While vacationing in Canada, I was drawn to a local newspaper caption that read something like: “Grandmother, 101, Dies Playing Video Games.” The lady had been an immigrant who, settled in the Canadian wilds, encountered change and challenge all her life. I was amazed. Horse-drawn vehicles and candlelight were the mode when this lady began adulthood, yet she adapted to increasingly rapid change and died, the darling of her grandchildren, modem in hand! Such lives hold powerful examples for us as we confront change at work or in our personal lives. This woman’s story illustrates three keys for staying right-side-up in the face of change.
Know what you stand for and who you are. The grandmother was described as a woman of faith. Early on, she had adopted Solomon’s maxim: “There is nothing new under the sun.” With this value she encountered change with more curiosity, less fear. How was this new twist like ones encountered before? What do values say about how much to embrace a particular change? Thus, while neighbors incurred debt to enlarge rapidly, our heroine (now a widow) embraced a small amount of debt, but stayed primarily with “pay-as-you-go.” This saved her during the Depression.
Close in importance to knowing what you stand for is knowing who you are and what you’re primarily looking for in handling change. Managing with Style: A Guide to Understanding, Assessing, and Improving Decision-Making by Alan Rowe and Richard Mason identifies four decision styles for change and needs associated with each style.
Analytical decision-makers prefer working alone, methodically, with ample data. They need to analyze the data and will resist change until they can do so. The conceptual decision style is empathic, nurturing, harmony-seeking and team-oriented. Crisis results if these folks perceive change as adversely affecting someone in their group. The directive style takes charge, seeks to implement rules and enjoys achievement. Problems result if directive-copers can’t see their own roles in driving change, and/or don’t see clear implementation of rules and anticipated results.
To know one’s decision style and the needs associated with it is to know where to direct energies when facing change.
Embrace change head-on. Easy to write, hard to do. But if we ask, “How might this change further my values and goals in the end?”, one can come at change looking for opportunity rather than anxiously avoiding or resisting it. If change is imposed, or is traumatic, then dread of more change can be expected. Under these conditions, the old saying, “Knocked down three times, get up four,” applies. Solutions and new chances are to be found amidst the chaos. Get help, persevere. As Kay Cross, a woman who suddenly lost a comfortable job, writes at ideafit.com/fitness-expert/kay-cross: “Initially, change was about survival. Little did I know that this change would become my sole motivation to build [my own profitable business].”
Expect change and accept it. Expectancy is a powerful driver. Our brains often fill in details based on what we expect, not on what reality is actually delivering. If we expect change to be “just until things get back to normal,” we will be bewildered. Today’s changes are “viral,” according to James Gleick’s May 2011 article in Smithsonian magazine. They evolve quickly and spread far (think hand-held computing devices). To avoid being overwhelmed by “too much information” (TMI), we must embrace our own faith and values, not the false sense of control that expecting sameness affords.
Accepting change is less difficult if we expect it, but is a challenge even then. Knowing that change—especially unanticipated or unwanted change—will bring several phases en route to acceptance will help. In Take this Job and Love It: How to Change Your Work Without Changing Your Job, Dennis Jaffe and Cynthia Scott identify five phases we’ll go through during change.
Initially, there is excitement as change lifts us out of routine. We think about new possibilities. As change occurs, though, we doubt ourselves and grieve for what was. This continues until we “bottom-out,” find new energies and explore new possibilities. Change transition is complete when we have embraced the new and are growing. If we acknowledge that change involves some self-doubt and grief, and allow ourselves, sometimes with help, to work through these feelings, we adapt faster.
That Canadian grandmother can inspire us all regarding the ability to adapt. We’ve become used to a sea of options. When the storms of change reduce those options, we forget how resourceful we can be. In fact, concerning change, the grandmother’s world is our own. As Susan Taylor recently wrote in Essence magazine:
Our foreparents lived through…upheavals so cataclysmic…we may never appreciate the fortitude and resilience required to survive them…They blended old and new worlds…and they encouraged their children…toward an unknown but malleable future.
If we take cues from our forebears, we can remember how flexibly we’re created, says Steve Singleton in “Coping With Change: Develop Your Personal Strategy.” We can adapt and grow through any change, and can say goodbye to “TMI.” iBi