Home » Life Lessons, Location Independence, Young Professionals

The Five Stages of a Life-Changing Decision

15 December 2011 13 Comments

Seeing a life-changing decision through to the end is no easy task.

Committing to a life-changing decision doesn’t immediately succeed the moment you start adapting your life. In fact, like any loss or the cultivation of a relationship, there are stages that most everyone experiences from the moment the idea passes into your mind to the moment that you realize everything is going to be okay.

Researching the variations on Kubler’s Five Stages of Grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance) I saw themes that recurred and concepts that were universal. So I made a list.

The Five Stages of a Life-Changing Decision



You sit in your cubicle (or living room…or beachside cabana…or car in a rainy parking lot) and let your mind wander. To a place where your imagination can run wild and you can wake each morning and fall asleep each night with a grin stapled to your face. You could be that happy. You would no longer feel unfulfilled. Like something is missing.

If only you could make it happen.

Maybe you start a little side hustle. Maybe you set up a sellers account on eBay. Maybe you begin pricing  flights back home. Maybe you write your first blog post on your brand spankin’ new brand new blog website. Your dreams seem miles away, but each day they float a tiny bit closer to your grasp.


It’s the big day!! You pulled the trigger and go for it!! Yay for you!! Lots of exclamation points!!

Soak it all in. This is what you’ve been planning and dreaming and waiting for. You deserve it. Savor every congratulations wish and gift from the Universe (and/or estranged rich family members wanting to help you out). #boom


The honeymoon is over and it is the day after Christmas. You have played out the initial wonder at your new toy and you are feeling the letdown. This is also the time when you go a little numb to the process. You could care whether it happens or not. You are tumbling down the backside of the peak you just experience to a dark shaded valley.


Jenny Blake and the Fire Pit of Failure/DespairSeth Godin refers to it as The Dip. Jenny Blake calls it the Fire Pit of Failure/Death. The big life-changing decision winds have been let out of your sails and you are sitting in a boat on a still lake, alone in your silent thoughts. The voices start to creep in. You may have taken the plunge, but you’ll never come up for air. There is no way you can pull this off. There is no way this is really going to happen.


Also known as The Epiphany. You realize that you have worked hard for this, planned, dreamed, implemented, waded through the muck and survived the life-changing decision. Gasping and panting, you are finally comfortable in your new reality.

Paulo Coelho wrote to Santiago the Shepherd in his novel The Alchemist:

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

For the first time you are willing to believe that.



I have cycled through all five of these stages in the past sixty days. Hell, there have been days I cycled through all five of these stages in a 45 minute period. For my particular current huge life-changing decision, the pivotal parts of the five stages went a little something like this:

Carpe Diem HardcoreDreaming

The plan was to move across the country to San Francisco. Frankly, I wanted to get out of Maine for a number of reasons including cold winters and stagnant career options. Not wanting to run away to solve my problems, instead I wanted to add to my life by finding new adventures. Time to move on.


I saw a posting come up for a gig that would help facilitate my dream. Not to move to San Francisco, but would give me the opportunity to travel the world. Doing work that I love for a brand I passionately supported. In what I now refer to as the best stupid gamble I have taken in 31 years, I applied. Those crazy bastards hired me. I leapt around in my friend’s studio apartment, squealing with glee and calling friends and family at 11:45 PM to tell them that the adventure was about to begin.


Soon after the announcement, I was on a Skype call with the boss man. “Are you excited? Do you have questions? How are you feeling?” His excitement was contagious. I barely shrugged my shoulders. “I’ve got a list of things to do. Looking over stuff. Sure, I’m excited. I guess.” I was ready for my life to change, I didn’t want to wait around for it!


I was never going to board the plane. There was no way this was going to happen for me. People like me don’t do crazy things like this. I’m going to get arrested or attacked or robbed or bitten by one of the terrifying poisonous Indonesian snakes I continued researching. There are hundreds of people online that are so much more qualified than me for this gig. Everyone is going to hate me.

They’re going to know I have no place here.

I’m going to fail.

I sat on my parents’ couch, where I am living temporarily, and sobbed.


As I stood in an all too long line at the Post Office, I noticed my breath getting shallow. By the time I got to the counter to Express Mail my paperwork to the consulate and set up a package for them to Express Mail my paperwork back, my hands were shaking a bit. Signing each document in triplicate for certified receipts and overnight delivery proved to be a challenge and I laughed nervously. The man behind the counter asked me “So, why are you going to Bali?”

I blinked twice, looked down at my paperwork, and looked back at him. “It’s my first stop on an adventure that hopefully will never end. This is the beginning of the rest of my life.”

In that moment, I knew that somehow, this major life-changing decision was all going to be ok.


In other life-changing decision story news, Tom Meitner (a fellow Dynamite Circler and creator of the website The Practical Nerd) sent me an email a couple weeks ago asking if he could interview me for his Hustle Life Magazine. Check out the December issue (which hits today) and learn even more about me and my big crazy life-changing decision.

13 Responses to “The Five Stages of a Life-Changing Decision”

  1. Sarah says:

    I’m kinda crying a little and I’m not sure why. Awesome stuff, as always.

  2. Jenny Blake says:

    LOVE THIS!! You captured the big decision roller-coaster so well — and I absolutely love the story at the end about the guy asking what you’re doing in Bali. Being a BALLA is right! Can’t wait to come visit 😀

    • Thanks for your contribution – the Fire Pit of Failure/Despair is an important piece of the roller coaster process! I liked the way it ended up as well. It was a perfect tipping point that everything was going to work out.

      And yes…visiting. BEST #SPIRL EVER!! 😀

  3. Congratulations! I can feel your excitement and the entire wave of disbelief “This can’t possibly be happening!” surging through this, mixed with the elation that you’re going to finally be DOING something you only DREAMED of doing before. I can relate this to my own life and finally daring to dream of being a published author. You’re right about how we all pass through all these stages. We pass through them over and over and over.

    • Yes! It is a whole surge and mixing process, which is thrilling but at the same time so very terrifying! The human body is capable of so many things, though I’m not sure that being an emotional blender is one of them. 😉

      Congratulations to YOU on making your dream a reality!! It is so very fulfilling/awesome/happy/good&stuff. Published Author – that’s quite an accomplishment. One I hope to add to my portfolio one day.

  4. Cordelia says:

    Thanks so much for the linkage! I am so excited to hear where the journey goes from here for you. May you never lose the excitement and amazement of the journey, wherever it takes you from here on out. You’re making it happen, girl! Enjoy every gut-twisting, breath-stealing moment! 🙂

    • It is a great experience and I’m excited to share it! I look forward to enjoying every moment, exactly as you state, the good and the bad. Helps us appreciate the whole thing – the varied ends of the spectrum!

  5. Noel says:

    BRAVO to you! Can’t wait to read more and see where this adventure takes you. 🙂

  6. […] (Photo Credit: OpheliasWebb.com) […]

Leave a Reply

Top 10 Referrers of August 2012

1. Life After College - By Jenny Blake

2. The Middle Finger Project - By Ashley Ambirge

3. Nate Damm

4. The Art Of Non-Conformity - By Chris Guillebeau

5. Dynamite Circle

6. Foolish Adventure - By Tim Conley

7. Dusti Arab

8. Location 180 - By Sean Ogle

9. {r}evolution apparel

10. Impossible HQ - By Joel Runyon

RSS shattering glass by elisa doucette

Shattering Glass on Forbes.com