Change is hard and has the capacity to totally freak people out. It can happen subtly, like the weather changing or the store being out of stock of your favorite item. Change can also happen in some really big disruptive ways – relationships starting or ending, work organizational changes, or the death of a loved one. One constant is that change will happen. Change can be positive or negative and a lot is determined by how you perceive it. So how do we keep change from driving us nutty and pushing us over the edge? How do we keep level headed when we often feel fearful and that events are out of our control?
I have been through some pretty big changes in my life. In 18 years, I’ve had eight different positions in five different industries, including being a small business owner. I’ve moved seven times in three different states. I’ve had two children, gone back to school for a teaching license and was almost divorced. I am certainly no professional but through it all I’ve managed to stay pretty sane and like a rolling stone; I’ve gathered no moss and managed to keep moving forward. And it all starts with understanding how humans are hard wired.
Human beings are hard wired to really dislike change. Think about it…as cave people, the world was very unpredictable and fraught with life threatening dangers. Having the ability to determine whether something was safe or dangerous was literally lifesaving. Stay with me here. Have you ever been in a haunted house? You know something is going to jump out and scare you. You just don’t know when – so you walk around in a state of heightened awareness, just waiting for it. Imagine living every single minute of every day like that. Physiologically we would have incredibly short lives. The adrenaline and cortisone running rampant through our systems would burn us out in no time.
So, humans adapted. We learned what was dangerous and when. In order to survive we needed to know what to expect. We learned an oak tree is not dangerous but an oak tree with mountain lion tracks around it might be. When things in our life change that we thought were safe and predictable, we feel uneasy and threatened. So, how can we cope today when threats to our well- being are often not literally life threatening but none the less very difficult to handle?
Acknowledge Your Feelings
This is important but can be really hard to do. The most common feeling about change is fear. I am afraid… of losing my job, being unable to pay my bills, of not knowing what people expect from me, of looking like an idiot, of getting it wrong, etc. You get the picture. It is normal to have those feelings. We all do; it’s what you do with those feelings that really matters.
Build a Parking Garage
You’ve identified some feelings. What do you do with them? Say hello and welcome them to hang out until you decide how you want to handle them. Really. Every feeling that flits through your mind is not worthy of driving. You might be test driving or possibly leasing some feelings that aren’t serving you well. That does not mean you have to own them. Park those feelings in the garage and take some time to decide whether they are founded in truth and have merit. You have business to take care of in the meantime. If you struggle with deciding how to handle those feelings (and we all do at times) talk to someone: a close friend, a partner, a colleague, a counselor. Sometimes it takes a person not in the forest to see the trees.
Be a River
A river does not stop running because there is a boulder in its path. It finds a way to keep doing its river thing – just around the boulder. So, do your thing and take care of business. Show up–every-single-day. Show up with your family, your friends, your colleagues and your job and get the work done. Seriously. Do your job. The saying “Busy hands make happy hearts” is true. Staying busy and engaged in the day to day work that is in front of you not only keeps us moving forward to another day but also keeps our minds busy. If you have free time on your hands, fill it up. Exercise is great for releasing stress physically and emotionally as well as being of service to others. It is really hard to focus on your problems when you are feeding the homeless, knitting hats for preemie babies or pounding it out on the pavement. Wash your dishes, mow the lawn, play ball with your kids, watch Netflix with your significant other. The world never stops spinning and neither should you.
Think BIG Picture
By this time in your life, you have probably already overcome some changes you weren’t expecting. And – you survived! It may have been by the skin of your teeth but you did it and I wager you learned a whole lot in the process. All of those changes, big and small have brought you to where you are today. That alone was a ton of hard work relatively speaking and significantly altered the course of your life. You have already developed the ability to thrive. Looking back and acknowledging the wins and the lessons from the losses offers perspective. If you did it once, chances are you will do it again. Celebrate! You are a survivor!
I’m not talking about the spiritual kind here, although that is certainly helpful. What I am talking about is faith in yourself. This is best summed up in this quote: “A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because its trust is not on the branch but in its own wings.” Find your wings and trust them. Maybe it is your previous experience in overcoming adversity; maybe it’s a close family or a deep spiritual belief that will carry you through. Whatever your wings are; find and embrace them.
Change is really out of your or my control. But what we can control is how we deal with it; how we show up when change comes knocking. Who am I kidding, most of them time change lets itself right in the front door! What I know is through all of the changes in my life, I’ve experienced some pretty amazing things that I never thought I would ever have the chance to. I’ve learned to think of change as an opportunity and to trust in my wings because I never know where I am going to fly to next.