Knowing phases of life helps get groove back

Published September 7 2012

There's an old Texas saying, "You can't light a fire with a wet match." Similarly, you can't accomplish much of any significance without enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is the spark that lights the flame of positive action. It is a feeling of intense emotion that compels us to take up a cause, climb Mount Everest, or win three consecutive Olympic beach volleyball gold medals.

If you saw Misty May-Treanor do a dance in the sand, drop to her knees, hug her partner Kerri Walsh Jennings and run through the stands, you saw enthusiasm.

But simply wanting to have a zest for life doesn't make it so. What if your life is turned upside down by some unexpected event? Or what if you just wake up in the morning knowing the thrill is gone?

In my work as a life coach, I've found that you can't get anywhere meaningful without knowing where you are. This isn't as simple as it might sound.

I like the road map that Frederic M. Hudon draws in his book The Adult Years: Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal. He suggests that all of us are in some phase of what he calls a "life chapter'' or a "life transition,'' and we are constantly cycling through those stages. The first step to restoring your vitality, he says, is to figure out where you are in the cycle.

Here's the general pattern:

• Phase 1: A life chapter marked by success and stability. In this phase there is a feeling of confidence, courage, fulfillment and energy.

• Phase 2: Here, the life chapter feels boring and you're getting restless. Unless you make a change, you'll start to feel stuck, and even angry or disillusioned.

• Phase 3: Here's where the life transition begins. You might start with journaling or meditation to figure out what to do. From there, perhaps you start training in a new field, or seeking out a professional coach or therapist to help you sort out next steps. As you move through this stage, you can feel a growing sense of excitement — like a butterfly readying to break out of the cocoon.

• Phase 4: In this next life transition phase, you are creative and forward-thinking, feeling hopeful and optimistic about yourself and your future.

My client Katie illustrates how this process works. She had worked as a newspaper editor for more than 16 years for a publication that considered her an asset. But, like so many others in this economy, she got the dreaded pink slip.

When Katie came to see me she had been unemployed for several months and wanted help with her resume. Despite her professional success, she had trouble describing her skills and the assets she would bring to a new position. For all her experience, she could not summon the words she needed.

I asked her how her former colleagues and supervisors would describe her. She paused just a moment, then listed numerous positive characteristics, skills and expertise, which I asked her to write down.

She became engaged and animated as she captured these encouraging words on paper. After our session she called a couple of friends and asked them if they could think of anything to add to her list.

When she came back the following week, she was so happy to show me how her list had grown. She felt so devalued when she had been laid off that it felt almost impossible to move ahead. But compiling and reviewing this list of her strengths gave her the lift she needed to start taking action — in several aspects of her life.

As Katie was coping with the anger and disappointment over losing her job, the clutter in her home mounted. It became almost a shield to hide behind.

As we worked together, Katie began to regain her confidence. While she sent out applications and waited for the phone to ring, she dug into decluttering her home.

As she expanded the breathing room in her environment, she regained her customary enthusiasm and positive outlook. She sent me emails, reporting on what she had thrown out, given away and organized. She enjoyed the visual I had given her of being like Pac-Man, chipping away bit by bit, room by room, enjoying the positive results along the way.

It has taken hard work and perseverence, but step by step, phase by phase, Katie is successfully navigating a rocky time in her life cycle. She has landed another editing job, one that is temporary for now, but she hopes it leads to more. She continues to turn her home into a space that reflects her renewed optimism. She's back to exercising regularly and eating well, and has even dropped a few pounds.

Bottom line: Katie is on her way. Yes, she had some help, but she got the ball rolling by recognizing where she was and that it was time for a change. Rather than fixating on the big problem (the job), she started with challenges within her grasp (the resume, the reorganization). From small victories came larger ones.

The woman who once couldn't list her skills without help has taken charge of her life. She's got her spark back. How about you?

Yvonne Ulmer is a certified professional coach and the owner of Coaching by Design in St. Petersburg. She can be reached at