Change is inevitable. We all know that. So why do we fight it so much?
From the moment we emerge from the warm, quiet security of the womb, we are bombarded with differences, and we cry. Lights, noises, and new sensations all announce that our world has changed, and it never stops. Not until we die, if even then.
Yet, every time something changes, whether starting school, moving to a new house, growing out of a favorite pair of shoes or a relationship that is no longer working, we resist change, kicking and screaming against the inevitable. Why?
Comfort is one answer. We’re afraid to try a new route to work, because we don’t know what the traffic is like. Or a new grocery store, because the layout is strange. My husband HATES the seasonal changes at Wal-Mart, because he hates browsing, or having to hunt for something. If he can’t find it in three minutes, he’s out of there. He’s out of his comfort zone.
Security is another answer. We all know someone (a parent? ourselves?) who stayed in a dead-end job, miserably going to work every day, just to keep food on the table and a roof over their head. Or the victim of an abusive relationship, who stays because of economic or emotional security. “At least the kids are provided for,” they might say. Shelter, food and water are indeed the most basic essentials of life, but “security” is often – if not always – a euphemism for Fear of the Unknown.
Fear. The true source of stress in our lives. What if I can’t find another job/mate/house/friend? What if I’m not good enough? Or fast enough, or smart enough? We fear change, because it’s uncomfortable, awkward, often painful. It surprises us, stretches us, challenges us to grow.
It’s true that not all change is good. I don’t wish a tornado, or divorce, or layoff on anyone. But some changes we can prepare for to a certain extent. That’s what various types of insurance are for. They don’t help with the emotional loss, but can ease the flow back to some kind of normalcy. Losing someone close to us, especially young, is agonizing. My mother’s passing was no less painful for the knowledge of her dementia and ill health at age 91, yet that was incomparable to the death of my nephew at 16. But even the most drastic of changes don’t have to defeat us.
How we face change – before, during and after – can affect us and even the change itself. A layoff might be the perfect chance to find that dream job. Or maybe it takes you to a new place, with new opportunities and new friends.
When I was eight years old, my family moved from medium-small town Montana to the big City of Seattle. I didn’t want to leave. I even volunteered to stay with my Grandma whom I didn’t particularly like at the time. But the move not only brought a financial security that my family had never really known, it brought opportunities to each of us that we wouldn’t have had where we were before. Likewise, when I left Seattle with a car full of my most precious things to run a motel in New Mexico, I had no idea it would lead to meeting my husband, or the circuitous route to Odessa, TX.
“But that’s easy for you to do,” you might say. After all, I come from a family of immigrants and pioneers who moved a lot. I remember a co-worker in New Mexico who couldn’t fathom all the travel I’d done and places I’d lived. She was in her late thirties, married with a teenager, and had never lived more than 90 miles from home. The furthest she had traveled was 230 miles for school shopping.
But I have my own Achille’s heel: job change. Ironic, since my job history could cover 2-1/2 to 3 pages single-spaced. Just the thought of job hunting and interviewing can send me into a panic attack. I have all sorts of non-helpful coping mechanisms, from procrastination to eating. However, I have learned a few good ones, too, that I have to remind myself of.
I grew up in a family where my parents drew their identities from their jobs. But I am not my job. I am a complicated mix of skills, talents, strengths and weaknesses that will never fit any one job description, let alone be contained by one. And that doesn’t even address the friendships and relationships, past and present, that continue to shape who I am in this world. Some are from past jobs that, had I not taken that position, I would never have met. So, I remind myself, “I am not my job.”
I seek counsel. When I feel myself getting paralyzed by fear, I look for one to a handful of people who will listen and whose wisdom I respect. It might be a professional, it might be a close friend, it might be a close group of friends who share their joys and struggles with one another, with no agenda other than being a listening ear.
I write out the worst case scenario, then ask myself, How likely is that, really? Where I live, even McDonald’s pays $14-15/hr.
I journal and/or blog. Putting my thoughts and fears into words helps strip the emotional baggage, and lets me dream, changing negative “what ifs” into positive ones.
I remind myself to laugh. My husband is good at getting me to do this.
I try to be grateful. When it’s really bad, I make myself write out 5 things I’m grateful for. Every day, until I sense my attitude changing.
Reality is, even a job search isn’t forever. I will get a job, or change my focus and get another kind of job. Even when I moved to Odessa and wasn’t looking for a job, my husband found me one as manager of the RV park we lived in.
A broken relationship leaves room for new relationships, time for other interests. A move allows you to leave baggage behind, if you so choose. A loss helps you put things in perspective, and gives you the chance to strengthen the important ties and discard those that are no long a priority.
Change is inevitable. How you and I deal with change is fluid. We can choose an old way, a new way, or a combination of both – just because a method of coping is old, doesn’t automatically make it bad (and vice versa). And how we deal with it begins with our attitude. I can fight it, declare a grudging truce, or embrace it.
A friend once told me (and I don’t know his source):
It’s like learning how to sail. You can study the charts, practice raising and lowering the canvas, and recite the proper terminology until it comes naturally. But until you untie the knot and cast off from the dock, you can never learn to sail, let alone become a sailor.
How do you face the winds of change?