Sometimes we invite change into our lives, and sometimes we have it hand-delivered, via express mail, signature required, to ensure that we understand that “THIS IS SERIOUS.”
Suddenly, we are tossed out of our comfort zone into the highly undesirable land of discomfort. It does not matter if the change is a small one or a life-changing one. When involuntary change is required of us, resistance is often futile, and nothing more than an illusion designed to intimidate us into not accepting a new reality. When we refuse to accept a new reality, it may lead to more failure and pain than the change itself would ever bring.
How else can we respond when we are unceremoniously kicked out of our comfort zone? We can cry, complain and reminisce about how great it all was - which, if we are honest, is often not true. In the moments of crisis that change brings, we often engage in self-delusion and revisit the lost person or situation with rose-colored glasses. Instead, there’s another, better response.
Embrace the Change.
When it comes to embracing change - especially unsolicited change that has been forced upon us - the first steps are the hardest. While standing at ground zero trying to figure out what is happening, ask yourself a few good questions:
- What is good about this situation?
- How could this change make my life better?
- What is possible for me if I step up and grow from this?
The questions you ask and the focus you choose are critical. However, too often a key component of change is overlooked, making the process unnecessarily tough.
We must grieve the loss of what was, and grief is no laughing matter. Nearly all change involves an element of grief. A client I once worked with was planning to end his relationship with a woman and found himself stuck in grief when she ended it first. She was, he said, “better than nothing,” and he grieved not only the loss of his partner, but a loss of control when she acted instead of him.
Important steps for embracing change include:
Giving yourself time to grieve.
There are multiple stages to grief and, depending on your situation, it may take anywhere from a few hours or several years to grieve. Be patient and feel it all - life is messy and hard at times. That which we resist, persists.
Be good to yourself.
Avoid beating yourself up and - if possible - wait a while before analyzing what you could have done better to avoid this.
Ask "What is Possible from here?” “ What is good about this?"
Once you have begun to acknowledge the change and can look forward, ask yourself: “What is possible from this new place?”
Action is often the missing link in any change effort, but it’s the most important. Ask yourself, what can you do to take charge of your life and shape the new direction?
There is no need to go it alone. Resources are aplenty, and supportive networks and individuals are waiting to help you.
As humans, we will put up with a lot for certainty and predictability in our lives, so when we start to move into the uncertainty that change brings about, it is very important to stay open and adopt a curious attitude. Certainty and predictability are comforting, but they are boring too.
I once handled a situation with an upset employee who could not accept the relocation of the coffee maker to a location in a corner, not far from her desk. She reached out to me in tears and, as I listened to locate the significance of her stress, it became clear that it was not the noise and not the smell of coffee that troubled her, it was the traffic into the area which represented a loss of privacy and safety she enjoyed sitting in that corner. The change was small, her loss was real and painful. We created an action plan and she acquired a few plants to create a “green fence.”
Sometime later, I caught up with her and she seemed happy. She informed me that the green fence didn’t work, but that surprisingly her social life had picked up because of the change. The increase in traffic meant more contact with coworkers and more opportunities for this naturally shy woman to connect outside of work. This small change and the pain it brought, once embraced, eventually yielded desirable results.
Ultimately, all change involves some loss and that’s what makes change so scary. Staying open to the positive elements of change develops our resilience and we can learn to adapt more quickly to find the benefits it can bring.
Letting go of “what was” is hard, but developing the skills and resilience to manage change is an essential part of life. The skills and adaptability you acquire during the process to embrace change are invaluable.
Diane Lapine is an Executive & Career Coach at Harvard Business School and has spent over 20 years in Human Resources. She has a strong focus on emotional development and helps her clients feel emotionally secure and supported during times of transition and growth. Through her coaching programs, she works in collaboration with clients to discover values and goals and plan for how to make them a reality. She helps clients identify their core values and desires, allowing them to set meaningful goals for themselves and create a more meaningful, authentic life.