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Find a Fresh Start

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Find a Fresh Start

It’s time to change your life, and stop feeling stuck!

We all know the feeling. Maybe it’s waking up with job-dread every morning. Maybe it’s the relationship that’s going nowhere but shows no sign of ending. Or perhaps it’s that same bad habit that keeps hanging around year after year.

Whatever it is—career, romance, lifestyle—we can all get “stuck” in situations where we don’t want to be. But what does “stuck” look like? And how can we get out?

To determine if you’re one of the stuck, ask yourself these 10 questions. Then read on as we follow four individuals who found the desire and the drive to make lasting and positive life changes.

Your stuck questionnaire

Are you stuck? Think of a current life situation or issue with which you’re not happy, and answer the following questions with a yes or no.

  1. Do you experience physical symptoms (such as recurring pain, sleep difficulties, loss of appetite) related to your situation?
  2. Do you feel guilty, anxious, or hopeless about your circumstances?
  3. Do you justify your present situation by saying, “it could be worse” and feeling as though you should just resign yourself to it?
  4. Have your energy, inspiration, and zest for life left you—to the point where you don’t even feel like the same person?
  5. Do you frequently talk about the negative aspects of your problem, but feel angry or defensive when others try to offer solutions or advice?
  6. Do you feel envious or resentful of others who seem to have found success and happiness?
  7. Are you putting off making changes because the time or situation is never ideal?
  8. Do you frequently make promises to change to yourself or others, and then break them repeatedly?
  9. Do you overindulge in food, alcohol, drugs, or other behaviours to avoid thinking about your problem?
  10. Can you see that you need to make a change but feel overwhelmed at what seems like an impossible task?

If you answered “yes” to more than five of these questions, you are ready to make a fresh start!

Pushing past the comfort zone

Sometimes, the need to get unstuck comes up gradually, and the solutions can be equally slow to appear. For Iyengar yoga instructor and mother of two Barb Deneka, the way out of her career impasse had been right in front of her.

Deneka has a master’s degree in entomology, and was working for the federal government doing crop science research in Lethbridge, Alberta, when she met her future husband Greg, also an entomologist.

They moved when Greg was offered a better job in Edmonton, and Barb left her old job behind and found employment with the provincial government. The new position, Deneka says, was “a grind" she was earning less than before, the commute was long, and relations between staff and management were often strained.

After her kids were born, Deneka was ready to continue working, “but that job just wasn’t good enough to go back to.” With very few part-time opportunities in her field, she was having difficulty finding other options that would be both personally and financially worthwhile.

It was then that her yoga teacher approached her. “I had been doing yoga for about 20 years, and when my teacher asked me if I’d ever considered teaching, I thought I could never do that.”

Though she was experienced enough to begin instructor training, Deneka had never visualized herself in such a “revered” role. “I’d had such excellent teachers in my life and I never saw myself as being like them.”

But with the support of her teacher, she enrolled in and completed the training program, and has now been teaching both in her home and in local community centres as her sole employment for the last five years.

There are aspects of the work that Deneka still finds challenging. Since she doesn’t consider herself the salesperson type, it was initially difficult for her to promote her own classes. She decided that to be successful she would have to become more proactive about advertising and follow up on opportunities, even if doing so sometimes felt awkward.

Now she can say that her job meets all those requirements she was looking for: she’s able to earn a good living while retaining a flexible schedule and enjoys working with her students. Best of all, part of her job is enjoying the physical and mental benefits of a regular yoga practice—something she had been doing all along.

Visualizing success

Rebekah McPhee, acupuncturist, counsellor, and owner of Goodlife Acupuncture in Victoria, BC, has spent her life helping others, but it wasn’t until she learned how to take care of herself that she truly became unstuck.

McPhee worked as a paramedic with the BC Ambulance Service for 14 years, which she says “was about 10 years longer” than she should have. The job, with its many stresses, long hours, and heavy lifting, exacted a harsh toll on McPhee.

“My menstrual cycles were thrown off from shift work, I had bad eating habits, and it became so stressful that at the end of the day, I would just go home and cry,” she says.

In 2000, after returning to school to become a counsellor and still working in the Ambulance Service, McPhee needed to find relief from the physical symptoms she was experiencing as a result of her heavy workload.

“One day,” she says, “I decided to visit the student-run clinics at the school of Chinese medicine here in Victoria, and I thought, I’ll just go in and have a treatment, even though I had never had acupuncture before.”

Despite not knowing exactly what to expect, McPhee was pleasantly surprised. “It was deeply relaxing, and I felt better right away,” she says. She became a regular at the clinic, going in for treatments every couple of weeks and continuing to see improvements. Gradually, she also introduced Chinese herbal formulas into her health regimen as well as the energy practice of qigong.

It was then that McPhee had what she calls her epiphany—she could take all the benefits she had experienced through acupuncture and share them with others as her new career.

So in 2001 she quit the Ambulance Service to focus on her new role as a student of Chinese medicine. “It was the first time that I really understood what it means to trust yourself. There were no doubts or ‘maybes’ about what I was doing.”

From the outset, McPhee set clear goals and pictured meeting them through visualization. “I planned to have my own practice in my own clinic, so I put pictures of my doctor friend and I together up in my study room and envisioned us working together.”

Now, instead of feeling exhausted and stressed by her job, McPhee leaves her clinic each day feeling energized. “How much better can this get?”

She sometimes wonders why she didn’t do it sooner, but then answers that question herself: “I couldn’t have done this before. I wasn’t ready, and I didn’t believe in myself enough in the past to accomplish this.”

Making a commitment

Michael McLean is an Ottawa-based software developer whose healthy, active lifestyle is easy to admire. Even more impressive are the hard truths he had to face to get there.

McLean worked in the Canadian military through the 1990s until 2000, when he changed employers and got married. Leaving the military routine behind meant losing the external discipline to which he had grown accustomed.

“It was a much regimented lifestyle,” says McLean, “and then suddenly I went from needing to be certain places at certain times and dressing a certain way, to being on my own and nobody cared.”

At first, he and his wife indulged this newfound freedom by going out for dinners and drinks. But their enjoyment soon turned into what he calls gluttony. “We were slugs—we ate in restaurants every night and drank all the time—and just became really lazy and apathetic people.”

After five years, they were completely stuck in their unhealthy habits, had gained weight, felt terrible, and resented each other for their shared unhappiness. “Looking back,” says McLean, “everything just went to hell. Our personal lives, our work lives were garbage, and we were garbage.”

What he calls his eye-opener moment came when the couple separated. Once, while confiding in a friend about his problems, McLean received a response he never expected. “I had been talking and thinking that none of this had been my fault. He told me that the two of us had been terrible together, and that I was just as much at fault for that as she had been.”

Faced with the realization that he alone was responsible for his situation, McLean resolved to make some significant changes. The first was eliminating alcohol, and he knew he couldn’t go halfway.

“Drinking was a problem for me, so I just cut it out completely—no social drinking, no wine at family dinners, none at all.” He also knew that his eating habits needed an overhaul, so he sought advice from another friend whose experiences with food sensitivities and reactions inspired McLean to become more conscious of refined flours and sugars.

“I started looking at my moods, and by cutting out the sugars and the fried stuff, within a week I was feeling better.”

Bolstered by those immediate improvements, McLean began looking for other ways he could take charge of his health. He signed up for an affordable gym membership through his workplace and began building a support system with a trainer and a nutritionist to help him set fitness goals. He discovered that exercise helped him deal with stress and gave him time to work out problems.

Five years later, McLean runs, works out with a trainer four times a week, and eats a clean diet. He enters half-marathons and other races for his own satisfaction, but also to get involved with charitable causes. He is 40 pounds lighter and a hundred times happier, and has made healthy habits a non-negotiable part of his life. “It’s not something I have to fit in,” he says. “It’s just a part of my day.”

Keeping the faith

Darcy Carroll is the owner and operator of Poke Community Acupuncture in Vancouver.

After earning her degree in Latin American studies, Carroll travelled and worked in sustainable living. She had always had an interest in social justice, but decided to return to the West Coast to learn a skill. She moved to Victoria and studied acupuncture, and while she enjoyed the work, she says she had a tough time finding her place.

“I didn’t really know where I fit into the health care model,” she says. She knew most practitioners worked out of a clinic, but she wasn’t convinced that was the right choice for her.

After doing some mobile-clinic acupuncture work with addicted youth, Carroll said that the seeds were planted for her to consider incorporating her interest in social change into her new field. “I saw a need for this style of treatment, and I felt a real urgency to change my approach.”

It was then that Carroll discovered the community model of acupuncture, pioneered in Portland, Oregon, by Lisa Rohleder, which operates on a sliding payment scale, features an open treatment area, and puts power back in the hands of patients. Carroll says she was instantly attracted to the business model, citing its “collective energy and community feeling.”

There were many obstacles along the way in opening Poke, not the least of which was the long and difficult battle to secure a physical space for the clinic because of zoning and contracting issues.

For Carroll, who had embraced the idea that “if things are supposed to manifest, there should be a lot of flow,” this part of the journey did not unfold with ease or grace. “It got to the point where there were a lot of obstacles and I just had to keep the faith.”

She credits her family and friends with the support she needed to make her vision come to life. “I’m so incredibly blessed,” she says, citing her parents, cousins, her boyfriend, and friends who have all pitched in with Poke, from designing the logo, to doing the contracting, to helping at the reception desk.

Since opening in August 2009, Poke has exceeded all Carroll’s expectations. “I believe that I’m really lucky to have a business—especially in this economy—that’s succeeding.”

Change—in a nutshell

If you’re looking for a little more help with a particular issue, there is no shortage of books, DVDs, websites, and therapists that can address specific roadblocks to change. alive took a look at the literature and found some common themes—many of them echoed by our own unstuck interviewees.

Defining the issue
Spend some time defining what you want as specifically as possible. What do you want to get out of this change? How will it make your life better?

As acupuncturist Rebekah McPhee suggests, “Write down the dreams that you have, and dare to believe in those things. Picture how you will feel when you have achieved them.”

Defining success
Now break that definition of success down. What can you do to get started? What can you realistically commit to doing today, this week, this month?

Michael McLean says, “You need to make a conscious decision and commit to it … but making changes doesn’t have to be hard. For exercise, find something you enjoy doing. With nutrition, making some small changes, like changing to whole grains from white flour, can add up to make a big difference.”

Barb Deneka offers, “Whatever it is, you don’t have to make a radical change. Ease yourself into things. With yoga, for example, you don’t have to quit your job and join an ashram. You can start with 20 minutes in the morning and see where that takes you.”

Setting goals
Think about how to set goals and milestones for yourself and what kinds of rewards and motivation work best for you. Just make sure it’s something that will actually inspire you to keep going.

When Barb Deneka was faced with the uncomfortable situation of promoting her classes, she says, “I had to break it down when I was faced with this long list of phone numbers.

I’d tell myself, you just have to make these calls; you don’t have to talk anyone into it. I would make myself a deal—today I’m going to make six calls and then I can have a chocolate or something like that. And then I would do the same thing the next day, and the day after that.”

Doing it now
Know that the “perfect” time to change will never come. Real life doesn’t stop so that we can make adjustments. Now is as good a time as any other.

Taking care of yourself
Be as good to yourself as you can. Eat well, get exercise and rest, and take time to relax and unwind during this process so that you’re at your best.

Letting go
Understand that letting go of the past and old habits can be tough, even when they weren’t good for us. Changing means embracing the unknown and letting go of the familiar, so don’t be surprised if you sometimes feel a little grief for what you left behind.

Accepting setbacks
Accept that slip-ups, obstacles, and setbacks are going to be a part of the change process. No one will ever be perfect or never make a mistake. Knowing that these situations will occur can help you learn from them and bounce back quickly, instead of throwing in the towel.

Darcy Carroll admits, “I was naive about many of the business aspects, and how long everything would take. There were definitely times that I thought, ‘should I be doing this?’ Things didn’t always go easily, but things aren’t fair or easy for a lot of people.”

Believing in yourself
Finally, the hardest one of all: believe in yourself. Find ways to support, nurture, and encourage that person who dares to live their dreams. Just beginning a process of getting unstuck is cause for celebration!

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