If there’s one constant in today’s world, it seems to be change. And if there’s one thing that most people crave, it’s predictability. These are obviously at odds with each other and tend to lead to a lot of stress. While change may not represent the unknown, it definitely doesn’t gel with the known. Change happens in everyone’s lives. It could have to do with relationships, work, health, a move, and just about anything else. How we deal with change often depends on what’s different and in what light that change is viewed. It’s also how we can define ourselves.
There are three flavors of change: negative, neutral, and positive. Each one has its own implications. Negative change is about adversity and what we do about it. It can certainly help if we are able anticipate what’s coming and prepare for it. On the other hand, it can hit us like a ton of bricks. As examples of both, I mentioned in Making Your Own Destiny that I made a career direction change at the end of 1999. The first job I went to fell victim to a .com merger that went wrong and everyone in my position (all 5 of us) got axed. I knew about it early and took the call on my patio having a beer after having a great job interview. That was easy. When the next job went bad due to VC drying up, I didn’t expect that call at all. Events moved very quickly and I was the sole provider for a wife and toddler. This was one of the more stressful times in my life. I had no choice but to make job hunting my job. The next job has worked out well and I’ve been there ever since. Whatever the negative change may be, it’s often irreversible. It’s important not to dwell on the past if possible and figure out what you can do in the present to improve your future. Getting your mind around overcoming the negative change or figuring out how to adjust to it is what’s most important.
Neutral change is likely the most common variety. These are changes that affect your life but aren’t major upheavals. Minor injuries or illnesses, revised job tasks, a minor financial hiccup, and rain on your vacation are good examples. These tend to be a little negative but also are short-term. They’re often not worth getting upset over and can be spun in a positive light. The injury can give you time to do something else you’ve been meaning to get to. A rainy vacation may alter your plans but still give you the chance for a fun time with some good stories. A revised job may actually give you the chance to get ahead. When a neutral change occurs there tend to be two camps of dealing with it. There’s the people who tend to gripe about it and resist. When talking about the new situation, they’ll often say “Yeah, but…”. You can see the mental anchor holding them back. The other camp either shrugs it off or takes it as a sign of opportunity. If the new reality isn’t that different from the old one then why sweat it? It’s often best to just move ahead and adapt. Not only does this cause less mental anguish, it helps you have a brighter outlook on life. My work example here is organizational change. I’m happy to say that I’ve got the same manager I had last year. That’s a first for me over the last half dozen years. Each time I’d see a slight tweak to my organization structure, my job remained essentially the same at its core. I was working for very qualified people who each had slightly different styles of managing. None of that was enough to upset the apple cart. I was able to gain the new boss’ confidence by just taking the change as a fact of life and working a bit harder and smarter. Each time worked out better than the last as I learned how to adapt.
The final type of change is positive in nature. Something has gone your way and the world often gets easier to deal with. This is when most people either coast some or take the chance to go at life a little harder. Positive change is obviously good but it often involves new responsibilities or at least the ability to capitalize on the opportunity. Really big positive changes like a new child, new job, a promotion, or getting married can really have an impact on people’s lives. My latest personal example was working for a promotion last year. That promotion was to essentially a higher level of the job I had been doing. I used that experience to do some higher profile work and set a vision of a job with some really different responsibilities. I talk more about that in Making Your Own Destiny – Part 2.
So keep in mind those changes in your life. They can sneak up on you and reframe how you look at the world. A change in and of itself can mean some upheaval but also can leave you better off than you were before.