Remember That You’re in Control

I was talking to a Praxis participant today about the upheaval of moving, and the stress of getting settled in a new city. Finding a place to live, coordinating logistics, and working on a tight timeline for all of the above can be incredibly overwhelming.

As someone who’s getting ready to move for the fifth time in the past 15 months, I understand the stress a lack of certainty can bring. Multiple moves have been made on tight timelines, when I committed to moving before I had a place lined up to go. Stress ensued. I felt like I was a victim of my circumstances, and like the situation was outside of my control, and I was only reacting to it, which is a terrible feeling to have. If I couldn’t solve this one specific problem, I’d be hard up and out of luck.

Except — I wasn’t. And when I reminded myself of this, the stress dissipated.

Here’s the thing about most situations we find ourselves in:

  1. Even if we didn’t intend to end up here, we chose the things that brought us here.
  2. We have complete agency in choosing what we do about it.
  3. No one forces us to make any decisions — including what we prioritize. We make choices based on our values.
  4. We can problem-solve no matter what happens.
  5. If we don’t like where we end up, we can deliberately choose our next steps and actions to get us somewhere better.

In the example of housing, even if we didn’t intend to end up in this city (or looking for housing on this timeline), we chose the circumstances that brought us to be looking here. I didn’t choose Charleston, but I chose my job, which brought me here. This reframes the conversation as one in which I am an active player and have agency, not someone who’s reacting to random and unpredictable things.

When I’m house-hunting, I can choose whatever solution I want to use. If I want to find roommates vs. a 1-bedroom, a house vs. an apartment, a lease vs. a sublet, or rent off of Airbnb — I have the power to choose whichever I want.

I also have the power to leave. I’m trapped in the situation only because I prioritize my job over the physical location in which I live. The situation stops being an unchosen absolute and becomes a contractual, transient arrangement.

And most importantly (once I’ve regained my agency), I concoct a backup plan. One of my favorite life strategies is knowing what to do when I don’t know what to do. Taking a big jump always feels less scary to me if I know what I’ll do in the worst-case scenario if it doesn’t pan out.

If I move to a new city looking for housing and can’t find anything, worst case scenario is that I leave and drive back. If I make a career jump and it doesn’t pan out, I can apply to these specific opportunities the very next day.

Reminding yourself that you have a backup plan in place, and that you chose this situation in the first place, does a lot to quell your anxiety — which in turn clears your mind, sharpens your focus, and makes you far more likely to avoid your feared outcomes in the first place.

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