My path to happiness is changing my mind

Sarah used to always think she was right. Until she discovered the glory of changing her mind.
Photo by Cesira Alvarado on Unsplash

I’m always right. Even when some new knowledge leads me to change my position, I think I’m right again — and I’m not as patient as I’d like to be with those who share my old viewpoint.

My conviction started young — I told my parents in preschool that if Dannon had meant for me to mix my fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, it would have come mixed, then proceeded to eat all of the plain yogurt followed by the sugary goodness on the bottom. 

I know self-righteousness isn’t my greatest quality. I wish I were naturally more flexible and better at embracing the “gray areas” of life. 

Part of the challenge is that I like to be first and best at things. I am a driven, focused (recovering) perfectionist. When I have a goal, I’m going to achieve it, goddamn it. And changing course can feel like defeat. Though this mindset has brought me a lot of success in life, it has also produced plenty of undue struggle. My instinct used to be to keep trying to make something work even when it just wasn’t working — which is often sucky and exhausting.

But luckily, as I’ve gotten older and had more of life thrown at me, I’ve learned to change my mind. I’ve become more comfortable with walking away from the things that aren’t working. As a result, I’ve changed my mind about almost everything I can think of: jobs, relationships, how I like to spend my time, and myself. Turns out, it doesn’t feel like defeat. It’s glorious — I now have a new sense of awe and contentment with life.

New perspective: You’re allowed to change careers

I’ve written about it a lot on this blog, but an obvious area where changing my mind has paid off is my professional life. In graduate school, I was trained to be a researcher, and a career in public policy seemed to be what was expected of me. So that’s what I did. I enjoyed parts of my work but ultimately spent years in a field I didn’t really like — transportation research — because I simply didn’t know what else I could do or how to be OK with leaving. 

It took a lot of work for me to feel I was allowed to change my mind about what I could and should do professionally. I wondered how I could walk away without looking like a sellout or quitter. But after enough unhappiness, I undertook what I called my “career soul search,” asking myself hard questions like, “What parts of my day bring me the most happiness? What are the actual tasks I would enjoy filling my day with? What type of company would I feel best at?” Now that I’ve changed careers (to content marketing at a tech company), instead of feeling like I’m going down a path I didn’t choose and don’t want, I feel like there is a world of possibility ahead of me. And I have a framework of questions to ask myself in case I ever need to change course again.

New perspective: Life can’t be about what you don’t have 

I’ve used the same process to evaluate my personal life. I’ve asked similar questions: “What people and things do I actually enjoy the most? Who makes me a better person?” I’ve tried to stop digging in my heels on old ideas about how I should live, like constant busyness. I’ve left friendships and relationships behind that don’t make me feel the way I want to.

Finally, I’ve changed my mind about how I think about myself. A few years ago, the negative voice in my head was particularly strong, armed with regular,  panicked messages about being afraid I was doing everything wrong. A lot of the panic was about things I didn’t have, namely a perfect home/city/partner/body/income/job/WHATEVER. And that if I had those things, it would “fix” everything in my life. This brought me years of deep anxiety. As someone who often believes her way of thinking about things is the only way, this was a tough habit to break. But the more I investigated those feelings, the more I realized they were heavily influenced by societal expectations of women and my own competitive need to “have it all,” or at least look like I did.

Even though it feels like progress came (and still comes) an inch at a time, letting go of what I thought I “should” have or do made me see how wonderful my life is, just as it is. Now, I try to counter my negative voice with affirmations like, “My life is full, challenging and fun, and I’m surrounded by love. I’ve made the best choices I can to ensure my happiness.” 

New perspective: Question everything, including yourself

Changing my mind and letting go of old ideas has been glorious. It has opened up infinite possibilities. I can now let myself learn about new things, including myself and my desires, without being afraid of what I discover. I can actually ask myself honest questions like: “I thought I would like this job, but now that I’m doing it, do I?”

Changing my mind has also allowed me to apologize more easily and grow faster. For example, in the past I might have taken it personally if I was called out on something, but now I try to listen to what the person is saying, learn and see their feedback as a gift. The new me might think: “I thought I honored that person, but maybe I fucked up. What can I learn here?” I try my absolute hardest to let go of defensiveness and be someone people trust they can be open with. 

Embracing a changing mind

Aside from some core values mostly related to kindness and standing up for yourself and others, my priorities can vary drastically from week to week. I’ve learned to honor these changing needs and find it pays off to go with the flow. One week I’m convinced the secret of life is hustling so hard I can barely stand, and then I decide I need to binge an entire series on Netflix (hi Fleabag!) in a weekend because the secret of life is enjoying myself and resting my mind and body. Both are important to me.

I may look back at this piece in five years, or even one, and think, “What a naive load of crap.” I certainly feel that way about some of my old journals. But that’s kind of the point. If you’re stubborn like me, I hope you take this article as a cue to investigate how you really feel and consider giving yourself the gift of a changing mind. 

And the beautiful thing is, even when you do change your mind, you can still be right.

What do you think? (Leave comments here.)