When we are dumped into change, our favorite strategy is to try to recover our lives as quickly as possible. . . Because there's a part of us that feels we've failed when life takes an unexpected (or even expected) turn, we really don't want others to know what we're going through. . . so we gloss over details, put a smile on and do what we can to make our lives look good while we try to get things back on track.
Society's general lack of support during times of change reinforces our feelings that change is bad and that we're failing in some way if our lives are in flux.
--Carol L. McLelland, Seasons of Change: Using Nature's Wisdom to Grow Through Life's Inevitable Ups and Downs
Friend and fellow mastermind group member Nancy Seibel of Keys to Change recently pointed me in the direction of Carol McLelland's excellent Seasons of Change. It's full of wisdom about the change process and how it is a natural part of our lives that we can embrace and work with, rather than actively fight or ignore as so many of us do.
The quote above contains a few gems about how we often respond to change that I wanted to highlight here:
"When we are dumped into change, our favorite strategy is to try to recover our lives as quickly as possible.
Change makes us feel off-center, off-kilter, so our first response is usually to do whatever we can to return the world to the way that it was. We feel a loss of control, so we do what we can to regain some measure of mastery over our lives.
We lose our job and must immediately find a new one. We break up with a partner and find that our first order of business is to start dating again so we can find someone else. Even when we experience the death of a loved one, we look for ways to make life return to "normal."
Unfortunately, this impulse to get back on track means that we don't engage in crucial activities that can help us make sense of the change and use it to develop ourselves in healthy ways. We end up stuffing feelings and often find that we are simply changing our circumstances, rather than more deeply integrating the lessons of the change.
"Because there's a part of us that feels we've failed when life takes an unexpected (or even expected) turn, we really don't want others to know what we're going through. . . so we gloss over details, put a smile on and do what we can to try to make our lives look good while we try to get things back on track."
While some changes don't carry a stigma of failure, many changes do. Losing a job, in particular, seems to trigger feelings of shame and unworthiness that cause us to withdraw from other people. I've also seen people do this when they go through the natural changes that come with aging or when people see a need to make changes in their relationships or other aspects of their personal lives.
As a society, we like people to have their shit together. WE like to have our shit together. Certainty and having goals is the ultimate success. When we find ourselves in the messy confusion that inevitably comes with change, we are immediately thrust into a world that can feel fraught with the potential for failure, so we do what we can to shut it down.
I think that social media contributes to this phenomenon. There's tremendous pressure to interact on social networks in a way that "adds value," (especially professionally) which means NOT sharing our insecurities or confusion or worries about how we will deal with changes.
When you are in "job search mode," you are meant to only show the shiny, wonderful, "value-add" parts of yourself, not the scared, worried, confused pieces. This pressure to have a positive personal brand means that there is even less space for us to experience and explore our changes in the company of supportive relationships. It makes it more difficult for us to grieve what we've lost and can even make us think there's something wrong with us since everyone else seems to be in great shape.
McLelland goes on to say:
Is it possible that our confusion about and pain over change stems from our detachment from the natural rhythms of our lives? How can we possible embrace the natural cycles of birth and death in our own lives when our scientifically-based, results-oriented worldview sees change only as an event to be mastered?
This is the heart of it, I think. We've lost sight of change--of the death of one way of being and the birth of another--as natural parts of life.
As McLelland points out, we have a mentality of "continuous expansion" where growth is always good and where we "have a fear of darkness that leads us to deem each contraction, death or downturn a failure. . . we see all changes in our lives as personal failures that shouldn't have happened, but did because we did something wrong."
Yes, some changes may come about because we made regrettable choices, but in reality, change is an inevitable and natural part of life. Even if we try to stand still, change is swirling all around us and it always pulls us in its wake.
But here's the lesson we must embrace.
Change is not a sign that we've failed. It's a sign that we're alive.