundwork laid so far. (Geraldine did this and placed her paperwork in an envelope in her filing cabinet).

  • If part of you is really freaked that if you push pause on this path that you’ll never really circle back to it, soothe that part by choosing a time that you’ll re-visit and check in about picking this trajectory back up. Actually put a reminder in your calendar. (Geraldine set her phone to ping her six months later to reassess her priorities and energy levels).

  • Finally, accept the pivot. As much as possible, embrace it. Sigh. Let the tension in your shoulders or chest drop. Open to what is now possible. Even if there is some grief, see if you can feel into the space for new possibilities, the ones that feel, well, right - even if counter-intuitive or surprising. (Geraldine put up a new brainstorming list on her fridge, titled: “Deep Rest & Play” and started jotting down inspired ideas for nourishing her own personal rejuvenating ‘fallow season’). 

  • Give yourself permission to pivot. Create a little phrase that comforts or enlivens you to move through this change. (For good measure, Geraldine added an extra note to her new map on the fridge: “I am allowed to have fun.”) You may need to give yourself a little extra validation and encouragement, too, especially if you feel some residual guilt or fear, sadness or self-judgment about making a change and letting go of some goals.

In the end, the bottom line is that life is always changing. Conditions and needs shift. 

It’s ok to change our minds, our plans, and our priorities.

It really is.

Sometimes everything looks the same ‘on the outside’ but what used to fit no longer does and we feel it on the inside: chafing or unease where there used to be comfort or delight.

Other times, you get an external curveball or shift, like Geraldine did - and the invitation is to stop navigating your life by the same metrics and intentions that fit that old pattern and to adapt.

It takes courage to pivot.

Extra if you do it with conscious awareness and let yourself feel it all the way, at deeper levels.

But gosh, it’s exhausting to paddle a boat upstream, fighting the shifted currents, trying to muscle your way to where you thought you were supposed to get to.

How much better - and easier - it feels to paddle downstream, accepting the changes and the bigger flow of our lives.

One more thing. 

Sometimes a pivot feels like relief, like throwing off a weighted backpack you thought you had to keep slogging with: even a lot of fun, accompanied by a surge of renewed energy, joy and liberation.

Sometimes a pivot is subtle and small, and other times it’s massive and shatters our status quo.

But, believe me when I say that I know from firsthand experience that sometimes our hearts absolutely break as we surrender to a particular pivot. 

Sometimes making a deeply right choice or accepting a change brought upon us is painful or invokes loss - for you and/or others.

Please also trust me when I say that you are resilient and powerful and capable and made for Life and Its Mysteries.

For your life and its unique mysteries.

(In the same breath, please remember that your loved ones are also capable of withstanding heartbreak and change and loss, devastating as some of these moments are).

To me, the invitation is to practice trusting life, something bigger than ourselves and to surrender to the most authentic unfolding of our lives that we can honor.

If now is a good, ripe or important time for you to pivot, please feel a whoosh of my faith and support and encouragement flowing your way - especially if your shift in direction or intentions feels big or terrifying or difficult, as well as clear and right at essence.  

Feel free to share anything you wish in the comments below.

Finally, heck, embracing a pivot can be like changing gears in a vehicle: sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes it’s grindy and crunchy. Both are normal. Both are ok. Transitions can be bumpy.

But you’ve got this.


P.S. If you sense that you’re in a season of your life that calls for a pivot - or even what is often called a ‘contemplative period,’ where you can almost feel change coming for you (even if you don’t feel ready or know exactly what it is and it’s not on your doorstep yet) - please join me for a (FREE) live workshop in Toronto this month OR virtual masterclass at the end of August. I’d love to support you in honoring the authentic currents unfolding in your life and offer you some community and tools to support your courage and capacity to create a powerful fall that feels good.

P.P.S. If you’re experiencing a pivot that you never would have chosen - one of those existentially brutal ones, like the death of a loved one or a diagnosis and illness journey that is rocking you to your core - I haven’t read this book yet (it’s on order and coming my way), you might want to check out, “Lifeshocks: How to Love Them” by Sophie Sabbage, who lives with cancer and whose TED talk on grief I loved). Because sometimes we’re in the absolute trenches and the pivots are hell - even when surrendering to them (to reality) will enhance our lives. Hang in there. Sending big love, N


Nicola Holmes is a Life Coach who works with individuals and facilitates “The Expansion Circle,” a transformative group program for women. Nicola helps people who are feeling stuck or struggling to realize their goals; overwhelmed by life change; or determined to ‘level up’ & turn their dreams into reality. She’s also mama to two young and spirited kids, community-minded, a CBC-lover, voracious reader, and is currently obsessed with podcasts! Join Nicola’s Facebook community or join the email party to access inspiration and resources to fuel the changes you yearn for.