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Recently, the Stephen Covey concept that you can’t choose the circumstances of your life, but you can choose your attitude about them came up in a Sain Associates Leadership Class. It was a good thing for me to hear at the time, because I was about to move my youngest child, Emily, to college at the University of Montevallo.
It’s been interesting for me to watch how she has adjusted to this major change. She’s done really well with it, which I think has a lot to do with the discussions my husband, Steve, and I had with her about how we would handle this change in all of our lives. How would our best selves handle it?
Over the past year we’ve talked about this in casual conversations while living life. We often just wondered out loud what life would be like once this change happened. Sometimes our discussions came out of an expression of anxiety that would then feed a conversation about how we could handle that anxiety in a positive way.
Here are a few best practices that I think help me choose a positive attitude in the midst of an anticipated life change:
• Plan ahead: Ask yourself, how would my ‘best self’ handle the change that is coming? What attitudes and behaviors do I hope to display? Talk to others who have been through a similar change, and let them help you know what to expect.
• Envision success: Mentally picture yourself responding in a positive way. Play that tape over and over again in your head.
• Give thanks: Express your gratitude for the people and circumstances that have brought you thus far. Remember, a thankful heart is a happy heart.
• Be kind to yourself: Understand that change is stressful and will demand more of you. Be nice to yourself and forgive your own shortcomings. Make time for some pleasurable activities during the period of change.
• Ask for support: Seek out friends and family who will be supportive of you in the change. Ask for what you need.
• Be a learner: Look for things that the new situation is teaching you. Use those lessons to adapt and improve.
I think as parents we often project our own past experiences onto our children in the mistaken belief that their experiences will be the same. If we had a difficult time adjusting to something as a young person, we may assume our child will also struggle. I had a difficult adjustment to college, but I’ve had to keep telling myself that my child is not me and her experience may be very different.
Emily is choosing to like her new home at Montevallo. Making a place feel like home will take time, but she can speed up the process by choosing to focus on the good things that are happening and take advantage of opportunities to make friends and learn about her new community.
So where does this leave me? I am choosing to be happy about her new life at college and the opportunities it gives her to grow and learn. I’m also choosing to use the additional free time I now have with an empty nest to pursue some of my personal interests and hobbies and to spend more time doing fun things with my husband. I spent a lot of time contemplating how Steve and I would handle the free time that comes with an empty nest. My desire is that our relationship will grow stronger, but I know from observing others that is not guaranteed. It requires intentionality and work.
Things are definitely different now, and I miss both of my college student kids. But I’m enjoying hearing about their experiences away from home. Steve and I are operating at a more relaxed pace at home, and I think we will not only survive the empty nest transition, but grow to enjoy and appreciate this phase of life as much as we did prior phases.
Most people don’t like change. We all need to be reminded that life is change. If we adapt and grow through life’s changes, we will be more joyful people.
“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.” Khalil Gibran