Paradigm Shift: Our Paradigm Shifts

Regular readers know that in our September Wicked Wednesdays, we’re looking at paradigm shifts.

Originally a concept brought into general consciousness by physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn and applied to natural sciences, paradigm shifts arise when the dominant paradigm under which normal science operates is rendered incompatible with new phenomena, facilitating the adoption of a new theory or paradigm.

Or as we laypeople think of it, when the weight of new evidence is not simply additive, but causes us to rethink the entire framework through which we view or experience something. A fundamental shift in our ideas and practices.

I’m curious, Wickeds. Can you give us an example of a paradigm shift in your own life–a time when you had to give up an old idea or way of doing something and adopt a new one in light of new evidence?

Edith/Maddie: The biggest one was my divorce twenty years ago. I had been deeply unhappy for years and all my efforts to improve the relationship had failed. As my sons (ages 15 and 12) began to look for love in their own lives, I stopped worrying about how a split would affect them. I decided to stop modeling a contentious, dysfunctional marriage and instead support them through into a new way of living. We all came out better for it, including my ex-husband, but it was a huge step to take. I’m delighted to report my boys are both in happy, functional marriages (or soon-to-be-married, for the younger one) – as am I!

Jessie: What a thought-provoking question, Barb! I think for me an especially good example of this was a lightbulb moment I had about three years ago when I first completed the Couch to 5K program. I had not thought of myself as someone who could run since I was in elementary school. I completed the 8-week training program and blew my own mind. As soon as I got over the shock I asked myself what else I had erroneously believed. Not long after that, I bought some watercolor painting supplies and set about tackling a one-hundred-day project where I painted something new every day for 100 days. By the time I was done I had acquired oil painting supplies and had set up a tiny studio in the corner of my kitchen.

Barb: I love that you thought about your self-imposed limitations and set out proactively to broaden yourself, Jessie! I don’t think I’ve ever done that. For me a paradigm shift definitely occurred when my kids left home. I hadn’t expected to break a sweat. In fact, I was pretty excited, for them launched on new adventures, and for my husband and me, no longer tethered to the house. Much to my surprise, I experienced a profound sense of dislocation. I realized I had defined myself for years as a person who had excellent work-life balance– too much of each. Who was I now that I wasn’t that person? And what was our marriage now that it was no longer an elaborate childcare enterprise? It took time and conversation to make that shift.

Sherry: There have been a lot of paradigm shifts in my life. However, one of the biggest was going from Vice President of Marketing for a financial planning company to Air Force wife and stay-at-home mom. At the same time we moved from Cheyenne, Wyoming to the Los Angeles area. So there I was pregnant, with no friends, no job, and navigating a very different world, on and off base, than I was used to. I had to reinvent my entire life and all the concepts of who I thought I was.

Liz: What a great question, Barb! I’ve had to do this a couple of times, the first when, like Edith, I found myself super unhappy in a marriage and looking to get out, which set off a whole chain of events that resulted in me realizing I didn’t have to live my life the way other people expected me to and I could go off and figure it out on my own. Then again last year when my corporate job blew up and I realized how truly unhappy I’d been there and that I didn’t actually want to be in that environment anymore, at least not in. the same way. So I’ve spent the last year thinking about what I really want out of work and how it fits into the life I want, instead of the other way around. It’s been scary and awesome and incredibly freeing.

Julie: Change is hard. Paradigm shifts require being open to change, and also to rethinking what you’ve always assumed. Like Jessie, one example for me was when I decided to run a half marathon 10 years ago after a lifetime of not being considered athletic. That was a huge shift for me, and helped me realize anything is possible, but not without effort.

Readers: Tell us about a paradigm shift in your own life.

21 Thoughts

  1. Some shifts are just life happening and others are a big decision made. I often think that marriage and children was my first big one but then look at the societal expectations of my generation as not so big a shift in general. Divorce was a big shift, but I had already been living a part of it long before going into the divorce. After that, I think we keep bumping into new life situations that make us change some of our life choices and move in different directions, some large some a bit smaller.

  2. One shift happened when my son’s taekwondo instructor invited me to start training. I said I didn’t do things like that and he said, “Why not?” I eventually earned a 2nd degree Black belt. The other was after I lost my job in 2011. Of course I had to go right back to work and The Hubby said, “What if you don’t?” That was the summer I realized not only could I be an author, I really wanted to.

  3. The big shift in my life was when I finally accepted the issues with my body were not going to change. I realized I needed to accept them and deal the best I could.

  4. A Tony Robbins book recommended deliberate paradigm shifts to achieve goals. It worked to a certain extent, but honestly, fear held me back from sweeping changes. In 2020 I lost my job of 21 years – I’m grateful for the external shake-up provided by life that led me to finally listen to my dreams and go for them!

    1. My story is the same. In 2006 we sold our company and I took time off to write. In 2010, the same people bought the company I had moved to. With my first book coming out that year and the opportunity to be an editor at Best New England Crime Stories, I thought, “How many times can the universe send you the same message?”

  5. The biggest shift in my life was when my multiple sclerosis got bad enough I could no longer work, had to go on disability and had to accept I could no longer enjoy the recreational outings our family used to do like our annual family float trip and cookout. I had to stop trying to do things like a trip to the zoo because of mobility issues and the heat. In short, almost everything we had done for years as a family or just for fun the two of us I couldn’t do anymore. It has been a major change and I’m still trying to get used to it all.

  6. Oh I can so relate with Edith! Another one would be when I no longer had a reason to stay in a place that didn’t make either hubby or I happy. After the death of my parents, there wasn’t anything holding us to where we had thought we would always live. Not one to accept change well, it was my idea even to sell out and move. We did and boy am I glad we did. Best thing we ever did and probably the first thing we did 100% for us with no reserve or thought of someone else to consider.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  7. One big paradigm shift for me was when I realized I shouldn’t be a high school English teacher after all. Not if I really wanted to be a writer. This was after completing student teaching, earning a BS in Secondary Ed/English, successfully handling a long-term subbing position. Teaching sucked up all my energy and demanded more. There was nothing left for writing, and I knew I’d need to practice a good deal in order to master the craft. I was 22 years old. I spent the next several decades working at various jobs (not careers) while continuing to write. NOT having a “real” career bothered me. I felt as if I might be wasting my life. What if I never made it? Well, my first mystery novel is coming out this March with a small, traditional press (I previously ghosted a published memoir so that’s my official first book-length publication). Even if I don’t make a living with writing, I am satisfied that giving up that teaching path wasn’t totally in vain. The writing life has been engaging, satisfying, and stimulating. I’ve learned so much working all those non-career jobs over the years. I’ve met people from many walks of life–from dishwashers to bookstore owners to college deans. I still think about teaching sometimes. I enjoy sharing the joys of reading and writing with others. Maybe someday I’ll go back–older, wiser, and with some real experience behind me–to the classroom where I can encourage young people to follow their own paths.

    1. Congratulations on your book deal! Have you read Lily King’s book Writers & Lovers? It is about a woman who rejects a career to waitress and write. And other things.

  8. Like many others here, there was a bad marriage I got out of. And, later I married a wonderful man, who after 49 years is still the love of my life. A major shift came years later when I started traveling to Peru. On the first year’s trip I was on a very leaky small boat in the dark on Lake Titicaca ( a very deep, very cold lake.) And the engine kept quitting. There were 3 life jackets for 15 people. I’m not much of a swimmer. I know I was in a potentially dangerous situation. Instead of panicking, I decided if I were to die, I had fulfilled my life long dream of going to Peru, and I was on a beautiful lake with a clear sky jammed full of stars. After that night, I haven’t been afraid of dying no matter what situation I’ve been in (and there have been a bunch.) My life has been so much happier since then. Another major change was getting sober and learning to live life on life’s terms. Again, my life has been so much better since. Getting rid of fear of dying, and living a sober life were wonderful major paradigm changes.

  9. Social isolation due to COVID has me perfectly happy to stay home and review books (and if my trailer isn’t neat and tidy it is NOT the end of the world).

  10. One of my shifts was when I found out that my husband was having an affair with an employee. It was hard, but it taught me that I did not need him. I loved him but could get on with my life. I always thought that I needed him, and it turned out that I could do without him. I had great neighbors that helped me out with this midlife crisis of his. We worked it out when I told him that I did not need him anymore and we have been happy since. It took many years to trust him again, but I think that he was surprised when I said that I did not need him.

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