The coming end of summer brings the return to school. Over the last week or so, I’ve already seen dozens of ‘first day of school’ pictures. Most of these photos have children standing on the front steps holding their new, freshly stocked backpacks or a sign indicating that this is the day of firsts. I have also seen photos of teachers proclaiming their joy to return to the classroom.
For every ‘first day’, there is also a ‘last day.’ The first day of kindergarten, for example, signifies the end of a key phase of life for both the child and the parents.. a phase in which they had grown comfortable and confident. It means that the child is leaving behind something precious and special for something else that promises to be new and exciting, though, perhaps, a bit intimidating. In these ‘first day of school’ photos, you can almost see a sense of anxiety mixed with the anticipation. Starting something new is like that… anticipation, anxiety, excitement with a dash of fear or hesitation mixed in.
We experience many ‘first days’ throughout our lives… first day in a new job, first day in a new city, first day married, first day alone, first day as a parent, first day retired… Most of us just go with the flow regarding firsts. However, there are times when some forethought and planning would help us cope or prosper during these times of transition.
There are also times when individuals work feverishly to avoid a ‘first day.’ They either fear the unknown of a new chapter or they have become so comfortable where they are that they simply would rather take the risk of settling for their current situation than taking a step into the unknown. For example, I have known many individuals that have clearly reached a dead end in their career. Yet, they can’t or won’t take a step to explore new possibilities or new opportunities. By staying “comfortable”, they forfeit challenges, new relationships, and career advancement (including financial gain).
As a parent, we tell our fearful kindergartner that school will be fun and exciting and they will make new friends and learn so many new things. But, often, those same parents will continue going to the same dreadful job, doing the same things, because they are afraid to look at new opportunities themselves.
I have learned that there are three primary questions that you need to ask whenever you face or are contemplating a new ‘first day.’ By spending some time asking – and answering – these questions you can be better prepared for that next chapter that you face.
- What are you leaving behind? – When contemplating a next chapter, it is often good to take an inventory of what you have today. By objectively looking at your current situation, you can often identify whether a new start or next step is needed. From a career or life perspective, you should ask:
- Will I reach my potential if I do not make a change?
- Am I learning?
- Am I having fun?
- Will I reach my life goals (financial, work\life) if I stay?
- What will I be doing in 5 years?
- What are the risks and benefits of your own ‘first day’? – Whether you know it or admit it or not, we all are risk managers. We mitigate an automobile accident by buckling our seat belts. We exercise caution when cleaning the gutters. We protect our children. In the same way, we exercise caution around ‘big changes’ in our lives. When faced with a big decision about your next potential ‘first day’, do a formal risk\benefit analysis… write it down! Often, this activity can make it clear what you need to do next.
- What happens if you don’t make a change?
- What is the best case and worst case scenario if you do make a change?
- How will your life be different a year from now if you do make a change? Or, if you don’t?
- Is you fear or hesitancy based on facts or emotions?
- What will I need to help me take that step toward a ‘first day’? – If you think a new direction or ‘first day’ is needed for you, what steps should you take now?
- Be brave – Just like you might tell your new kindergartner, be courageous. There is nothing to fear. This is a new adventure. Good things are coming.
- Get prepared – For a career change, do your research. What is your logical next career step? What skills do you want to highlight? What are your target companies? Who, in your network, do you need to speak with?
- Focus on the facts – Eliminate the emotions that can drive your anxiety and give rise to second thoughts. Focus on where you want to be, what you want to do, and what steps are needed today. Don’t linger too much on the past and the good times you’ve experienced. Keep things in balance.
- Remember other ‘first days’ in your life – You have done this before. You’ve gone through other ‘first days’ and they have been blessings in your life.
Sometimes in life, we just need to charge ahead with something new, something different. But at other times, we are not given a choice. The questions outlined above can even help with ‘forced transitions.’ Though it may be very difficult looking ahead in challenging times, we need to think about what’s next. How can you make the very best of the days, weeks, and months ahead? Recognize that leaving some things behind is very difficult, but that you can make the best of what lies ahead.
Enjoy this new school year. Watch the excitement of the kids as they become more comfortable with new teachers, new friends, and new surroundings. And, watch them grow in the process. With their growth, comes more confidence and more comfort. Let’s learn from the children as we contemplate our own next ‘first day.’