Change is Inevitable but Suffering is Optional

A hiker overlooks the sunset. Text "Not all classrooms have four walls" appears on the graphic.

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve the beauty.

- Maya Angelou

A fellow is lying on the ground, moaning and groaning. Somebody walks by and asks him why he’s groaning. The fellow replies, “I’m moaning because I’m lying on a bed of nails.” The passerby asks, “Why don’t you get up off the bed?” The fellow on the ground replies, “It doesn’t hurt badly enough yet.”

Anais Nin adds, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then, I ask myself the same question. Your desire to change must always be greater than your desire to stay the same. You are not being held prisoner by your heredity and environment. Sometimes, it may be necessary for you to ask yourself, “What’s the price of not changing?”

Robin Williams, in his critical role as John Keating in Dead Poet’s society, stated, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.” The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that, “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.” Stop giving CPR to dead situations. Today may be your day to start letting go of things that no longer serve you. Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tip-toe if you must, but take the step.

Jim Klemmer shares the following story from his book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success.

“I hate all this change. Why can’t things just stay the same?” Dirk shouted angrily at the TV news anchor. He threw a pillow at the TV screen and clicked it off with a snort. Suddenly a hissing noise arose from the corner of the room, and green, shimmering mist filled the air. Dirk stood in shock as a one-foot tall, wrinkled old man emerged from the glowing cloud. The tiny, grizzled fellow had a long flowing white beard and was dressed from head to toe in green. His eyes twinkled with mischief as he flashed a gap-toothed grin. “Hi, I am Mike. I can take you to a place where people don’t have to deal with change and things stay the same all the time.”

Before Dirk could say a word, the little elf drew a handful of sparking green dust from his vest pocket. With an impish smirk and a big wink, he threw the powder at Dirk. With the hissing sound filling his ears, Dirk was engulfed in the green, twinkling fog. Still unable to see through the emerald haze, he heard Mike say, “Here we are. Here’s a place where things stay the same and people don’t have to deal with change.” The elf blew away the mist. They were standing on the lush green grass of a well-trimmed graveyard. Neat, polished gravestones stretched far out to the horizon.

“Life is change,” the aged elf said with a chuckle as he leapt to the top of a gravestone. “It’s one of nature’s mighty laws. Eons ago, I had this conversation with my old buddy, Heraclitus, and told him that change is the only thing permanent. Of course, he took credit for saying that,” the elf playfully grimaced. “It’s a timeless principle. People who aren’t changing and growing aren’t living. Growth is one of nature’s vital signs. It shows you’re alive. Once you stop changing and growing, you’d better check your pulse.”

Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.

Alvin Toffler writes, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” In the age of information, ignorance is indeed a choice.

We live in a world in search of constant improvement and ongoing transition. I have always enjoyed the wit and wisdom of Henry Ford, who once wrote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Whether changes are good or bad, positive or negative, or make us happy or unhappy, depends on our individual thinking. It’s really up to us. No one is promised a life free from pain or disappointment. Nor, are we promised a life of safety or total control. We may not choose what life throws at us but we do choose how we respond. Life gives us the power to create our own reality.

Change is a way of life today. Perhaps you have been part of an organizational change-a reorganization, merger or downsizing- or you are facing a personal transition, such as retirement, a return to work, a change of career, or a change of lifestyle. The changes can be unexpected, sudden and unsettling; or they can be welcomed and planned. Moreover, change today happens quickly. No longer are there short periods of change, followed by long plateaus of stability. Most of our lives today are a continual, never-ending series of changes. So we must learn to live and adapt to a world of constantly changing demands.

Our personal beliefs are important to our success in managing change. What we focus on has the tendency to direct our thoughts and actions. If we have limiting beliefs or pessimistic thoughts, we may feel helpless and even hopeless. Examples of limiting beliefs could be: I can’t do this, I can’t change, or I don’t think I can learn this. There are few things we can’t do. What if we were to replace the can’t with either won’t or don’t; that gives us a whole different perspective. The opposite of limiting beliefs involves being more positive in our thoughts and our actions. Examples might be: I can change, I am capable of learning new ways, and change is normal.

No one is promised a life free from pain or disappointment.

Daniel Gilbert writes, “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they are finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting, and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in life is change.”

Donald Michael adds, “During confusing times, when we feel a threat to our competence, there are two directions we can take. The comfortable way is to hang onto the belief that we know what we believe and what lies ahead in our future. The other, which is much more difficult, is to open up, explore the world and ourselves, to take chances as learners.”

Since we live in a changing universe, why do so many people oppose change?

Rick Godwin writes, “One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up, instead of what they might have to gain.”

I went to my bank at a local mall last week for a meeting. When I arrived, there was a notice that the bank was under renovations for a 5 day turnover from being a traditional bank to a newer banking center. There would be more instant tellers but no longer would personal banking tellers or cash transactions be available. I met an elderly customer of the bank, just standing there with a look of being lost, what’s often referred to as ‘as a deer in the headlights.’ He commented, “First it was super mailboxes, now banking centers. I have been banking here for over 40 years. Life is not fair. I don’t deserve this.” I recently saw a T-shirt, ‘You don’t always get what you deserve, you get what you get.’ It reminded me of a Jack Benny quote, “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.”

Change is a way of life today.

I have to admit that in the past I’ve been one of those people who initially would deny and resist a number of changes that in retrospect actually turned out to be positive in my life. After all, I was in my comfort zone and operating quite nicely on auto-pilot. Why put myself in a position where I might feel powerless as if my life was out of control and I might feel awkward, embarrassed or afraid I would look foolish. I would question why there was no age exemption from these changes. Why can’t I be grandfathered in? Was there no reward for customer loyalty? Is there no exemption for being a good person? What I had to come to grips with was that these changes were never a personal attack; they were not personal at all. This was progress, not a lot of it that I was excited about or willing to go along with. It would be an interesting observation, if I could step out of my skin, and go back in time to observe myself as I resisted those changes.

What is it about us human beings that makes us so willing to stay in an unhealthy situation just because it is familiar to us. Why would we rather remain in a dead-end job, continue in a destructive relationship or stay stuck in a life style we dislike simply because we are in a comfort zone of familiarity? Familiarity is one of the main reasons people have difficulty adapting to change, Remember, the brain is designed to learn something, then to make it automatic to conserve energy. Then we are often on auto pilot and entrenched in our comfort zone. What’s happening right now to most of us is not because we’re bad or incompetent. It’s because the world is transforming at breakneck speed and each of us must adapt to those changes as quickly as possible. No one’s exempt. Age doesn’t get you off the hook. Not does it matter how hard you’ve worked until now. It’s irrelevant what your personal expectations of life have been. Our lives are changing at a faster rate than at any other time in human history. We are all trying to understand and respond to the changes occurring in both our work lives and our personal lives. Most of us try to deal with these changes in a positive manner, but sometimes we feel overwhelmed and confused.

Readers of Bits & Pieces were asked to respond to this intriguing question, “What do you know for sure?” Here’s a couple of the responses sent in:

  • Vacation days move at twice the speed of work days.

  • If two people are in a kitchen, they will head for the same spot.

  • Chocolate cake tastes better after everyone else has gone to bed.

Nora Ephron writes, “What I love about cooking is that after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour, and then hot stock, IT WILL GET THICK! It’s a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure.

Take a couple of minutes and ask yourself the same question, “What do you know for sure?”

We all live with varying degrees of uncertainty whether we like it or not. It’s those unpleasant surprises that we find hard to deal with, a lay-off when we can least afford a loss in income, or an illness when we’re too busy to be sick. None of these things is ever planned and they can range from mildly annoying to totally debilitating. So maybe it’s better if we don’t bank on absolutes quite so much and more willingly accept that uncertainty is a way of life that can’t be altered be being more upset about it. Always remember this Chinese proverb, “To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is ridiculous.”

My favorite book on change is, “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For” by M.J. Ryan. With her permission, I will be referring to this book a few times in this lesson.

She writes, “There is really only one sure thing in life-that things will change. How and when none of us know. But that everything will is absolutely guaranteed. The Buddha call this awareness the First Noble Truth-the fact that everything in life is impermanent. Fighting against that truth only causes us suffering, because it’s fighting against reality.” Organizational consultant Peter Vail calls this “Permanent White Water,” referring to times of ongoing uncertainty and turbulence.

Learning how to change requires mental toughness and a willingness to try new things. We all need to develop and refine our ability to adapt, evolve and grow.

I came across this story in my research. There is a region in Puerto Rico where people with limited means live in houses made of wood, Periodically, a hurricane invades, creating waves that destroy the houses. As the waters recede, the dismantled wooden houses are carried out to sea. The people wait for the stormy waters to subside and for the wood to float back to shore. The people then begin rebuilding their community. Homes are redesigned in different styles and configurations using the same wood. These Puerto Rican people display the enviable ability to use their talents and creativity to capitalize on a natural catastrophe.

Ryan continues, “We may be more resilient than we think. We are all survivors of our own lives. You’ve dealt with changes you never anticipated or wanted and despite your best efforts there are no guarantees you won’t have to keep on doing it. We are all stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Change always gives us opportunities to grow, even if it’s hard to see while we are going through it. That’s why it’s important after the fact to take a step back and see how we’ve developed as a result of what we’ve gone through. That way our newfound resources are more available to us in the future.” It’s kind of like establishing a personal best practices inventory.

Naomi Judd writes, “I can personally tell you that it takes courage to make life-altering changes. Some people would rather stay in a bad or negative situation because they haven’t evolved enough to find the courage to change. Maturity involves getting up the courage to make change.” As John Wayne put it, “Courage is being afraid but saddling up anyway.” Being scared is what comes before courage. If you’re scared right now, take comfort in the assurance that it’s truly all part of the growing process.

Ryan continues, “Resisting change wears down our bodies, taxes our minds, and deflates our spirits. We keep doing things that have always worked before with diminishing results. We expend precious energy looking around for someone to blame-ourselves, another person, or the world. We worry obsessively. We get stuck in the past, lost in bitterness or anger. Or we fall into denial. We don’t want to leave the cozy comfort of the known and the familiar for the scary wilderness of that which we’ve never experienced. And so we rail against it and stay stuck. Resistance is not something to avoid. It is something to recognize as a predictable marker for making change.”

When situations are changing, the most important area you need to manage is yourself. You may have only limited control over a change in your organization, family, or life, but you always have some control over yourself. You control how you respond, what you do, and what you think and feel. Many times during a major transition you will find yourself holding on to an old set of expectations of feeling upset about saying good bye to the familiar. Let yourself feel the loss. Then let go and move on.

New ways should be viewed as neither right nor wrong, neither better or worse, than the previous ones. They are simply new and need to be learned, practiced, and judged on their merits. Often you will not know enough about how a decision was made, or why something is done the way it is, or how it will feel when you are accustomed to it, to be able to evaluate the change fairly.

Ryan concludes with an anecdote about the importance of ‘Worrying Well.’ “There’s a cartoon I’ve had over my desk for years. It shows a woman up at a flipchart with a pointer. The chart has two columns, one huge and one tiny. She’s pointing to the big one, saying, “This is everything you’ve ever worried about. The smaller column represents everything you’ve ever worried about that actually happened. I keep it to remind myself of my tendency to catastrophize, to scare myself with all the possible what-ifs my mind loves to obsess over. Like Mark Twain, I’ve lived through some terrible things, some of which actually happened. Still I would prefer not to exist in a state of constant panic over changes that may or may not come my way.” Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace. Worry can be a very beneficial force if it leads us to take positive action. But what is the benefit of having constant worries controlling your life when they will never come to pass.

For over 30 years, Thomas Crum has been a teacher of Aikido, a graceful martial art which uses energy rather than force to solve conflicts. He reflects on change by using the image of “dancing on a shifting carpet.” He says, “Instead of seeing the rug being pulled out from under us, we can learn to dance on a shifting carpet.” He adds, “Being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point- a higher, more expansive place, from which you can see both sides.”

Aikido masters say that to be successful in life, three kinds of mastery are required: mastery with self, which means understanding our feelings and thoughts and how to regulate and direct them; mastery with others, which means being able to create shared understanding and shared action; and mastery with change, which means having the capacity to adapt easily without losing our center-our values, talents and sense of purpose.

Let’s look at a couple of other reason people resist change: fear of the unknown, and fear of loss. Fear is the true challenge of change. Fear is the greatest inhibitor of the human spirit. It prevents us from taking risks. Fear triggers the fight, flight or freeze response. While it is normal to feel a certain amount of fear and apprehension when making changes, it would be wrong to allow this fear to immobilize us, causing us to remain in the status quo. Recognize that resistance to change comes from the fear of loss. Whenever the need to change troubles you, ask yourself what you’re afraid of losing. Is it control? Freedom? Comfort? Income? Identify the root of your resistance and take steps to overcome it. We will discuss this in greater detail in the next lesson.

During the course of your lifetime, you will be called upon to reinvent yourself;

every new level of your life will demand a different version of you. When one chapter of our lives has come to a close, a new one is about to begin. The uncomfortable gap in between is the transition. It doesn’t usually feel good, but recognizing what’s going on can help alleviate a bit of the discomfort. Marilyn Ferguson adds, “It’s not so much than we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear. It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold onto.”

Ellen Goodman contributes, “There’s a trick to the graceful exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over and to let go. It means leaving what’s over without denying it’s validity or its past importance in our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on rather than out. It’s hard to recognize that life isn’t a holding action but a process. It’s hard to learn that we don’t leave the best part of ourselves behind. We own what we learned back there. The experiences and the growth are grafted into our lives. And when we exit, we can take ourselves along quite gracefully.”

Sometimes you have to accept the fact that certain things will never go back to how they used to be. Life must go on. There will be many chapters in your life; don’t get lost in the one you’re in now. If you don’t like the chapter you are in, write a new one. You are the author of your own life.

Food for Thought

How have you changed lately? Over the last month? The last year?

Do something this month you’ve never done before, whether it’s simply trying a new restaurant or taking a different route to work.

Remember a time that you took a risk and succeeded in it! What did you learn you could apply in future endeavors?

Think about a change you are facing. List the things that are in your control. Think of some actions you could take.

What would life be, if we had no courage to attempt anything?

Choose one quote every day or perhaps one or two every week if you like. How do these quotes speak to you? What applications do you see in your life? Share your chosen quotes with a family member, a friend, a business colleague. Create a ‘quote of the day’ club at work.

We now accept the fact that learning is a lifetime process of keeping abreast of change.

- Peter Drucker

Don’t wait for everything to be perfect before you decide to enjoy your life.

- Joyce Meyer

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.

- Stephen Hawking

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.

- General Eric Shinseki

We are changing, we have to change, and we can no more help it than leaves can help going yellow and coming loose in autumn.

- D.H. Lawrence

People are very open minded about new things-as long as they’re exactly like the old ones.

- Charles F. Kettering

Change is never painful. Only resistance to change is painful.

- Buddha

If you don’t like the road you’re walking, pave another one.

- Dolly Parton

My ultimate security is calm acceptance of the fact that there is no ultimate security.

- Ashleigh Brilliant

Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.

- Bob Goff

Every moment of one’s existence, one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a bit.

- Norman Mailer

It is not necessary to change; survival is not mandatory.

- W. Edwards Deming

If you want to make enemies, try to change something.

- Woodrow Wilson

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no-one thinks of changing himself.

- Leo Tolstoy

I’ve had some of my opinions for so long, they don’t fit me anymore.

- Ashleigh Brilliant

This is the machine age. The only thing people do by hand is scratch themselves.

- Joe Laurie Jr.

A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.

- Muhammed Ali

Trends change rapidly. Every time I think I know where it’s at, it’s usually somewhere else. You can only do what pleases you.

- Julie Andrews

Never underestimate your power to change yourself.

- H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Change is never easy, but always possible.

- Barack Obama

One thing it takes to accomplish something is courage.

- Walt Disney

Next Lesson: Where There’s Life and Loss, There’s Grief

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