1984 was an expectant year—but maybe not in the way you would think. Besides being the title of a popular novel and later a film, this was the year when what is unofficially known as the “Bible of American pregnancy” was first published. Its title: What to Expect When You’re Expecting. In its past five printings over the last four decades, this book has consistently been a New York Times Bestseller and go-to book for millions of new moms, quite possibly you or your own.
The purpose of the book was quite simple—for many new moms, pregnancy can be a scary thing. There are lots of strange, uncomfortable, amazing, interesting, and even embarrassing things that happen to a woman and the baby inside her over the course of nine months. And because a new mom has never “done this” before, most of it can feel quite daunting.
When you’re going to give birth, it helps to know what to expect…
So you have a better understanding of what’s really going on.
So you can be prepared.
So you know you’re not alone.
The same is true when you are about to start something new whether a goal to lose 20 pounds, a change in your workplace or home, or a business venture. The gestation period - from knowing a need, to insight, to possibility, to plan, to execution - can be rather unnerving. But it can be a comfort to recognize what comes with the process, to know what to expect when you’re expecting and stepping into new territory.
So what should you expect?
1. It will take longer than you think
Many a goal-oriented person draws up a plan that depicts a process from start to finish with a timeline of… three months. Many a team or staff has entered the process, thinking a year from now they will be running afresh on all cylinders. But starting something new is not a sprint but a marathon. You need to be in it for the long haul. Sometimes we hear stories of the neat things people started but we don’t realize the five years of groundwork and tilling the soil that preceded it. Everything will take longer than you think—from getting into a financial rhythm to operating in a new role, to going to the gym three times a week, to discerning God’s vision. None of those happen overnight. Of course, this does not mean you wait around or throw away your plan but rather take steps and grasp your plan loosely. Don’t get discouraged if you just need to keep on trucking along.
2. Start small
If you’re like me, you read countless stories of people who have “made it,” “done it,” or instituted groundbreaking change in their lives and the lives of others. You want to BE them. And when things aren’t coming togther overnight and you’re just plain tired, you wonder what happened—but what happened is what we should expect to happen. You need to start small. In the words of Desmond Tutu, “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” Instead of attempting to jump the entire staircase, what is one small step you can begin to take and later add to?
3. Obstacles are part of the territory
When you can begin to expect obstacles—both internal and external—as part of the experience, they become less threatening and more navigable. There will be times you don’t know what is going on and you will experience tension. There will be times you'll deal with difficult people. There will be times when your goal seems too far away. Relax. One of the best words of wisdom I’ve received as I’ve ventured to start new things has been, “If it were that easy, everybody would be doing it.” What you’re doing is hard—which is why most people aren’t.
4. Those closest to the problem can become your biggest opposition
This often comes as a surprise. But not everyone is receptive to change, whether it directly affects them or not. Often people’s opposition is not malicious but rather comes out of a place of protecting their comfort and control. Not everyone is going to be a cheerleader.
5. Don’t underestimate the power of relationships
Relationships—friendships, mentors, co-workers, networks—are perhaps the most powerful element of initiating a change. They can be great sources of wisdom, support, accountability, and are helpful for bouncing ideas off of. Don’t miss investing in them while you’re focused on the tasks before you. Nobody should try to do things alone.
So….. what to expect when you’re starting something new? Though the answer doesn’t lessen the challenge, you can be prepared for what’s ahead. And when you know you’re not alone in this, when other people have been there before, you can continue along the path you started on, towards the worthwhile work, toward a worthwhile change.