is far from an exact science. Each of us, as we
navigate much unmapped terrain en route to
realizing our potential, make some good choices
and some bad ones. And we make some that are
right for us at one time but not another.
We invariably come to points
where we realize that a situation or a goal we've
chosen to pursue just isn't working for us.
Sometimes we discover that a dream we've devoted
ourselves to earnestly doesn't fit us nearly as
well as we had hoped. Yet a big part of us
resists letting go of it, because we've staked
our identity in it so strongly.
Jason is a gifted high school
history teacher, loved by students for his
ability to make an often dry subject interesting.
Yet for years he had pursued a legal career.
Although Jason was a talented attorney, he wasn't
out of law school long before he realized that
his passion for law was far less than that of his
By his early thirties he had
determined that his strongest gifts and interests
lay in teaching, not in fighting legal battles.
The fact that he had long been fascinated with
studying history led him to conclude he should
teach this subject. And working with his church's
youth ministry convinced him he would enjoy
teaching high school students.
Deciding that he ought to become
a teacher was one thing. Mustering the courage to
leave the legal profession was quite another, and
it took him three years to do it. Changing
careers not only meant disappointing his
parents--who had urged him to become an attorney
and paid for all his higher education--but
admitting to others and himself that he had spent
years chasing a dream that wasn't right for him.
It also meant financial sacrifice--trading a
lavish salary for a modest one, and finding a way
to fund further education. Jason worried, too, if
he had the potential to be a good teacher, and
whether he could find a position with a high
Today his only regret is that he
took so long to make this change. It has opened
up a much more fulfilling career for him, and one
that has proven to match his potential remarkably
Why Change Is Difficult
Like Jason, most of us take a
circuitous route in finding our career niche; few
of us get it right the first time. The changes in
direction we make personally may be less dramatic
than his--like switching college majors, or
taking a new job within the same profession. Yet
many of us make one or more major career changes
during our lifetime. Our self-understanding is
always developing. Add to this the extreme
latitude of choice we face in America today, and
we can easily be into our thirties, forties or
beyond, before we find the career that fits us
best. Jason's experience is not at all unusual.
Change is the stuff of our lives
in many other areas besides career and education.
Few of us live out our life in the same town in
which we grew up, let alone the same home. Most
of us make at least several moves--some of us
more than we can count--to new homes or regions.
We may change our church affiliation from time to
time, and our membership in other organizations
and clubs. We rethink our commitments in endless
other areas--to leisure activities, to leadership
roles, to people, to goals for personal growth,
to our style of living.
Our most difficult turning points
often involve relationships. Not many of us make
the journey to marriage without going through at
least several dating relationships, and a variety
of hoped-for ones, where our expectations rise
and fall. Most of us endure some painful
experiences in romance, and have to make a number
of new beginnings.
What every major life change we
make has in common is that it always requires us
to give up something in order to gain something.
No matter how strongly we desire to make a
certain change, we have to sacrifice certain
benefits we've come to depend on and enjoy to do
it, and often a dream we've cherished as well.
Letting go of the past is usually the most
difficult part of changing directions. Like
Jason, we can get stuck here, and wait far longer
than we should to move ahead.
There are several reasons we may
fail to let go of situations or goals that aren't
right for us, even when we have convincing
evidence that we should. Being aware of these
tendencies that can hold us back can help us to
avoid them, and to act more decisively when it's
time to turn the page.
aversion. Some people are highly
unsettled by any experience of personal loss or
failure. They abhor loss so greatly that they
prefer to live in denial about unhealthy
situations in their life, and will remain in them
way beyond a reasonable point. To break away,
they fear, would be admitting too blatantly to
others and themselves that they have failed. This
same mentality makes them subject to wishful
thinking that these situations will improve.
outlook is termed "loss aversion" in
the financial world. Investment psychologist Dian
Vujovich explains, "To understand loss
aversion, consider this scenario: A friend owns
shares of a stock or a fund that has fallen
precipitously over a period of time. Rather than
reevaluating whether the investment is still a
smart one, your friend decides to buy more
shares. As the price continues to slide, your
friend decides to hold on to the shares even
though all the signs say to sell. You ask
yourself, Why won't he just get rid of that
Part of what fuels loss aversion,
Vujovich notes, is that we tend to value our
losses in life more greatly than our gains. The
grief we experience over a personal loss is
typically greater than our joy over a success of
equal measure. The result is that an investor
with loss aversion tends not only to hold on to
losing shares too long, but to sell winning
shares too quickly.
We can be subject to loss
aversion in any area of life. We may find it
easier to stick with the unhealthy relationship
than to break it off, less threatening to stay in
the profession that doesn't match our potential
than to start over in a new career. We dislike
giving the impression that we've failed to
anyone, including ourselves.
ourselves beyond loss aversion, it helps to
understand that a number of losses are usually
necessary to merit a success in any pursuit.
Successful investors understand this principle
well. Some investment strategies follow the
principle that far more securities in a portfolio
will post losses than gains; one may still come
out ahead by keeping these losses as small as
possible and the gains as substantial as
In the same way, our aim in life
shouldn't be to insulate ourselves against all
possibility of failure, but to keep the losses we
do experience as small as possible. The real loss
is when we hold on to a bad situation too long.
"Cutting your losses" is a helpful
concept in business, for it implies you are
taking a positive step by putting a stop to an
unprofitable venture. This is a good way to
regard dropping any losing situation in our life.
Thinking in terms of cutting our losses reminds
us that we're gaining, not losing, by letting go
In the same way Jesus taught his
disciples an extremely redemptive concept when he
urged them to depart from towns where they
weren't warmly received, shaking the dust off
their feet as they left (Mt 10:14; Mk 6:11; Lk
9:5, 10:11; see Acts 13:51). He not only
indicated that it was normal and acceptable for
them to experience some failures, even when they
were following fully in his will, but he gave
them a positive, assertive step to break the
emotional inertia of losing situations.
Most important, he implied that
they would enjoy some rewarding successes if they
pressed on (Lk 10:2-9). The key was to keep their
losses as minimal as possible, and their gains as
significant as possible.
Jesus' teaching on shaking off
the dust is good to keep in mind whenever we need
to gain the courage to cut our losses in any
area. Reflecting on it can help us find the heart
to move ahead.
true to ourselves. In some cases we've
identified so strongly with a certain dream for
so long that it has become part of the fabric of
our personality. Even if we find that a new
direction suits us better, the thought of letting
go of our old dream feels like an act of treason
When a friend of mine was in his
young twenties, his parents told him they would
one day move from their plush suburban home, and
allow him to purchase it for a minimal price. For
many years Rob looked forward to the time when he
could move his family there. It would mean a
major increase in living space for them, and a
much quieter neighborhood.
Eventually his priorities
changed. He and his wife decided they preferred
to move to a more modest home in the country,
near recreational activities they enjoyed.
Not long after they made this
decision, his parents announced they were ready
for him to buy their home. "The hardest
part," Rob confessed to me, "was
admitting to myself that I no longer
wanted to do this particular thing."
Rob fortunately had the maturity
to abandon his dream of purchasing his folks'
home, in spite of his mixed emotions. Some
people, though, in a similar situation would feel
compelled to stick with their original intention,
out of concern with being true to themselves.
No matter how attracted we may be
to a new dream, we may still feel like we're
forsaking an old friend by relinquishing our
original one. We should recognize that it's
normal and human to feel this way. We are
actually going through a grieving experience in
this case. It may help us to take some time to
mourn what we're leaving behind, and allow
ourselves to face these feelings fully. There is
no shame in doing so; it's part of the adjustment
process often involved even in welcome change.
We may also need to redefine what
it means to be true to ourselves. We should
regard it as staying faithful to an evolving
understanding God's will and our own potential,
rather than a static one. As we make the changes
that this growing understanding requires, we'll
probably feel less than authentic at times with
new roles and identities we assume--simply
because we aren't used to them yet. This doesn't
mean we're selling ourselves short by moving
forward. Change of any sort can feel unnatural at
first. The key is to allow ourselves reasonable
time to adjust, and in time we'll likely grow
comfortable with our new situations.
God guides us not by revealing
elaborate blueprints of his future intentions for
our life, but by inching us forward step by step.
We cannot be more true to ourselves than by
committing ourselves fully to this process, and
to all of the emotional adjustments involved.
fear of hurting others. Another concern
we may have is that others will be hurt if we
take a new step with our life. This fear can have
some basis. Friends and family members who've
grown accustomed to how we are now may feel
threatened by our changing. If they've supported
us and rooted for us as we've pursued our current
dream, their pride may be hurt if we abandon it
for a new one. A more serious problem is that
they may lose important benefits which they
derive from their present relationship with us.
We can never know for certain,
however, how someone will respond to a step we
want to take until we carry it out. Nor can we
foresee fully how it will affect them. Sometimes
During college I dated a nursing
student for a year and a half. We enjoyed a
strong supportive relationship, and talked
seriously about getting married. Gradually,
though, I began to realize that we weren't a good
match for marriage, since our vocational goals
didn't mesh well. My interest in continuing the
relationship began to wane.
Yet for over a month I hesitated
to tell her, fearing that the news would be
crushing to her. Finally, I brought myself to do
it, nearly certain she would break down in tears.
She did break down. Not in tears
but in laughter. She went on to tell me that her
feelings about the relationship had been changing
in exactly the same way, yet she had been afraid
of hurting me by admitting it. We parted amiably,
and today both of us, happily married to others,
remain good friends.
My experience brings out one of
the most important principles of faith we can
keep in mind in weighing a major change: If
God is influencing us to take a new direction
with our life, he is influencing others about it
as well. He is changing others'
thinking--preparing the way for us to move
forward, and to benefit, not devastate, those in
our path. While we have no guarantee that others
will applaud what we're doing, we're likely to
enjoy some encouraging surprises. And if God is
leading us to make the change we're considering,
we may trust that what is best for us will be
best for others as well.
This isn't to minimize the pain
often involved in ending a relationship. My
experience in college was unusual,
unquestionably; breaking off a relationship can
be the most difficult step we ever have to take.
Yet we cannot second-guess how someone else will
respond when we share our feelings honestly with
them. Nor can we predict how God will strengthen
us to handle the challenge of communicating on
this delicate level.
Beyond terminating a
relationship, others have the potential to be
hurt by any major change we make. The desire not
to purposely hurt others, of course, is
commendable, and a vital part of caring for them
with the love of Christ. Yet we can become too
concerned about unintentional hurt someone may
experience when we follow through with what God
wants us to do.
We should remind ourselves that
God will be changing people's hearts as we move
forward. Some whom we fear disappointing may
respond quite differently than we imagine.
Chances are good that, in the long run, they'll
be grateful we've followed our star. In any case,
we're not responsible for their feelings. We may
trust that by faithfully carrying out what God
wants us to do, we will best enhance his
providing for the needs of others--including
those whom we're concerned about hurting.
fear of failure. While there are many
fears that can discourage us from a new venture,
the fear of failure is often our greatest
deterrent. Some fear of failing is healthy, for
it prods us to plan carefully. Yet an inordinate
fear of failure will prevent us from pursuing
goals that are appropriate for us, including many
that God will enable us to achieve.
As in dealing with loss aversion,
part of the solution to overcoming an excessive
fear of failure is to revise our thinking about
failure itself. It's not the ultimate disaster to
fail. With hindsight we so often realize that
certain setbacks helped pave the road to a
cherished success. The important thing is to be
willing to cut our losses if we do fail, and to
be ready to do so. Simply knowing that we can
cut our losses if we need to, helps to blunt our
fear of failure and to give us the courage to
It is just as important to remind
ourselves that we may not fail. If Christ is
leading us to take a certain step, we may trust
that he'll work in countless ways to bring about
his best. Whatever the outcome, we'll be better
off going ahead. And we have strong reason to
stay optimistic that we'll reach the goal we've
set out to accomplish.
Scripture encourages us also to
expect considerable comfort from God in the face
of fear. It reminds us often that as we seek his
help, he calms our fears and inspires us with
courage. "Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything, by prayer and petition, with
thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And
the peace of God, which transcends all
understanding, will guard your hearts and your
minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:6-7 NIV).
Yet it also warns us not to let
fear rule our lives or keep us from realizing our
potential for Christ. The tragic mistake of the
servant in Jesus' parable who hid his talent, was
that he gave in too greatly to the fear of
calamity. "I was afraid," he confessed
to his master (Mt 25:25).
Especially interesting is how
often Scripture exhorts us simply not to be
afraid. "Do not be anxious about
anything." The implication is that as we
take decisive action to move ahead in spite of
fear, we'll not only experience God's blessings
in many remarkable ways, but relief from our
anxieties as well. We overcome fear most
substantially not by reflecting but by acting.
If God is leading you to take a
new direction with your life, ask him to give you
courage to embrace life and move forward. Don't
ignore your fears--in fact, face them carefully.
But determine not to let them control you.
Resolve to step out in faith and to operate in
the realm of faith. By doing so, you'll find the
strength to leave the past behind, and to open
yourself fully to God's best for your future.