Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash. The description says “A fun and scary roller coaster with lots of twist” — welcome to my new life!

From unemployed to self-employed

Ups and Downs — And Four Daily Habits to Preserve Sanity when Making Life Changes

In June 2018, I quit my corporate job to become a social entrepreneur and freelance designer. I wrote this article, but set it to unlisted pretty soon afterwards, because I planned to make a series of posts and never got past the first one. Two and a half years later I stumbled upon it and decided to publish it again, as a reminder of how far I’ve come and hopefully to support others in similar situations.

Six months ago, I started a new job. I was highly motivated, excited, and full of ideas. Well, it didn’t go exactly as planned — neither for me nor for my employer. Three months ago, I was crying in the office bathrooms, and one month ago, I quit. The day I talked to my boss and told my team that I was leaving, I was certain that whatever would be next, could only be better.

My last week in the office was a mix of already missing my colleagues, looking forward to new challenges, feeling slightly panicked when thinking of the bureaucracy, taxes, and insurances I would have to deal with, dreaming of my new freedom and all the things I would do, while at the same time drowning in self-doubt … you get the picture.

Is this going up or down? Photo by Claire Satera on Unsplash

I have mood swings that make me feel like a teenager again. Apparently, that is just what the life of entrepreneurs looks like. It’s good to know that you are not the only one going from “This is the best thing I ever did,” to “I hate my life,” several times a day.

It’s also good to remember that whoever said “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done,” was right and that uncertainty is just part of the game. So how can you deal with it and gradually move forward?

1. Meditate, even if it’s just five minutes a day

I installed headspace almost a year ago. It took me a while to get into the habit of meditating daily, even if it’s just for three minutes. Now I’m doing ten minutes in the morning and another ten at night and don’t want to miss it (which doesn’t mean I am missing out a day or two sometimes). I am calmer, more focused, and more self-confident. There has been a lot of research on how meditation changes the brain and why it’s good for you. The most important thing for me is that it helps me to distinguish my thoughts about “what might happen if everything goes wrong,” from what is actually happening. It helps me focus on the current moment. I’m still thinking about the future, but I’m not carried away that easily by ruminating about small things. Well, most of the time.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

2. Journaling: Gratitude, contribution, goals, and affirmation

Journaling is part of most great morning and evening routines you will find online, but like meditation, I had to get used to it. I split it into four parts: Practicing gratitude, reflecting on what I contributed to someone else’s life today, setting my goals for tomorrow, and positive affirmation.

The first three are fairly self-explaining. Let me talk about the last one a bit more. You might be familiar with setting intentions through meditation or yoga or perhaps using inspirational quotes that remind you of what’s important in life and help you get through the day. Affirmation is basically telling yourself that everything is fine and by writing it down and reading it again, it becomes a bit more real. Instead of writing “I am wondering if I made a huge mistake and I really don’t know what to do right now” I write “I embrace uncertainty and I am looking for uncomfortable situations where I can grow”. Turning my negative thoughts into positive affirmations was strange when I started, but it does work well for me. (If you are dealing with anxiety or depression it might not be the ideal solution.)

Getting into journaling wasn’t easy for me (I guess that’s the problem with building new habits), so started by sending voice messages to myself. I recorded a message on my way home from work — pretending I was calling someone to make it less awkward — and listen to it before going to bed.

3. When feeling stuck, take a break

Photo by Brandon Wong on Unsplash

Go for a walk, exercise, bake a cake, talk to a friend. If you don’t have a supportive person in your circle of friends, go to a local meet-up, or connect online. Send an email to someone you’re following. Call an old friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

Do whatever makes you feel good. For me, this easier said than done. I get really frustrated with myself if I can’t get anything done during the day and then I try to force myself to do at least one thing from my To-Do list before I go for a walk. But because I can’t focus I instead pretend to be busy taking the trash out first. It’s fascinating how the most tedious task can suddenly be so seductive… Our flat was never as clean as during my final thesis. But an empty inbox is somewhat of a guilty pleasure — it is rewarding, but you know you were supposed to do something else. Switching to play mode might seem counterproductive, but changing perspectives gets the creative juices flowing again. Remember the Eureka moment in the bath tube?

4. Don’t panic — it’s not the end of the world

Some time ago I read a really good article about how your mood is defined by three elements — I can’t find it anymore, if you know where this comes from, please let me know:

  1. Your average mood level: Think of it as a horizontal line, that represents your overall mood. In general, I’m optimistic and light-hearted, so I would say my line is rather high.
  2. Amplitude, or the highs and lows: Think of them as the spikes above and below your average line. How intensely do you feel positive emotions like joy or negative ones like sadness or anxiety? I might feel overall happy most of the time, but intense moments of joy are rather rare for me. The high spikes stay rather close to my average mood level. But my lows get very, very low.
  3. The wavelength of these “mood swings”: Although my amplitude is pretty high (or actually low), it usually doesn’t last very long. Instead of long, gentle waves, my mood curve rather boringly meanders in the upper part of the graph — until it crashes in a very short amount of time. And it also rises up again very quickly. When I stop drowning myself in self-pity, I’m usually back to normal within a couple of hours.

But when I’m in my Valley of Despair, it’s hard to remember that. I cannot recall how I ever felt happy before and it’s very hard to remind myself that I will ever feel better again. That’s why installed a mood tracker on my phone: When I feel low, I can open it and look at exactly the graph I described above. And tells me that the last time I felt great about my life, was actually last night when I got a really sweet text from a friend. And that the last time I felt as low as now, was two weeks ago, and it didn’t last that long.

Would you rather take the fast lane or the detour? Photo by Iker Urteaga on Unsplash.

Easier said than done

Of course, it’s easy to write stuff like this on a good day. That’s why I use the good days to build these habits. Because when I am having a bad day, I don’t feel like meditating and I don’t want to write a positive affirmation. I do it anyway if that’s just what I do in the morning. Even if it’s just a deep breath instead of ten minutes of meditation. Of course, I skip days when I’m getting home late or have to wake up early. And even on an average day, I can make a huge deal out of it while whining and grumbling. That is why I am writing this: To hold myself accountable. ✨

What worked for you when facing change and uncertainty? Where do you struggle? Are habits helping you? I’m curious to hear your thoughts and please do not hesitate to get in touch for questions or feedback 🙋

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Freelance UX designer, co-founder of Ready to Code, a non-profit for gender equality in tech, and author of bad children’s stories at schlechte-geschichten.de

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Lena Mohr

Lena Mohr

Freelance UX designer, co-founder of Ready to Code, a non-profit for gender equality in tech, and author of bad children’s stories at schlechte-geschichten.de

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