Change is scary. Change is stressful. Change is difficult.
We may not like where we’re at, but there’s something comforting about being in a rut. We’re familiar with the rut and know the texture of the dirt, we’ve made friends with the worms and are used to the smell of decaying leaves, decomposing wood, dying dreams. Why bother changing?
Often, we don’t make major changes in our selves our work or our relationships unless we’re truly unhappy or can see no other options. What keeps our feet glued to the ground even when we know we’re on the wrong path?
Fear. Fear cloaked in uncertainty or insecurity or anxiety may just be the culprit. Change has inherent risks, so fear is completely understandable. It makes sense to fear the unknown, question if we’re good enough, wonder if we have what it takes to succeed. If we’ve spent years in a rut, we might worry about the fitness of our brains and bodies. Can this old dog learn new tricks? Crazy as it may sound, if we’ve never felt accomplished, we might even fear success!
Here is why change is worth all the time and effort it takes to be courageous:
Change is necessary for personal growth, and personal growth is key to living a meaningful and happy life.
Humans are wired to be curious, to learn, to evolve. This is most evident in children, but it’s also true for grownups (unless bad experiences have quashed curiosity). Every time we gain knowledge or learn a skill, we are morphing into new and improved versions of ourselves. Unfortunately, as adults, it’s easy to look past this truth. We may expect to get to a certain place in life and then just coast along, content. But then—surprise! We’re not done. We’re still growing and changing!
Each time we put ourselves in a situation that’s outside our comfort zone, we gift ourselves an opportunity. That’s right, it’s an opportunity, and we should try to frame it as such. Even better, as we successfully push the boundaries of the comfort zone, that zone actually expands! How cool is that!
Now if learning, growth, and change are so good for us, and we need to do it all of our lives, why does our society not emphasize this? Why are we raised to think that once we reach certain goals; career, life-partner and whatever else, we can cease changing and “live happily ever after”?
One explanation can be found in our educational system. Research on kids and sports has shown that as kids age, they usually stop participating in sports, not because they no longer enjoy it, but because the game has become too competitive. Simply put, they don’t feel good enough. It seems we’re socialized to believe that if we can’t be really good at something, we shouldn’t do it at all. But when it comes to new challenges, how many of us are really good or even exhibit promise right from the start? More importantly, unless we want this activity to pay our bills, does it really matter how good we are?
I have a friend who recently retired and began studying violin. He had always loved string instruments and decided to devote the beginning of his retirement years to the project. He found a teacher, enrolled in community college classes to learn music theory (even though he already has a PhD in another field), and hopes to one day be good enough to play in a community orchestra. He readily admits that the screeching sound he made during his first several months of lessons was awful. Still, he persisted, and now he’s thrilled with his own music. It’s amazing! If something adds fulfillment or fun to life, let go of judgment and go for it.
I love to dance, I love Zumba. I’ve been doing it for years despite crunchy knees and shoulder surgery, and it is the only form of exercise that can slap a smile on my face every single time I do it. In the course of discussions with friends and clients about fitness, I’ll often suggest they try classes, and maybe even, dare I say it, Zumba! People usually respond with either, “I like to dance, maybe I should try it—standing at the back,” or “I have 2 left feet, I can’t dance.” Here’s the thing, one needn’t be a salsa deva to enjoy moving to music. I’ve seen plenty of people in Zumba happily doing their own thing. In fact, sometimes I’m so wrapped up in the beat, I also do go rogue with the steps! Life should be about finding our joys and pursuing them. Own your joy! Get your groove on!
Of course, taking on a new hobby is not the same as making a career change. When we change careers, we are risking our livelihood and stability, leaving behind co-workers and all that is familiar. That said,if we’re unhappy at work, that’s a lot of hours of unhappiness. And unless retirement is imminent, we may have many miserable years ahead of us if we don’t change things.
Mental illness continues to be the leading reason that workers file for social security disability and is often triggered by work stress. When I speak with people who feel trapped in a job, I always begin with strengths. Once strengths are identified, possible changes usually become evident. For those considering career changes, here are just a few quick suggestions:
Perhaps the most difficult area of life to make changes in is our relationships. There are many reasons for this including the following:
Developing strong relationships is actually the surest way to improve our physical and emotional lives. Thanks to the 75-year Harvard Grant and Glueck Study, we now know that having good close relationships is the most accurate predictor of health and happiness in old age. This was true for both men and women.
Are you Convinced? Let’s get started! Change can be a long road, but once you step on the right path, you’re as good as there!Here are three tips to help get you moving.
Striving for perfection insures that you’ll ALWAYS be disappointed. When we seek perfection, we spend all our time searching for the tiny things we did wrong, the minute mistakes that must be corrected. All that searching for the negative not only fills our heads with put downs, it also leaves little room for feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, or even self-worth. It’s hard to feel worthy when we are busy telling ourselves that whatever we did wasn’t good enough and needs improvement.
Life is messy and imperfect, and so are we. We come into life destined to make mistakes and even sometimes fail. It is through our mistakes that we learn and grow, and through our failures that we develop not only resilience, but compassion and empathy.Mistakes mean learning. Perfection means never ending neuroses and “crazy making.” Don’t make yourself crazy!
For more on this, pick up a copy of Kristin Neff’s fabulous book, SELF-COMPASSION, or visit her website: www.self-compassion.org.
We all come into the world with our own unique personality, strengths and talents. Measuring ourselves against others leads to unhappiness for several reasons:
The best way to get moving is to set meaningful, realistic goals. Keep them handy in a place you’ll easily see them and don’t be afraid to modify them whenever necessary. Then, once they’re achieved, make sure you’ve got new ones. Visualize achieving your goals. If something is important, it deserves time and energy.
Celebrate your victories. I grew up in a family that was chock full of depression and anxiety. But as time passed and my parents grew older, there was a philosophical shift toward celebration. The difference was profound. It was life changing. My parents, now in their eighties are focused on celebrating life, and you should be too. Celebrate your victories and achievements, find reasons to be happy, count your blessings and share love with others. Appreciating the positive brings more than just momentary joy, it can actually help sustain us during darker times.
One more bonus tip: If you need it, ask for help.Don’t be afraid to phone a family member, meet with a friend, or reach out to a professional.
Here’s to Courage!
Here’s to Change!
Here’s to a New You!