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4 Steps to Personal Transformation

Photo by Karrah Kobus
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~Anais Nin

Sometimes the path of life comes to a crossroad. One direction ends in stagnation while the other leads to transformation.

When I entered my junior year of college I had a sudden identity crisis. I had always been an athlete throughout high school and junior college, and a fairly good one at that. A very shy person normally, my abilities in sports gave me confidence and brought out leadership skills I didn’t know were within me.

But now my skill level was finally surpassed by the expertise of the University-level teams. My sports career was over and I felt completely lost without my self-image of the student-athlete to lean on.

Who was I now? What did I bring to the world if not my athletic abilities? Would anyone care about me now that I wasn’t scoring points and winning?

I sunk into a depression, feeling completely groundless. Without my previous structure and direction, I took classes and dropped them, finding no interest in the vast number of subjects available to me.

Slowly, I began to realize I was at my own personal crossroad with a decision to make: to choose to transform into a new me or stay safely in the past with an outdated sense of self.

What is it about change that is hard? We are an analytic society. Whether we are aware of it or not, we constantly apply a cost-benefit analysis to decisions we make in our lives. So we ask ourselves: Does the risk of change outweigh the risk of standing still?

It took some time, but I eventually decided the risk of stagnation was too painful for me. To begin my own transformation I had to:

  1. Let go of the old “student-athlete” image over time including allowing myself to grieve over the loss of that identity to which I was accustomed.
  2. Look within myself to find who I really was. As the poet William Stafford says, “Who are you really, Wanderer? … and the answer has to be, ‘Maybe I’m a king [or queen.’]”
  3. Realize that the absence of sports opened up a whole new avenue of opportunities for me.
  4. Understand that the intrinsic parts of being an athlete still stayed with me: leadership skills, excelling at teamwork, the drive for excellence. These were aspects that I wanted to carry with me into my new way of being in the world.

As I opened my eyes to opportunities available to me and started understanding that I was more than one-faceted, I noticed that I really was interested in something: psychology.

I ended up completing a psychology degree and as my path unfolded, I was not only able to use many of the leadership skills I had honed as an athlete, but I blossomed into the guide and mentor I was called to be.

Maybe your life’s path has led you to the possibility of transformation. What does your cost-benefit analysis reveal about where you are in life? Are you ready to let go of that bud and become the beautiful blossom you truly are?

Try this simple affirmation for the next few days: I am discovering who I am and growing exponentially. I am maturing from a tight bud into a beautiful blossom.

Then meditate on these transformation skills and use them when you are ready:

1. Let Go.

Brainstorm the parts of yourself you may need to leave behind as you pursue your personal transformation. Write them down on a piece of paper so you can see them. If you need to grieve for these aspects of yourself, allow time to do so.

If you feel like celebrating the letting go process, make sure you do that, too. Either way, create a ritual for letting go.

Perhaps you want to burn the paper on which you wrote down the old part of yourself. Maybe you want to bury the paper as though it were a funeral. You can do this ritual alone but it may be more powerful to do with close friends as witnesses to your commitment to transformation.

2. Who Are You Really, Wanderer?

Sit quietly and become focused on your breath. As you exhale, breathe out the tight bud you used to be. On the inhale, welcome the beautiful new blossom you are growing into. When you are ready, give thanks for being open to discovering the new you.

3. Look For New Opportunities

A friend of mine named John wrote an interesting article for his church newsletter. He talked about clearing the clutter in our lives, both externally and internally, and how, when we do that, we create a vacuum where the old stuff was.

Nature abhors a vacuum so that space is now available to you for expansion of your transformed self. Jot down new opportunities you see for change in your life now that you’ve let go of the old clutter.

4. Take the Good Stuff with You

Even if you are shedding an identity you didn’t like, remember that you learned some positive skills and character during that time, so don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

In my career as a psychotherapist, I have worked with many people who struggled to shed old ways of being in the world.

Some were ashamed that they had learned to manipulate social systems to meet their needs and yet, as we talked about their experience, it became clear that there were some useful skills in there, too: the ability to problem-solve, the creativity to come up with a variety of ways to get needs met, and innate assertiveness, just to name a few.

Just as you wrote down the parts of yourself you will need to leave behind in the first step, take some time now to note the characteristics that serve you and others well. Take those with you on your journey.

* Ready for transformation? The world eagerly awaits a beautiful new blossom.

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About the author

Bobbi Emel is a psychotherapist who specializes in helping people face life’s significant challenges and regain their resiliency. In addition to seeing clients in her private practice, Bobbi is a well-regarded speaker and writer. You can find her blog at The Bounce Blog

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39 thoughts on 4 Steps to Personal Transformation

  1. Fiona

    Wow! This is a great post! I am also in my third year and going through the same exact feeling! I was a well respected and popular athlete in my high school days and for the past couple years I’ve had trouble getting used to meeting people who didn’t recognize me for being an athlete. It was like all of the sudden, everything that had come to define me was gone.

    • Hi Fiona,
      I’m glad you found this post today, then! As I mentioned, losing the identity that was contingent upon one thing can really open up some great new avenues and opportunities for you. I hope you’ll keep looking and see what transformation can bring you!

  2. Thanks for sharing your story. Personal transformation is just that, very personal, so thanks for sharing yours.

    You really nailed it with “Does the risk of change outweigh the risk of standing still?”

    Not until the pain of living the way I was living outweighed the fear of trying something new and completely different — outside my comfort zone — was any real change going to occur.

    The gift I received was desperation. Sick of being stuck between the two things I hated more than anything in the world; the way things were and change.

    I would say the single most transformational concept that I’ve learned is; I’m not hear to win, but to learn how to love.

  3. Bobbi,

    I love the quote you started with. Just two sentences full of such poetry and meaning!

    It’s a great post. I think the hardest part perhaps is the acceptance. Often, we know what we need to do, but it’s more like “yes I should do that” but we don’t truly accept it from heart, and so we don’t try to move towards that change. Conscious decision is often necessary, though sometimes change – whether right or not – could be forced by circumstances.

  4. That’s quite a story Bobbi. As someone who is often consumed by transforming into something (or someone) different I’m always interested in how I can blossom in different ways. This brings a fresh perspective on old thoughts and I appreciate it.

  5. This is an awesome guide for personal transformation! I wish I had this a couple of years ago…But I’m glad to have it now. You never know when the next big transformation is around the corner. ;) In fact, I feel one coming anytime now – the whole quarter-life crisis, y’know…

    Your guide is so well done – you take care of everything, from the letting go to the rediscovery of who you are. I really like the reminder to take the good stuff with you – you don’t have to shed EVERYthing during a transformation.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us, Bobbi.

    • Hey Kaylee,

      This story took place when I was just a few years younger than you, so I’m glad you can see how helpful this approach to transformation is during your early twenties.

      And yes, isn’t it great that we don’t have to get rid of everything? Why throw the baby out with the bath water? Let’s keep the good stuff but bloom a new blossom when we’re ready!

  6. Thanks so much for this Bobbi. The tips about being open for new opportunities and to take the good skills and characteristics with us really resonated with me. I’ll be using that beautiful affirmation!

  7. I can sooo relate to this post. Almost two years ago my hair to fall out without any explanation and diagnosis was slow to come. It was Alopecia – I fell into a depression and had to remold my vision of myself. I learned so much about life, the priorities and not to care what the “world” thought. I have become a more evolved version of myself. My hair has returned….white and thinner but I took off my wig last week and exposed myself to the world. Scarey but bold step – but by being transparent and authenthic – I am ME. Thank you for this post.

  8. I found this article to be so true. Almost two years ago I lost large patches of my hair to Alopecia. Since then I have lost my eyelashes, eyebrows and most of body hair. Scarey. I became depressed and wondered why and how could happen. Since then I have discovered so much about myself and my priorities. My life continues to evolve …. for the better but you need to make adjustsments along the way. Great post.

  9. “create a ritual for letting go.”

    I am a big fan of rituals, whether it is creating a foundation for you day-to-day life or allowing us to move forward past our history and experiences to become our newer higher versions of ourselves.

    Thanks so much for wrapping all these ideas into a simple to follow guidelines.

  10. Thank you for the great sharing and post. Totally agree with you. More people should learn to accept themselves, let go of part of ourselves that is unhelpful, and focus on our strengths. Thank you for the sharing.

  11. Hi Claire,

    I’m so glad this piece resonated with you! Let me know how the affirmation goes for you. Funny how little things can be so powerful . . .

  12. Hi Jane,

    Wow, you are really courageous! Alopecia would be a tremendous challenge for me and I so admire how you took the opportunity to learn from your experience. Thank you SO much for sharing your story!

  13. Hey Lori,

    Aren’t rituals the best? Even a small act done by yourself can be so powerful.

  14. Hi Lawrence,

    I’m so glad this piece was helpful for you!

  15. “Who Are You Really, Wanderer?”

    I can’t count the number of times when I’ve asked this question about myself. I’m thankful to have friends that are always ready to keep in me in check, emphasizing the good things about myself. This is a great post Bobbi, thank you for sharing.

  16. Aloha Bobbi,

    My world unraveled when my mom was killed in a car accident. At the time I was a stained glass artist. It was my passion and I thought my life’s work.

    I began getting subtle clues about change but resisted until my whole world crashed around me. Slowly I reinvented myself. Now I live half way around the world and have a life beyond my wildest imaginings.

    As you say I took the good stuff with me, expand on it and followed what I call the cosmic breadcrumbs. Life just keeps getting better and better.

    Thanks for the great article,

  17. That was very inspiring and your writing is hypnotic.

    I think every once in a while we need to reflect on where we are in our lives before we continue to a path. I especially love item #2 on inhaling and exhaling as we all need quiet time for rejuvenation. (Found you via a-list)

  18. Bobbi,

    I’ve always the quote on which you’ve written this beautiful post.

    This is the second time in as many days that the words “personal transformation” have come up for me; as I grow my writing career, I struggle with letting go of the “regular” job and all its significant benefits, but my heart lies in writing. So I suppose my own bud needs a bit of time and a whole bunch of courage to know when the time is right to fully blossom.

    Appreciate you!

  19. Hey Vito,

    Ah, isn’t it wonderful to have good friends? Sometimes they encourage us in our wanderings and other times they rein us in.

    Thanks for sharing that!

  20. Aloha Susan,

    First of all, I’m so very sorry for the loss of your mother. As a member of the grief club myself, I have an idea of how hard that must have been for you.

    But thank you for sharing how you took the shattered pieces of your life, allowed the heat to melt them down, and created something beautiful out of them! I’m so glad that your life gets better every day!

  21. Hi Anne, fellow A-Lister!

    Thanks for your kind words about my writing and I’m glad that you found this piece inspirational!

  22. This is a great post! I especially like the point you bring up about getting to know yourself – “Who are you really, Wanderer?” – such an excellent way to explain something that is very necessary to each of us during a number of turning points in our lives. Many of us experience this as young adults, but as older adults well into our careers, it’s important to step back and revisit that question to find out if we’re really still following the path towards that very important vision.

  23. Steve, I really love your point about always assessing where we are on our true path. Thanks SO much for your insight!

  24. Hi Bobbi

    That was a wonderful article.

    Too many times we forget to listen to ourselves and pursue paths that others see for us.

    True happiness lies in following your bliss and allowing yourself to be – safe in the knowledge that you can be anything that you choose to be.

  25. This is useful information, and I’d certainly read and reread this post to commit to memory the four steps, but I’d go a step further.

    Forgiveness is important part of letting go. If we don’t forgive ourselves or others, we’ll stay stuck and keep repeating self-sabotaging behaviors over and over again. We must realize that forgiveness is a good to let go. We release ourselves or others from the energy that has kept us stuck.

    In the past, I didn’t understand forgiveness. I thought it meant that I was condoning my behavior or another person’s behavior. But it simply means to release the energy surrounding whatever happened and letting it go.

    I also didn’t understand how to ‘let go.’ I thought that if I ‘let go,’ it meant I was giving up; and that I wasn’t staying the course. I now understand that if I hold too tightly, I can choke my dreams and passions, even my life. When I feel it’s time for me to release something, I visualize it in my hand, palm up, and blow on it to let it go. Or, I’ll make a fist and drop whatever it is I need to drop.

    In general, I think you can transform, but you may be afraid to change, especially if relationships begin to end.

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