Leaps of faith, good and bad
At various points in my life, I have just needed to make a change. Not all changes I have considered have been made. But of those changes that are made, there is a moment when I’ve made a concrete decision about the exact change I am going to make, and I make the change. It’s a really important moment because at that moment, I stop gathering information and weighing tradeoffs and I commit to a course of action. I call this moment the “leap of faith”.
I remember the very first significant leap of faith I made. I grew up in a small town, then moved to a small city thirty minutes north of that town in high school, and I stayed there for college. As I learned more about the world in high school and college, I had this growing feeling that my world was small and that I needed to move somewhere else. At some point I got the idea that I should live abroad. That idea grew and eventually turned into a plan to do my masters degree abroad in Sweden.
Since that first leap of faith 15 years ago, I’ve made several other leaps of faith. At this point, I can feel it in my bones when a leap of faith is coming on. In fact, I feel one coming on now, which is why I’m thinking and writing about this.
While I look back fondly on that very first leap of faith to move abroad, I don’t look back fondly on all the other leaps of faith I’ve made, especially a couple of recent leaps. This has introduced some doubt that was not present before when I am considering a life change.
In my journal, I made an inventory of my big leaps of faith so I could look for patterns. It is sort of like a murder mystery. What are the differences between the bad leaps of faith and the good leaps of faith? Can I learn something that will help me avoid repeating some of the mistakes that led to bad leaps of faith?
At first, I thought desperation might be a problem, because all of my bad leaps had some amount of desperation present. But some of my good leaps also had desperation present, so desperation alone is not the problem. In fact, there will almost always be desperation present when considering a big change; the feeling of desperation is part of how I realized that a change needed to be made in the first place! But it’s important to not react too quickly or sloppily to that desperation.
Then I realized that the determining factor is the quality of the change made. Here are some of the mistakes I made during my bad leaps:
- Incomplete thinking was deliberately overlooked because I had decided it was more important to make the change soon than for the change itself to be fully thought through. Put differently, I was running away from one thing instead of running toward another thing.
- I made a change that I thought would solve a problem for someone close to me, and I did not understand the problem as well I thought. The change did not end up solving the problem, and there were other negative consequences of making the change.
- Compromises were introduced to the change that prevented the original goal of the change from being accomplished. Hence, the change was ineffective and unsatisfying.
- Instead of listening to my intuition and feelings, I made a change that seemed to make sense purely rationally. In other words, I talked myself into doing something I didn’t want to do.
I took two important takeaways from thinking about these mistakes:
- I may really want to make a change, but I don’t really know exactly what change to make yet. Changing jobs is a good example. I might be ready to leave a job, but I just don’t have the right new job lined up yet. Perhaps there is a way to make the not-so-great job more tolerable until I have a better option lined up. Or maybe I have enough savings (and the right citizenship/visa/etc) to take some time away from work to really help me figure out my next move. Regardless, making a hastily considered change can result in ending up right back where I started in just a few months, which will be even more challenging to deal with emotionally.
- Making a big change with someone else (e.g. significant other, family member, friend) is much harder than making a change alone. Similar to the job situation, I may want to make a change, but the other person just isn’t willing or able to make that change. Compromises should be considered carefully. It’s easy to ignore important differences when compromising, but conflict avoidance should not be allowed to cloud good judgment.
Or more concisely: Good leaps have sound judgment, and any compromise made should not compromise the purpose of the change. Feeling desperation is normal, but don’t let it cloud judgment and lead to a bad leap.