Is This Normal - Or is there Something Wrong with Me?

Jane Herman

September 03, 2010

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Are you currently in a state of transition? Are you in the process of starting, or in the middle of navigating, a major change in your life (e.g., job change, career change, relationship change)? If so it is likely that you find yourself asking the following questions over and over as you move through the stages of the change process: “Is what I am thinking, feeling, and doing ‘NORMAL’ under these circumstances? Or am I making stupid mistakes and going in the wrong direction - is there something wrong with me?” These questions are especially meaningful when the transition is one that you are planning or initiating yourself (as opposed to one that is thrust upon you), because no matter how smart or skilled you are in your current life situation when you step into uncharted territory the sign posts disappear and you lose calibration.

Why Is It Important To Know What Is Normal?

In her book, New Passages, Gail Sheehy offered the following intriguing observation: “The human organism knows how to heal itself, once it has validation that its symptoms are normal.” Why is this so? Why do we care if what we are experiencing is normal? In some cases we don’t. If you ask most people if they want to be ‘normal’ the answer is usually, “No” �" because in many people’s minds there is an association between the word ‘normal’ and ‘average’ �" and average means ‘not special’ and even ‘boring’. Especially in areas where we feel we have our greatest strengths and abilities the last thing we want to hear is, “Oh, what you are doing is so normal!” However, it is at the other end of the spectrum, where our negative self-judgments and self-doubts inhabit, that we live in mortal fear that we are not normal. We are afraid that rather than being normal our fears are greater than those of others, our self-doubts are stronger and more limiting, that our skills and knowledge are inferior to others. And transitions bring us to a place where we have no idea what is normal to feel, to think, or to do, and in these places of uncertainty and fear knowing what is common or normal to experience can bring us a sense of comfort and a surge of strength. It lets us know that our experience is not totally unique �" that others have been through this passage before and have made it through successfully. It assures us that there are people out there who can help us know what to expect next and how to avoid pitfalls. It gives us hope that there are tools, strategies and steps that have proven helpful, ones that we can learn and leverage.

What Are Some Examples Of Things That Are Normal To Experience During Major Transitions?

The following are just a few of the quite normal things you may experience when beginning or navigating any major transition:

You just know it is time to make a change but have no idea what you want to move toward or how to get started. You have no vision or plan.

You find yourself more and more aggravated by your current situation yet at the same time have a sneaking hunch that you may well be seeing things as worse than they really are just to give yourself a needed kick in the rear to get moving.

You see what appear to be simple and obvious directions to head or steps to take but find yourself unable to take them.

You notice in frustration that you are not using tools, skills, and resources that you know you have available.

You feel lost and adrift and in a fog.

You make some positive changes but find that after somewhere between three to eight weeks your momentum gives out and you revert to your old ways or fall back into the old situation.

These feelings and experiences are an entirely normal and expected part of the transition process, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.

How Can I Find Out At A Deeper Level What Is Normal For My Specific Transition?

There are all kinds of transitions and they each have their own unique trajectory. For example, the transition from being a corporate employee to being a stay-at- home mom is different than the transition from being a technical contributor to being a manager (or from a manager to executive), and different than the transition from being a corporate employee to being a business owner or from business owner to corporate employee. To get grounded in what is normal and what is productive in your current transition - so that you can anticipate the steps and stages, so that you can foresee and avoid the potential pitfalls, and so that you can learn and leverage proven tools, strategies and techniques - you need to find reliable resources that are knowledgeable about your specific type of transition.

Unfortunately, asking those who are closest to you for their inputs, even if they have been through similar life experiences, is often not the most productive approach. It is precisely their intimate feelings towards you or their vested interest in their current relationship with you that may get in the way of them telling their full story or telling the whole truth. What you need is objective and unbiased input. Here are some potential resources that may work for you:

1. Individuals who have personally been through the transition you are anticipating, entering or going through but who have no strong emotional ties to you and no vested interest in the outcome of your transition. They can share their stories with you about their own paths and lessons-learned.

2. Individuals who have studied or observed your type of transition across multiple instances and extracted and summarized observations about important signs, symptoms, and success strategies they share with you in the pages of their newsletters, books, articles, or in their classes.

3. Individuals who specialize in, and have experience in, helping people successfully navigate the type of transition you are facing �" including coaches and mentors.

Learning to Define Your Own ‘Normal’

The goal is not to learn what is normal for other people so that you can blindly follow some individual example or general consensus. Rather it is to get you calibrated to the fact that you are not alone in feeling confused, lost, unsure, insecure, and fearful, etc. in your transition and to open your eyes to possible options that others have tried that might also work for you so that you can begin to create your own definition of normal. In the end the sum of what is normal for you may not be the same as it is for others, and that is as it should be. But the process of learning that much of what you are experiencing in a given transition IS perfectly ‘normal’ can have an unbelievably positive catalytic effect �" releasing energy that was blocked in confusion and self-doubt so that it can be applied in positive and expansive thought and action.

Jane Herman is the Personal and Business Success Coach who helps managers, executives, and individuals take control of their lives and reinvent themselves, their careers, or their businesses. To receive a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with Jane, and/or sign up for Jane's free Success Tools electronic newsletter, log onto or email her at [email protected].

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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