Healthy discontent may signal the start of a new chapter in your life

When did the present chapter in your life begin? Was it provoked by a job change? A relocation? A health crisis? An empty nest? How do you know when you’re about to enter a new chapter in your life?

In my last post, Three signs that you’re entering a new chapter in your life, I wrote about a dramatic way to begin a new chapter: the sudden call. I defined sudden calls as “extraordinary occurrences of divine intervention to do something that to others might look crazy.” Because they’re extraordinary, they cannot be anticipated. When they happen, buckle your seatbelt, you’re in for a ride.

But more often new chapter beginnings are more subtle. The desire for change stirs within us until our growing sense of discontent cannot escape notice. This is the second sign that we may be entering a new chapter.

Discontent comes in two forms. There’s the kind we experience all the time. Things aren’t going the way we want. We’d prefer more pay, a more comfortable home, more satisfying relationships, better vacations, and on and on. (Add your own unmet desire and stir.) That’s unhealthy discontent. You can spot it when you find yourself envious of another; when they get what you crave or believe you deserve.

Healthy discontent, on the other hand, is the unsettling knowledge that things are not as they should be. You begin to notice that the things that presently occupy you give you less energy and inspiration than they once did. It’s not that your situation has changed. You have. And you begin to wonder what it might be like to try something different. Not because you deserve it, but because you’re out of alignment.

If you’re experiencing healthy discontent, congratulations! You’re on the verge of a new chapter in your life, provided you’re ready to embrace it. To help you get there, try these things:

  1. Name the discontent. New chapter transitions can be some of the most rewarding times in your life. It can also be one of the most frustrating and disorienting. If you’re not already doing so, there is no better time to begin journaling. Make a habit of writing every day for at a least month about what feels out of place. Take note of the activities and interactions that inspire you and those that drain you.
  2. Acclimate to unsettledness. The problem with healthy discontent is that the change we need unsettles us. A man becomes a sailor, not by remaining on land, but by heading out to sea. His commitment to remain onboard acclimates him to the undulating motion of the sea. So it is with us. Too often our identity is tied to our present chapter. We are an attorney, a banker, a construction worker, a stay-at-home mom. What would it mean to be a writer, or a missionary, or a funeral director? Dee Hock, the Founder and former CEO of VISA, said, “Change is the thief of identity. We can never be sure of our place or value in a new order of things.” Taking time to acclimate is essential to embrace the new chapter.
  3. Experiment. Healthy discontent is borne of misalignment and there are many possible ways to address it. That’s good news! But only if you take the time to experiment. You may have lost the art of experimentation. In making your present chapter successful you’ve developed the habit of keeping tightly focused to your goals—careful not to stray too far from your mission. That was good for then, but now it’s time to move the ladder to another wall. Take small steps to experiment with new ideas. Join a discussion group. Take a class. Volunteer. There are countless ways to put your latent skills to work.

Healthy discontent is a sign of significant personal growth. Like a plant that’s reached the limit of its pot, healthy discontent is a sign that it’s time to repurpose our skills, interests and personality (who we are) to what we do (our vocational expression). Without healthy discontent, we remain potbound, unable to release new rhizomes in unfettered soil.

In my final post of this series, I’ll describe the third sign that you’re entering a new chapter in your life: unquenchable interest.

How has healthy discontent helped you prepare for a new chapter in your life?

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