Imagine you live in a small town in remote northern Sweden. Your entire economy is built on the deep seam of iron ore that lies directly beneath the town.

You’ve dug very deep: so deep that you face a crisis. If you dig any more, the town will collapse. But if you stop digging, massive layoffs will follow.

What would you do?

In the June issue of The Atlantic magazine, I came across the fascinating story of the mining town of Kiruna.

The short version is this: the entire population of this remote town in northern Sweden—18,200 people— is going to move several miles east…over a period of 85 years.

Reading this story, I realized that Kiruna has much to teach sensitive people about the art of handling big changes with grace. Here are three pieces of wisdom from the far north:

1. Sometimes, moving on is the only solution

We sensitive people can get ourselves deep into situations or relationships then realize the ground is not solid under our feet. We don’t do well on shaky ground: we need a harmonious, stable environment to thrive. Sometimes that means big changes.

In my first marriage, I ignored signs of irreconcilable incompatibility that existed from the beginning, because I was in love and wanted the security of being in a relationship. I dug deep to try to make it work. But after 13 years, like the townspeople of Kiruna, I had to face reality: I was in danger of catastrophic collapse if I stayed.

2. Creating a positive vision makes all the difference

Big changes, even good ones, are wrenching. You must know why you are making them if you are to sustain the courage it takes to carry through.

The citizens of Kiruna have created an exciting vision for the town’s future: a more walkable layout, a vibrant new town square, easier access to the beautiful forest surrounding the town. This makes it easier to bear the demolition of whole streets of familiar buildings.

Though I was in rough shape when I left my marriage, I knew the kind of intimate relationship I wanted, both for myself and as a model for my daughter. This carried me through the upheaval of multiple moves and job changes after I left the marriage. In fact I had already met the man who would become my new partner, though neither of us knew that yet.

3. Some things are worth taking with you

In Kiruna, the citizens have chosen to take apart, move, then reassemble two beloved buildings: a clock tower, and the century-old church in the photo above. In the midst of complete change, but those two structures will remain the same.

I was surprised to discover what I chose to take with me.  I walked away without a backward glance from nearly all the collected objects of thirteen years of marriage. There were only two things I specifically asked for: the vacuum cleaner (a high-quality, super-quiet German one) and twelve place settings of fine china we had found at a garage sale.

Loving relationships: my solid ground

I feel a quiet happiness every time I use that vacuum cleaner. And I feel happy when I set a special table for a holiday or a birthday and use that fine china.

These objects, are symbols of a life in which I focus on creating a loving, nurturing space in which my family and friends can flourish. Like Kiruna, I’ve moved several miles east since leaving my marriage, both literally and metaphorically. It took me many years, but I’m on solid ground now.

Are you facing big changes in your life?

Think of Kiruna: 

  • Allow yourself to consider moving on, even if the thought terrifies you. Many sensitive people are afraid of trying to manage on their own. But facing that fear will make your relationship better if you stay, and give you strength if you have to go.
  • Hold on to the vision of the life you want. That vision is your lifeline when the process of change gets overwhelming.
  • Travel light. Take a few really  meaningful things with you, always remembering that your relationships are the most important thing.

And last but not least, remember that it’s OK for big changes to take time, and don’t shame yourself in the process. It took many years for my life to fully settle after I left my marriage.