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Are You Facing a Major Change in Your Life?

Four steps to help you flourish in a season of change.

Diane Dreher photo
Source: Diane Dreher photo

In autumn, many of us feel an inner restlessness, an urge to begin a new hobby, start a new exercise program, try something new. Some of us are changing jobs, retiring, beginning new careers, or experiencing other changes in our lives. If so, it can be time to back away from old routines to gain greater perspective on the days to come.

Years ago, William Bridges was an American literature professor at Mills College when he took a sabbatical to listen to his heart. Searching through books and workshops on personal growth and talking to people about their lives, he discovered a new calling. He wrote his book, Transitions, and became a successful author, workshop leader, and consultant, leaving college teaching to help people navigate their own life transitions (Bridges, 2004).

Michelle Millis Chappel was a successful psychology professor at Santa Clara University, but somewhere beneath the surface, she felt something was missing from her life. One day she picked up her old guitar and began singing, which led to composing songs and performing locally on weekends while continuing to teach. Then she left her academic career to embrace her new creative calling. Today, she is an award-winning singer-songwriter and creativity consultant, combining psychology and music to help people discover their own paths to greater joy in life (Chappel, 2019).

For years, Kevin Carroll was a successful high school teacher at Saint Lawrence Academy in Santa Clara, California. In December 2006, after a weekend retreat at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos, he began writing a blog about gratitude. ­­­Thirteen years and over 1,600 blog posts later, he’s retired from teaching and is a successful author, retreat and workshop leader. He now meets with people in churches, schools, and community groups to share the greater joy, healing, and inspiration that a regular gratitude practice brings to our lives (Carroll, 2017).

If you’re dealing with a major life change, you can chart a new path by following the four steps: Discovery, Detachment, Discernment, and Direction (Your Personal Renaissance, Dreher, 2008).

  • Discovery: Positive psychologists have found that we each have five top character strengths or “signature strengths.” You can discover yours by taking the VIA character survey at Research has shown that using these strengths regularly can help you discover your calling and become happier, healthier, and more successful (Seligman, 2002; Seligman et al, 2005).
  • Detachment: Many of us rush from one commitment to the next without thinking about what we want or where we’re going. You can make space in your life for what you really want by eliminating activities, situations, and people that drain your time and energy. Ask yourself, “Is this really necessary? Does this bring greater joy and meaning to my life?” If not, find a way to let it go.
  • Discernment: Connect with your values by listening to your heart, asking if what you’re doing brings you consolation or desolation. Consolation is a deep sense of communion with life, bringing feelings of love, joy, peace, inspiration, authenticity, gratitude, altruism, trust, creativity, and expansive growth. Desolation closes us in on ourselves and cuts us off from others, bringing feelings of fear, isolation, anxiety, worry, hostility, self-pity, guilt, depression, and lack of meaning. As you go through your days, listen to your heart for greater discernment.
  • Direction: Set a goal that reflects your deepest values and begin using your strengths to get you there. In a process from hope psychology, write down a personal goal, then three steps to reach that goal, an obstacle that might come up for each step, and an alternative action to overcome each obstacle. When you’ve done that, close your eyes and visualize yourself taking these steps, overcoming the obstacles, and celebrating as you reach your goal. Open your eyes and when you’re ready, take the first step (Feldman & Dreher, 2012).

In this golden season of change, you can chart a new path by discovering your strengths, detaching from distractions, discerning what you truly value, and following your new direction with hope.


This post is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.

Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes. New York, NY: Da Capo.

Carroll, K. (2017). A moment’s pause for gratitude. Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press.

Chappel, Michelle Millis,PhD, CEO of Creativity Rock Star Coaching & Consulting, personal communication, September 2019. For more information, see,

Dreher, D. (2008). Your personal renaissance: 12 steps to finding your life’s true calling. New York, NY: Da Capo.

Feldman, D. B. and Dreher, D. E. (2012). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 745-759.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N, & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421; Seligman, M.E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York, NY: Free Press.