Navigating New Situations and the Ebb & Flow in Your Personal & Professional Lives
How to give a healthy definition of change? In the words of the late David Bowie: “I watch the ripples change their size, but never leave the stream.” This metaphor puts change in perspective so eloquently. The ripples represent change, and the stream represents the life we embody; they work together in the ebb and flow of time throughout our life. Or, put another way: while change inevitably generates momentum, pushes us forward, and forces us to move, throughout it all, we remain the same spirit, and in the same shell (body).
So it seems to be that “going with the flow” (both metaphorically speaking, and literally, in the song lyric above) provides a peaceful way to handle change. In other words, the ability to leverage and accept, with equanimity, the uncertainty of life far outweighs remaining immovable, or stuck in a comfort zone. That said, embracing big changes can take a lot of intentional energy and focus, and sometimes it feels easier to exist without ever pushing forward. It can be hard to admit that we are stuck in a Groundhog Day syndrome — that may even be very comfortable due to its easy predictability – or to find the momentum to break out of it.
Change in Your Personal Life: How Acceptance Can Be Therapeutic
Having come from a quirky upbringing where drastic change was a constant part of my life, I’m probably less dramatic than most when it comes to waves of change being forced upon me. What I find is that even when a major transition sounds awful and difficult to digest, it helps to simply accept the inevitable and stop focusing on the negativity. That’s hard to do, but so worth the reward of sending your energy to the right, more productive places.
All of us can stumble in this endeavor, however. I remember when I had my daughter a couple of years ago; I was already a corporate executive, and couldn’t comprehend how I would ever have the time to get us both ready in the morning, drive her to school and make it to work on time. This would be a huge but inevitable change for me, and I literally started obsessing on it before she was born. I had myself so worked up that one day my husband told me, “Get over it, people do it every day.” It sounds a bit unsympathetic, but it’s what I needed to finally level-set and move on from obsessing.
When my daughter finally arrived, I was over the worry, and lo and behold, it wasn’t a big deal anyway: I got up a little earlier and figured out how to keep her happy while I completed my morning routine. Nowadays we sing, laugh, and bond during the drive to school, and when I drop her off I find so much joy in watching her walk confidently through the door. Point being: all that worry about this “big change” in my life was for nothing; it totally worked out when I embraced it for what is was.
Change at the Office: Don’t Get Caught Up in a Counter-Productive Mode
Observing change in an environment that has been relatively stagnant can be crippling for most people, and even those who think they are good at handling major shifts may become absolutely paralyzed. I’ve had peers in my professional life who literally spent hours telling about how much they wanted and needed leadership change, but lo and behold, when the new boss was hired, they were stubborn, resistant and downright negative. Change is one of those things that can bring out the worst in people.
In my role as the Head of Human Resources, I find myself being a change champion more often than not. In a leadership position it’s important to embrace the direction and set the example for those who may be struggling to adapt.
Here a few of my observations and recommendations, broken down into two sections, to grease the wheel when facing change in the workplace:
Handling Your Core Negative Reactions to Change
- If you don’t like change in general, just admit it, accept it, and be conscious about your tendency to resist.
- When you feel yourself becoming defensive or negative, that’s a red flag that you are resisting. Listen to your internal cues and use them as a guide to self-correct.
- If you simply cannot get onboard, avoid spending too much time on the soapbox or waging war against the change. Negativity is counterproductive.
- Avoid becoming toxic to the business: developing a reputation as an unprofessional naysayer can damage your career long-term.
Approaching Change Positively
- Remember, your brain actually grows when trying new things. (It’s called “neuroplasticity,” and there’s a whole field devoted to it.) Force yourself to keep an open mind and embrace newness.
- When changes are presented, it’s fine to communicate the potential risks, as you see them, in a constructive manner. However, it’s important not to make it personal, and to move on once you’ve said your piece.
- Never harp on your resistance with subordinates or customers. This can be futile and harmful, since both rely on you for leadership and inspiration.
- Always remember your place in the grand scheme of things: there are times to lead and there are times to follow. Sometimes your boss just needs support, not controversy.
- Keep in mind that you might be wrong when you’re against a particular change. I remember when I resisted buying an iPhone — and boy, was I wrong!
- It’s okay to leave your job because you don’t agree with changes. When the CEO of Zappos embraced holocracy and removed hierarchy, lots of employees who fundamentally disagreed with the change took control of their circumstances by exiting the company.
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