Thanks for reading The Nonlinear Life, a newsletter about navigating life's ups and downs. We're all going through transitions, let's master them together. Every Monday and Thursday we explore family, health, work, and meaning, with the occasional dad joke and dose of inspiration. If you're new around here, read my introductory post, learn about me, or check out our archives.
Everyone agrees that we’re living through a period of tumultuous change, but there’s a curious aspect of this moment that no one can agree on.
What to call it.
There’s a frantic race going on in the media right now to give this time a name – or at least parts of this time.
There’s The Great Reopening, which describes the rumble between bosses and employees about returning to the workplace.
There’s The Great Resignation, which captures the tsunami of people walking away from their jobs. My wife, Linda, who runs an organization that supports high-impact entrepreneurs around the world, has had a dozen people leave in the last month. A record four million people quit their jobs in April alone.
There’s The Great Migration, which refers to the massive exodus as people relocating from places with high costs and long commutes to places with lower costs and higher quality of life.
Part of this Great Naming Race is just the copycat nature of media. There was The Great Depression and The Great Recession. Why not slap on Great!? If this were a scandal, we’d call it Greatgate.
But to me there’s more going on here.
We struggle to put words to difficult life experiences, especially ones that come with an uncertain mix of positive and negative feelings. Some people have lost their livelihoods over the last year in devastating ways; others have walked away from careers they never liked to begin with. The same with relationships, homes, and habits.
We’re not the first generation to have this problem. The great sociologist Max Weber coined the term metanoia to capture these moments; the great psychologist William James deemed them mental rearrangements. Neither of those names stuck.
Hollywood likes turning points. Entrepreneurs use inflection points. Others have tried pivots, U-turns, crossroads, crises. Each of these terms has virtues and weaknesses.
I prefer the term lifequakes. I chose this name because it’s neutral. Lifequakes are high on the Richter Scale of Consequence, but they often come with outcomes that are both adverse and rewarding.
My definition: A lifequake is a forceful burst of change that leads to a period of upheaval, transition, and renewal.
Some lifequakes are involuntary – a diagnosis, a downsizing, a natural disaster. Others are voluntary – moving, leaving your job, getting married. Sixteen years ago I became the father of identical twin daughters. It was joyful alright, but also exhausting, stressful, humbling.
In other words, it was a lifequake!
Today, for the first in a century, the entire planet is going through a collective, involuntary lifequake at the same time. But what’s critical to remember is that while everyone is going through the same lifequake, the way it manifests in each of our lives is completely different.
As that kaleidoscope of names reflects, some people will change how they work, others where they live. Still more will start drinking, stop drinking; get married, get divorced; take up yoga, take on weight loss.
The key factor in this rainbow of change is that the lifequake can be voluntary or involuntary, but the life transition that comes out of it must be voluntary. You must choose to convert the chaos and upheaval into renewal and growth.
One way to think about it: A lifequake puts you on your heels; a life transition puts you back on our toes. Or, as one person I interviewed put it, “Life is not about waiting for the rain to stop; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
That’s why the #1 secret of a successful life transition is to make the choice to go through it. It will be painful. It will probably take longer than you think. It will be nonlinear.
But it will work.
All you have to do is take the first and hardest step: Opt in.
You might enjoy reading these posts:
Meanwhile, I'd love to know: What lifequake are you experiencing right now?