September is traditionally a time of new arrivals in the international community. Our mental health expert Lysanne Sizoo looks at the relationship between good endings and new beginnings.
If summer is a time of farewells, then autumn is the time of year when all over the world boxes are unpacked, new schools visited and/or new jobs embraced. Every new beginning implies an ending of sorts. And when it comes to international relocations we are often more focussed on the new beginning than on a good ending; I myself am particularly prone to this!
Coaching experts love to trot out the old chestnut about running ‘away’ from something or ‘towards’ something. If only life was that simple. Quite often we’re doing a bit of both. Furthermore, deciding that the ‘old life’ is not what we wanted or expected is not always about ‘running away’; it can be a sound and courageous new step. What doesn’t help, however, is to forget how much of ourselves we bring with us into the new life.
If the ‘break’ with the old life, be it a relationship, a job, or an environment isn’t explored and learned from, then we run the risk of falling into the trap of the middle aged man who marries a younger model, thinking that this will cure his existential fears of old age and mortality.
So how do you go about exploring your motivations, even retrospectively?Here are some fun and useful exercises you can do at home over a cup of coffee or tea. Make sure you have paper and pen ready.
If you have the courage to be honest with yourself, there’s an exercise that you can do that gets to the bottom of any unfinished business. Start off by asking yourself the simple question ‘why did I/we leave? Listen to the first answer, it will be the one you will have trotted out every time you announced to your family, friends and colleagues that you were moving on. Then ask the ‘why’ question again, drilling further into your first answer; for example, ‘so why am I looking for a new adventure?’, or ‘why was the job offer too good to turn down?’ Keep turning your answer into another ‘why’ question, just like an inquisitive three-year old! Take a piece of paper and write your answers down. If you keep asking yourself the ‘why’ question and answer honestly, you may eventually get to the heart of your own unique personal motivation. And this motivation will tell you a lot about the decisions you have made and will continue to make in life.
Dialogue with yourself
Another way to get at your deepest motivation is to have a meeting with all the different self-aspects within yourself. We’re all familiar with the situation where one part of us wants to do this… and another wants to do that. David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author calls this the ‘inner parliament’. In psychology it is known as ‘subpersonalities’ and ‘IFS’ – internal family systems.
If the above ‘why’ exercise seems confusing, it may be that the answers are coming from different parts of yourself, or that part of you wants to block the process because it just feels too weird/scary/confrontational. In that case, try imagining a campfire, or a board room, or a ‘scene’ with a gathering of people that feels comfortable to you and invite your different self-parts to join you. You may find there is a part that wasn’t ready to make the new move sitting right next to the part that never quite unpacks her suitcases. There may be a part that is still grieving for the friends from three moves ago, and another that can’t wait to meet new people and start afresh. Like a compassionate parent or President of the Board, you can let them all give their opinion without arguing against them, or judging them.
Giving all these different ‘voices’ inside you the space and the time to express their own needs and motivations will help you to remain in the place of the observer. Like a good leader you can allow everyone to have their say and then make decisions that are in the common interest of the whole system, even if not everyone agrees. I have found that when clients allow all their different aspects to join in the conversation these inner parts respond just like ‘real’ people. Wanting to be ‘heard’ can be far more important than getting your own way. On the other hand, having your/their voice repressed can (cause them to) make you behave like a self-sabotaging toddler or teenager.
So you’ve done the why game or you’ve had a meeting of your inner tribe; you’re beginning to get a sense of the underlying motivations that led to your ‘new beginning’. The next step is to explore if the motivation is being expressed in a healthy or unhealthy way.
It is deeply empowering to know as much as you can about the things that drive you, be they instinctive character traits that are part of your personal ‘design’ or the social conditioning that teaches us our ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’. In and of itself any internal quality is neither wrong or right… it is what we do with it that determines whether we keep repeating painful patterns or if we turn our skills into gifts for the world.
Here’s an example. In the exercise above, one of your ‘why’ answers might be ‘because I take care of other people’. As international travellers, we are often thrown back on our own devices, forsaking the comfort of a secure family or friendship network to help us through the hard times. One of the hardest things natural nurturers need to learn is to put their own oxygen mask on before helping others. Do you carry the message that you ‘ought’ to be caring for others? Because that ‘ought’ might be a trap you will fall right back in to when you arrive at your new destination.
Another example: Ambition can be a strong motivation, often going hand in hand with an inner perfectionist. I’ll take a risk and say that international travellers are often more ambitious about life than those that stay at home. And there is nothing wrong with ambition, as long as it is married to a healthy realistic outlook on what the boundaries of our capabilities are. We are not omnipotent super beings, whatever modern society would have us be; we are frail, fallible and enthusiastic. No one is perfect, and there comes a time when we may have to say, ‘this is the best I can do’. Very often your best is already more than good enough.
Back to endings and new beginnings
In summary: to give your new start the very best chance possible, take some time out from amongst the packing cases and the phone calls to electricians, plumbers and internet providers and check if your new beginning is resting on a completed ending. And to give your new job the best chance of succeeding whilst getting to know your new colleagues and working out the dress code, take a moment or two to honestly ask yourself how you got to where you are. Are there lessons to be learned from your previous life that you can use to set yourself up differently in the new? Are there disappointments, either with yourself or with others that you need to work through so you don’t carry that negative energy into your new life?
Taking ownership of your own role in creating the life that you have is one of the most empowering experiences. And no, it doesn’t stop us from running head long into the same pattern, it just means we recognise it more quickly.
So enjoy your new beginning to the full and embrace the adventure while also being kind to yourself and taking the time it takes. Graciously and mindfully rounding off what has been creates the very best environment for what’s to come. Have fun!
Copyright 2015: Lysanne Sizoo
These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and clients’ experiences. All therapeutic meetings are confidential, and specific content will never be shared in apublic forum unless specific permission has been asked and granted from the client. Featured photo: Christian Joudrey/unsplash