Most of the important transitions in our lives are marked by rituals that affirm our new identities, including weddings, graduations, baby showers, and funerals. For insights and guidance on how to navigate these transitions, we can find an abundance of books. But I never realized, before reading Cathy Goodwin’s Making the Big Move: How to Transform Relocation into a Creative Life Transition, that there is a great big hole in the collection of books about life changes — there is hardly anything about moving.
As Goodwin notes, about 36 million people move every year in the U.S. — about the same number as the population of Canada. Many people move over and over again. Cathy Goodwin, PhD, MBA, is one of them, so her personal experiences, in addition to her expertise as a midlife career coach, have amply prepared her to write Making the Big Move.
It was brilliant of Goodwin to recognize the need for this book, and her foray into the topic is impressive. Making the Big Move is, first of all, a way of thinking. It is a book that acknowledges that a move can be a very important experience in your life, with implications that transcend practical matters such as where you will be and how you will get around. Goodwin knows that a move can go to the core of who you really are and who you want to be. It has the potential to redefine your self-concept, your social identity (how others view you) and your identity on paper (such as your credit rating).
Second, Making the Big Move is an entré into the experiences of hundreds of people who have shared their observations with Goodwin. Whether you are dreading your move or excited about it, whether you are moving for a job or for personal reasons, whether you are moving with pets or family or alone, whether you are attached to the home you are leaving behind or indifferent to it, you will find stories from people who have had experiences like yours.
Making the Big Move is also a how-to book. Interspersed throughout the text are dozens of exercises that prepare you to make your move, in emotional, interpersonal, and practical ways. Some are stand-alone exercises. Others build on what you did before, as, for example, when you compare the expectations you described before you moved to your actual experiences afterwards.
The first part of moving is deciding to do it, so that’s what is addressed in the first section of the book. The move itself, Goodwin believes, is not just one step. Instead, it involves a separation phase (taking leave, psychologically, of the place you are leaving behind), a transformation phase (an in-between phase when you “no longer belong in your old life but have yet to find your new one”), an integration phase (when you start to settle in to your new place and your new roles), and a maintenance phase (when you are settled in and maintaining your new life). Those phases are discussed in the second section of Making the Big Move.
In the final section, special situations get special attention. People who are moving on their own have a different set of joys and challenges than people moving with a family, so the two situations get separate chapters. International moves and corporate moves also get special attention, as does the psychological topic of dealing with resistance to a move — your own or someone else’s. One last chapter helps you become a better friend when another person in your life is making a move.
For many people, the first few months in a new place can be especially daunting. Goodwin explains why the settling in phase can be so difficult and discusses homesickness as a type of grief. She offers suggestions such as putting together an emotional first aid kit (she tells you how to do this), creating rituals to help you feel more settled, going out and exploring, and building an escape hatch.
Did you expect her to tell you to keep busy? She does, but maybe not in the way you anticipated. Your goal may be to get to know more people, but Goodwin advises you to “choose activities to nurture yourself, rather than meet people.” That way, you are doing things you like, and you are more likely to have good experiences with the people you meet. One of the single men Goodwin interviewed was encouraged to sign up for a wine-tasting club, “but he found that he had little in common with the members and he was never much of a wine drinker.” In contrast, another man followed his interests and took a woodworking class; he just worked on his own at first, but later, other class members noticed his work and made an effort to get to know him.
Goodwin writes thoughtfully and helpfully about both family moves and solo moves. The chapter on moving alone was especially valuable because the issues facing single people are not always acknowledged. For example: “Many corporations allow managerial employees time to help their family and children get settled, but expect single employees to begin work right away. [But] somebody has to be home when people come to install cable, telephone, and other services. If you’re single, that person will be you.”
Making the Big Move will be helpful to anyone planning a move. I have made very few major moves in my life and I hope I will not have to move again for a long time to come, but I still got a lot out of the book. I thought about my own past moves in new ways, and I will be better prepared for any future moves I do make. I also have a deeper understanding of the psychology of moving, not just in my life but in other people’s, too.
Making the Big Move: How to Transform Relocation into a Creative Life Transition (3rd edition)
Ninth Life Publishing, July 2018
Paperback, 266 pages