Big change can be ok too

Recently we talked about how small change is ok.  Sometimes you can’t save the world, but you can make your small part of the world a little bit better.

Today we’re going to talk about the flip side.  Sometimes you want or need to make a big change.  And that can be scary.

If you have a lot of high-interest debt, it might be the best idea to do the unthinkable and down-size to a smaller house.  Or drop down to one car.  At least until you get your finances in order again.  That big change might eliminate years of horrible stress.  The one-time cut in lifestyle might even be better for your kids than the repeated stresses of financial difficulty.

If your career is making you miserable, it might be time to find a new one.  If you hate where you live, it might be time to leave.  Even if you’re tenured.  Even if you’ve never known or wanted anything other than academia.

Sometimes relationships just don’t work out and it’s more productive to be alone than to keep trying to stay together, especially if the relationship is in any way abusive, but even if you’ve just grown apart.  Obviously this is a very personal decision and can be a scary step to take, but cutting ties might be better than staying just for the sake of staying.  Think of the children!  Studies show that kids are much happier when their parents have a polite divorce than when they have a craptacular marriage.

One of my students recently told me that except for having children, most decisions can eventually be reversed.  That may not be completely true.  Although you can often buy a new car to replace an old one, you may not be able to do the same for the house you shouldn’t have bought in the first place.  An ex-significant-other may marry someone else or just no longer be interested (though who knows if you would have stayed together anyway).  You generally can’t get back tenure at the place you left (though, oddly, one of my recently hired colleagues used to work in my department something like 2o years ago).  But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find amazing housing.  Or a partner you love who will love and cherish you. (Or the happiness of being on your own without a partner.)  Or a job that brings you fulfillment and isn’t just golden (or brass) handcuffs.

Sometimes a big change will make a big difference.  And sometimes it’s a mistake in retrospect, but mistakes can be learned from and overcome.  Sometimes it’s better to take the chance and see what comes next than to live with the status quo.

Big changes can be ok too.

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24 Responses to “Big change can be ok too”

  1. Leah Says:

    While it’s hard to do, I’m a fan of big change. I’ve had several radical changes in my life, and each one has always led to better things. Part of being able to make a big change is knowing oneself. You have to understand yourself well enough to recognize what it is that is making you miserable and trust that you will find something better. I’m not sure all people have that type of awareness.

    One of my good friends has always made radical changes. She’s quit jobs, sold houses, bought houses, and moved states without having every piece of the puzzle in place. But she and her husband are both talented with multiple things they can do, and it has always worked out well for her.

    I think our nation might be better off if more people were willing to shake up their life and do what works for them instead of simply existing.

    • OMDG Says:

      I agree with this principle in general, and personally benefited greatly from shaking my own life up at least one or two times. I do find it’s a little more logistically difficult to do now that I have kids, particularly if the decision would mean less money or more uncertainty in the short term, since I have no safety net like an extended family to bail me out / live with if things didn’t work out.

      • xykademiqz Says:

        Ditto here. I am personally a big fan of big changes (including burning your bridges), and have moved countries, then multiple states, married my husband after a relatively brief courtship, had a kid early in grad school, changed grad schools to be with husband and raise said kid and changed majors… I am also very restless and if it were just me, or me and my husband, I would probably have a new house and/or live in a new city every 5 years.

        But now that I have kids and an organized life, with the kids happy and thriving, so making a big disturbance like changing jobs (I am a professor) and moving to a different city would require that I be presented with a damn-close-to-perfect opportunity to justify uprooting everyone.

  2. Linda Says:

    This post is very timely for me. I’m contemplating a big change: selling my house and moving across the country. In the process, I’ll shed a lot of unnecessary stuff. I may even be looking at the end of my current relationship because my partner is waffling about the move. Frankly, I’m waffling about it, too, but only because it is easier to remain complacent and stay here in the area where I’ve lived most of my life. However, I’ve wanted to live in the west for over twenty years now, and I love northern California. I know I should take the chance to make the move now while I have a job that allows me to do it. If my partner doesn’t want to join me, well, perhaps that is even for the best since there are other aspects of the relationship that are really rubbing me the wrong way lately. There’s still some residual fear or something that keeps me from picking up the phone and calling the real estate agent, though.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Make that call! You can do it! You can always back out later. Making the call is an early step. And the real estate agent will have info that may affect your decision. We’re rooting for you!

  3. chacha1 Says:

    I’ve made three major changes in life and they were all worthwhile, though all were significantly stressful while they worked themselves out.
    First, I moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles after receiving my M.A. degree. Had never even visited LA before. Definitely worth it.
    Second, I dumped the guy I moved with after a nine-year relationship, three of which he was freeloading. It cost me a LOT of money to get rid of him and basically set me back ten years in financial terms. Well worth it.
    Third, I left a high-paying job without anything else lined up because the working conditions had become unacceptable. Note, they were *tolerable,* barely – I have a high pain threshold – but no longer acceptable. This led to a substantial re-evaluation of what I wanted out of my working life. Doing this in my early 40s meant that the last 20 years of full-time work could be arranged better for quality of life.

    Life is too short to say NO to things because of what OTHER people want – or don’t want.

  4. Practical Parsimony Says:

    My ex-husband was a fan of big change and often. In the first 8 years of our marriage, we moved 8 times and I had three children. I was totally in charge of packing and moving on top of all the other “jobs” in the marriage that were totally mine which included 100% of housework and childcare.

    For him, he moved from a crappy job to a better one–the grass was always greener on the other side of the fence. We moved from one disaster to another because I never had any voice in a move. Okay, when he tried to move me to the cold North, I just told him to go without me.

    I usually had a week to pack the whole house with infants, toddlers, and during all three pregnancies. My daughter was conceived in one location, born in another and turned one in a third location. my son was in preschool in one location, and spent first grade in two locations. My ex was ready to move when my third infant was three days old and son had only spent three weeks in second grade.

    We bought four houses and sold three. He just did not care what was going on with me except for how it inconvenienced him. Change was never good, sometimes from the beginning.

    I finally divorced him and he remarried in three months and started moving the second wife around. I suppose after the fourth move she put her foot down, too. She did not divorce him, just threatened. But, she made more money, so they stuck in the fourth location.

    Consequently, partly as a reaction to his moving so much, I have lived here in the house we last owned for 33 years. In retrospect, moving from here might have been a better choice. But, I am not a fan of big change or small change forced on me. I have made big changes that others advised me not to make that actually were best.

    I was called rebellious by him and not a good mother when I tried and did return to school. My changes were always labeled as bad or disruptive. Yes, he could come home and tell me to have the house packed in a week.

    The one big change I should have made sooner was a divorce.

  5. Liz Says:

    Maybe I’ve never made a Big Change, because the decisions I reach always seem logical/rational to me. I moved to my current Cute Little City for a job after a sad, failed attempt at teaching (bad employer, no experience… I’m returning to the horse cautiously after 4+ years), and can’t imagine moving back to Hometown. Hometown is nice *enough*, and Hometown and Alma Mater (BA, MA) are close to each other. But CLC is a much better “personality” fit for me.

    I once moved out of an “apartment” I loved (in spite of terrible, splintery wood floors…) because the people with whom I shared the house were mean and nasty. (Church-owned large Victorian in which they rented out rooms, used part of it for church business on Sundays. Shared bathroom, kitchen, laundry, common areas…) The others liked to talk and make rules that other people should follow. Threw parties on a worknight through midnight without asking beforehand how it might affect me. I once had a conversation in which, for the first time, I realized without a doubt that the other person was absolutely not listening, but rather putting on a good show of it. Upstairs couple’s cat barfed in front of my room’s door, never cleaned it up, but they got mad at me when I was supposedly behind on “sweeping” duty. Upstairs man broke into my room through the window without telling me because I forgot to turn off my alarm clock when I went away for the weekend – it’s the violation of privacy, not telling me, then blaming me part that pissed me off about it; I was otherwise mortified that I’d caused such a negative experience for them.

    Other related thoughts:
    —I’m only 25, for pete’s sake, and was born to parents who are likewise methodical and stable. As a family we were born and raised in the city my parents remain in, and we’ve only ever lived in three locations there: an apartment when we were born but moved out of too young to remember, the second apartment, and the house they bought 14 years ago.
    —I’m very grateful that my life has not been affected by disease, addiction, poverty, or related negative changes.
    —I like to travel and learn, which gives me enough “variety” to spice up my plain Jane existence.
    —My oldest friend (we celebrated 20 years together last fall!) is the complete opposite of me, and is basically a modern, dancing nomad.

  6. Just a little (link) love: Being Awesome | A Gai Shan Life Says:

    […] and Maggie say big change can be ok, too.  Totally agree and am always really happy for friends who recognize it and make it happen like […]

  7. J Liedl Says:

    One big change for us: we went from being a two-car family to a one-car family almost twenty years ago. It is a pain, have to admit, especially now that my partner works at a different institution on the other side of the city. Next fall will be tough when our schedules overlap one day a week, but the savings remain undeniable. Cars are a huge expense and being able to keep our costs there down made a big difference to the bottom line. I like to think I’m a bit healthier for all of the walking, especially now that spring is finally emerging. (Long walks in -30C are no fun at all and there’s no bus route that doesn’t necessitate a long walk to get to our house.)

    Every few years, my relatives ask why we don’t get a second car but the math just doesn’t work out so I sigh and get used to well-worn shoe soles and the occasional outlay on cab fare that our choice necessitates.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’ve gone through periods of life with no car (if there’s public transportation) or one car, and it has really made a difference to our finances. And yes, I’m definitely healthier when I have to walk places (something not currently the case).

  8. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    We made a big change last year when my husband left his job to try a new career. Unfortunately, he hated it and we ended up having to move for a different job in his old industry. My husband was so guilty for putting us through all of it forever, but I think he now sees that it was all for the best. He likes his new job, and we LOVE our new house. We’re also in a better school system, which is a good thing since our daughter starts kindergarten later this year.
    Even though our “big change” didn’t work out, it brought us to a better place. I’m sad that he had to have a mid-life crisis like that, but I’m now glad he did.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s like my student said, even if it seems like a bad decision in immediate retrospect, eventually you can get to a better place.

      Not that one should change things just for the sake of change (if one is happy), but there’s generally a reason to change things up when you are thinking about making a big change and that reason is still there even if the first thing you try doesn’t work out.

      Kind of like dating– dumping a guy doesn’t mean the next guy you date is going to be your soul mate, but it frees you up to not be dating that guy who wasn’t working out any more!

  9. Susan Says:

    Timely post, change is in the air. We moved to a medium-sized town for my TT job 2 years ago. He was “developing his own product” (software). This winter, after 6 years of no product and a year of footing the bills solo, I put my foot down: time to get a job. He put no effort into finding a job here, which we knew would be hard but I don’t believe impossible; and is now back in our old Major City 5 hours away on a contract-to-perm job, conveniently living rent-free with family, talking about how he should ideally be in Silicon Valley. I’m not feeling the love. Time will tell.

    • chacha1 Says:

      It was the “footing the bills solo” part that killed it for me. I’ll put up with peoples’ unrealistic dreams for a long time IF they are not costing me money. But if one adult is acting as sole support (essentially, parent) for another adult who is supposed to be their *partner* … tick tock. There’s being supportive, and then there’s being taken advantage of.

      • Linda Says:

        Uh…yeah. I’m in a situation like that now. My partner (or should I say “partner?”) has not worked for nearly two years. The first 8-9 months he was on short term disability for severe depression; the last year he has been unemployed. He “looks for work” every day, but still has no job. I am feeling very much taken advantage of because he is paying only a token amount towards bills (picking up a few groceries here and there). Mortgage, utilities, etc. are all being covered by me. I did draw the line at paying for his car lease or insurance, so he tapped out his meager 403(b) to keep paying for that. More and more I’m hoping that the move to northern CA will be without him. I wince to think that/say that.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        If you’re hoping to move on without him… do it now!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 notes that her policy is to refrain from giving relationship advice (unless someone is being abused). You do what you think is best when you think it’s best. Only you can make those decisions!

    • Liz Says:

      6 years…. woof.

  10. Cloud Says:

    So, clearly, I’m currently a fan of big change, having just made a huge change in my professional life. It is too early to blog the details yet, but things are working out rather well- I’m going to set up as a company and do contract work and some of the random other things I’ve been wanting to do and the current signs are that I’ll end up making as much as or more than I made before the move. This could still fall through, and I have a bunch of paperwork in front of me. And I need to pick a name… But it is good! The suddenness with which I made this change is extremely out of character for me, but maybe it was triggered by some part of my brain that was tired of waiting for my usual self to line up all the ducks and just wanted to get on with it already. I don’t know. Big change is almost always scary because it is risky, but you can hedge the risk and sometimes, it really is what you need.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We actually wrote this post before your announcement. Change is in the air!

      I’m not surprised that things are looking good for you already. :) It sounds like the typical ‘tech guy wants to avoid a nasty commute story, in fact.

      And, of course, you know your consulting rate should be much higher than your employee rate because of benes and risk, etc. (DH had some fun figuring out consulting rates back before he got recruited for his job. It’s a bit astonishing how much bigger a fair consulting wage is compared to a fair work wage. His friend took a pretty big “pay cut” going from consulting to regular for the same firm, but his total compensation actually increased.)

      We are big fans of hedging risk!


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