Coping with “Big” Changes

We have known students who – during their junior or senior year of college – expressed concern about their post-graduation plans. Jenny is a junior and her case represents the issue: “I’m majoring in psychology but never really wanted to work in the field. But now I do. I’ve decided to get a Master’s in Counseling and get licensed. The problem is, my Dad wants me to join the family business after graduation. We always talked about this and I thought it would work, but now I don’t think so. Any advice on how to tell him?”

That’s a tough question. Jenny needs to be true to herself, and she’s hoping that dad – even though disappointed – will see that letting her go “her chosen way” is in her best interests. Maybe it would help if Jenny took time over the upcoming summer to give working with Dad a trial run. She could see what’s involved and if she likes it. If not, she can honestly say, “It’s not for me, Dad.” Furthermore, Jenny can be reassured that in the future, she need not fear her Dad saying, “Well, you could have at least given the family business a go.” She did! Also, Jenny would not have to worry about going through life wondering, “What would have happened if…?” Once again, she can say, “I gave it a try and I know it’s not for me.”

Trevor’s dilemma happened several years after graduation. In college he was a Business Administration major and an academic superstar. After college he landed a great job with a major company and seemed well on his way to a rewarding and lucrative professional career.

After two years on the job, he contacted one of his college professors and said: “I’m doing really well. Great evaluations from the boss; already two raises; colleagues I enjoy working with…” The professor interrupted, “Sounds like a ‘but’ is coming!”

            Trevor laughed. “Yeh, a big ‘but.’ The business culture doesn’t fit with my values. Bottom line, bottom line, bottom line – always the bottom line. I analyze spread sheets showing budget reductions requiring employee termination and I think, who are these people being let go? Do they have kids? A mortgage? College loans to repay? I just can’t get away from the people angle. It’s more important to me than the bottom line.”

            “So, what are you planning to do?” asked the professor.

            “I have to help people. Nursing school. Or be a dentist!” replied Trevor.

            Trevor’s choice is not as wild as it sounds. He always had what he called a “latent” interest in medicine, but business and accounting “grabbed” him in college. Now, with his change of heart, the problem was that he had taken none of the science courses required for admission to any medical professional school.

            He discovered that the university where he lived had a special program where he could take a concentrated year-and-a-half of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics to give him the requisite courses to apply to professional schools in the medical field.

            Would you agree that this would be a gutsy move on Trevor’s part?  Of course, if nothing else, he would show himself to be willing to take on the challenge because he didn’t want to go through life wondering, “What if…?”

Two situations: choosing against family wishes; and, making a radical career change. What might they have in common? Two things in particular: the importance of having a realistic coping Plan of Action, and Accountability in carrying out the plan. Jenny has a plan, but she must be responsible for respectfully and lovingly communicating her decision to Dad; Trevor also has come up with a plan, and he is responsible for meeting the professional conditions put on him if he is to be successful in carrying out this revised career plan.

Are you one of those people who experiences considerable stress because of being in a job you dislike? Do you stick with it because you hate change? Do you focus on your negative emotions the job produces – anger, anxiety, frustration, helplessness, and maybe even depression? Jenny’s and Trevor’s stories show the importance of not worrying about the emotions, but focusing instead on a purposive plan – engaging in actions that are under your control, and that meet the realities of the of the goals you want to attain. When put in the appropriate task-focused coping context, even the wildest life changes can be realized.

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