Archive | Change

New Normal


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“New normal.”

I dislike that phrase.

It makes me uncomfortable.

Because it’s new. And it’s dissonant. Normal should feel comfortable, because, well, it’s normal. But New Normal is new. And new can be fresh and shiny and invigorating. And – Or – it can be scary and uncomfortable. Like new shoes that haven’t quite been broken in yet. Like a room full of faces I haven’t met yet. Like a room full of faces with one important face missing.

It is better than the chaos out of which it has settled.

It is a soft (hopefully) landing for the other shoe when it drops.

It is landing in Oz, which is better than the tornado, but is still new and full of the unexpected, both helpful and beautiful and frightening and dangerous.

It is going back to Kansas and everything is the same… except for Dorothy.

*  *  *

I had an important realization several years ago, when writing “Remember to Look Up.” I realized that when we make a comeback, the place we come back to is usually quite different from the place we started. Different from where we were when disaster struck.

We come back to a new normal. There. A new normal. End of story. Everything should be fine, right?

No.

The term itself is deceptively simple.

Because how can you come back to someplace you’ve never been before?

The “new normal” is uncharted territory.

And the traveller has been changed.

These thoughts were prompted by a recent conversation with a dear friend, and by reading a poem the next day by a person whose heart had been broken – shattered – into a million pieces. Both spoke of how nothing will ever be the same. Their loved one is different – or gone. And they, themselves, are different. Nothing will ever be the same.

*  *  *

For most of us, most of the time, every day is a New Normal. We just don’t realize it because the change is so gradual.

But after a cataclysm of any kind – death, major illness, natural disaster, breakup, job loss, even Awakening or Enlightenment, the list goes on and on – the change is significant, and follows a major shift or a period of chaos.

The situation is different.

The world is different.

The people around us may be different.

Our worldview, our expectations, our dreams, our abilities, our illusions are different.

We are different.

The New Normal isn’t normal when we get there; it becomes normal as we settle into it. And that can take a long time.

And may require grieving for the Old Normal.

For the one who is gone. For our innocence. For our old beliefs and dreams. For _________.

“Mount St. Helens will never be the same. But the hills around it have turned green again and life has returned to the mountainsides.”

The new normal may be better than the old normal, but it still takes getting used to.

The new normal may be worse than the old normal, but it’s better than the chaos.

Either way, the old normal must be grieved and released. That is when the new normal really takes hold.

The good news, or the bad news, depending on your outlook, is that even this new normal is only temporary.


Have you ever found yourself at a New Normal?

Please tell me about it in the Comments.

Intentional Overflow


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This morning I was on a weekly conference call with a handful of friends who are also entrepreneurs in helping professions. As always, it was a rich conversation. Today we touched on many interrelated topics, including priorities, questioning how we define “productivity,” setting boundaries, keeping commitments to ourselves, and fun.

In other words, a typical conversation!

During the conversation I was reminded of an exercise I had gone through with another group of friends. We had gathered for a monthly potluck dinner, and each of us had been asked to bring our favorite cup or mug. The hostess had prepared a large punch-bowl full of water, and she led us through a meditation in which she poured water into our cups until they were overflowing. She asked us to consider this question:

What are you willing to let flow out of your life in order to let something new flow in?

Hmmm.

So, today I asked myself these questions:

What activities am I willing to stop doing to make time (or energy) for different activities?

What commitments, relationships, or partnerships no longer serve their purpose or do not serve both sides equally?

What beliefs do I hold that keep me from moving forward, that I can release to make room for beliefs that make progress possible?

Hmmm.

I am willing to stop breaking commitments to myself and protect my time for writing.

I am willing to release certain partnerships that have run their course to make more time and energy available for personal growth and projects in other areas.

I am willing let go of the belief that people want to pay me for my services out of charity, just to help me build my business, and make room for the belief that what I do is really valuable to them.

Letting go can be hard, but when the time is right it can be very easy.

What about you? Please tell me in the comments:

What are you willing to let flow out of your life in order to let something new flow in?

Image: Darren Robertson / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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Take Life by the Lapels and Shake It


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November 3, 2010. Today my late husband, Robert (the) Bruce MacRury, would have been 62. This is his fifth birthday since his death on June 14, 2005.

This birthday is a lot different from the first birthday. One of the things any widow(er) can tell you is that the first of anything is hard. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Holidays. Weddings, baptisms, funerals. The first car accident. The first time you have to figure out how to turn on the sprinklers. The first date. Some of those you see coming, some you don’t. But it’s still the first time you have to go through it without him. (Or her.)

One of the things I learned pretty quickly is that the anticipation is usually worse than the actual event. After dreading the event for days (or weeks) in advance, it was almost anticlimactic once it arrived. But perhaps that is because I also learned to be gentle with myself on those days. Although there was little planning I was able to do in those early days when all I could do was take each day one at a time, I did plan what I was going to do on those days. Even if it was only to plan to do nothing, or to play it by ear.

On Bruce’s first birthday after his death, I took the day off from work and went to a local park with a big lake. Bruce loved lakes and lake life, and if we didn’t live near a lake we would always find one near us and go hang out there whenever we could. So I honored the day by keeping some traditions, such as getting the first carton of eggnog of the season and a cranberry-orange muffin, and I went to the lake.

As I drove into the park, fairly early in the morning, the woman in the gatehouse asked if I was there to go fishing. “No,” I told her, “It’s my late husband’s birthday so I’m here to have a talk with him.” And she said, “Cool. Tell him I said Hi.” So I did.

I sat on the dock and drank eggnog and ate half the muffin and threw the other half in the water, along with a rose. I just sat and enjoyed the quietness of the lake, and talked to Bruce, and missed him. Then I made a little spirit bundle of autumn leaves and feathers, and went home.

The next year, when I was no longer living so one-day-at-a-time and was able to plan a little further in advance, I went to Yosemite for four days. By myself. We had been to Yosemite twice together, and it was a special place. This was also a special trip, symbolic in that it was my first trip by myself.

Every year it gets easier, although it is never Easy. I still miss him. He was smart, and courageous, and funny. He could always make me laugh. (When I showed the slide show for his memorial service to the minister who was to lead it, she said, “He was goofy, wasn’t he?” Yes, he was.) He was always up for an adventure. He watched cartoons on Saturday mornings. He would go out of his way to help people, and he was a teacher and mentor. He was my favorite person. And he believed in me.

I was talking to two girlfriends a couple of years ago, and I made the comment that I was very lucky. “You’re still lucky,” one of them said. She’s right.

It does get easier. It is a process. The third year I went back to the lake with a friend, and I can’t remember what I did last year (which says something). This year there was very little anticipation, and I am writing this post.

It does get easier. It is a process. I have reconnected with the wonder and sense of adventure that was part of our lives before. It’s part of what helped me commit to being here once I started to come up for air. I have learned not to drive myself crazy with guilt and what-ifs. I have learned not to ask, “Would I do this if Bruce were here?” He’s not here, so that question doesn’t have a place here either. I do sometimes ask, “What would Bruce say?” and that’s another question entirely.

I look at life differently now. I appreciate it more. I live it more. Not by going skydiving; I notice it more. I choose it more. And sometimes I have to grab it by the lapels and give it a good shake. I was thinking about that image last night, and how it’s not exactly a very Zen image. And yet it is a completely Zen, in-the-moment-right-now thing to do.

I have fallen in love twice since Bruce died. Neither relationship turned out the way I had hoped, but we are still friends. Those relationships do not diminish what I had with Bruce, nor does what I had with him diminish other relationships. I am writing, and singing, and taking photographs, and starting my own business. I am living a life I could not envision in the first months after he died. Life is good, even when it’s hard.

It is really too bad that it takes something significant like this to wake a person up, to make a person choose life. Maybe it doesn’t have to; maybe I can help with that. You can live. You can choose.

Yes, I look at life differently now. And I’m ok. I think Bruce would be happy to know that. And he’d be proud.

Happy Birthday, Bruce.

Creativity, Change, and the Edge of Chaos


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Not so long ago I wrote about chaos and our fear that chaos is the only possible outcome – and a negative one at that – of trying something new. In that post I wrote about the importance of suspending disbelief in the idea of a positive outcome. (You can read that post here.) I even went so far as to suggest that Chaos is not necessarily bad, at least as a transitional state.

Well, in a recent blog post at Rise of the Innerpreneur, Tara Joyce writes that Chaos is the result of too much structure – and the result of too little structure. What? Chaos as a result of too much structure? That’s right. Most of us would probably accept without a second thought the idea that Chaos is at least a possible result of too little structure.  But with too much structure, a system strangles and the system fails, also leading to Chaos.

When a structure is changed or taken away, we fear chaos. I wrote about this in another blog post about my recent experience with circles. At a recent conference that was held in Open Space format, the typical conference structure did not exist. But that lack of structure did not result in Chaos: “It was somewhat uncomfortable, at least initially, for those who are more comfortable with Structure – even if they admitted it was only so they could resist that structure – but there was no Chaos.” There was likely no Chaos because the old, rigid structure was replaced with a different structure. Even a change of structure can feel like chaos must be just around the corner. But we have to live at the edge of chaos in order to change.

Tara makes an excellent point:

“Living at the edge of chaos

This is where life and creativity exist. They can’t be limited by too much structure or failed to let unfold in the moment through too much planning.

It’s a process of listening to, and trusting in, the ideas within us; then revealing those ideas through our action.”

I love that. The edge of chaos as an ideal state. In order to grow, in order to thrive, we must live at the edge of chaos, whether in business or elsewhere in life. I would also submit that living at the edge of chaos is an antidote to tunnel vision, which is a symptom of too much structure – in thinking and beliefs, and in human systems.

In my earlier post I proposed that Chaos is not necessarily a bad thing – as a transitional state. You know how when you start a major house-cleaning project, it always looks worse than when you started? That is Chaos as a transitional state. But maybe it is really the edge of chaos – it simply brings Chaos from being part of the wallpaper to being front-and-center while a new order is created.

At the end of my earlier post, I asked these questions:

Can we suspend our disbelief in the possibility that the outcome of trying something new can be anything other than anarchy, failure, or ridicule?

Can you suspend your disbelief long enough to give it a try?

Now I reframe those questions: Are you willing to live at the edge of chaos in order to make a space for creativity, change, growth?

And I add this question: Are you willing to help others step out onto the edge?

Life’s ABCs – About Blindspots and Change


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Once Upon a Time, I was preparing a presentation for a group of IT students. The topic that had been given to me was, “This Isn’t Your Father’s Career” (a reference to a car ad at the time). A keystone of my presentation was the importance of being able to effectively deal with change: Technology changes every fifteen minutes, and one must be able to roll with the changes, so cultivating the ability to cope with change would be a key factor in their future success.

Silly me, but I was surprised that they just gave me blank looks when I presented this idea. I still don’t know if it was because their lives had been so full of change so far – changing classes every semester, changing family structures, changing majors – that they just took change for granted, or because their lives had been so stable that they couldn’t even imagine the types of change they would be facing. Both groups probably had a number of surprises in store for them later in their lives.

The reason I am telling you this story is that I realized something important when I was preparing for this presentation. I saw myself as being very good at coping with change; I had moved around the country several times, I had started several new jobs quite successfully, and I was a change agent in most of those jobs. The great realization, however, was that I was really good at dealing with change – as long as it was my idea. I realized that in many cases where a change wasn’t my idea I had to take some time to get used to the idea, to internalize it. Then I was great at implementing it and making it work. But not always right away.

The beauty of this realization was that once it dawned on me, it became easier for me to deal with changes that were not my idea. What had once been a blind spot was now visible to me.

I think that I am not alone in this. In the course of managing programs, facilitating meetings or providing career counseling to others when we are often discussing changes of one kind or another, I can see when people get that overwhelmed, Deer-in-the-Headlights look. People often say to me, “I’m not good at dealing with change.” Or, they’ve said, “I’m great at dealing with change, I specialize in facilitating change.” Either way, when I tell them my story, people invariably stop, giggle and blush, and then often break out into laughter. They nod appreciatively. And they relax.

Dealing with change instigated by others – or by fate – requires us to acknowledge that we don’t control everything. We do, however, get to control how we respond to the change. Am I going to resist? Am I going to take the role of victim? Or am I going to take ownership of how I respond?

The other important thing I realized is that if I am not alone in how I deal with changes that aren’t my idea, I must be more sensitive to the impact on others of the changes I instigate. That is easier said than done.

How do you feel about change? Do you welcome it? Do you instigate it? Do you drag your feet? Do you drag others along with you, kicking and screaming? Answering these questions honestly may help us all as we move forward through these interesting times.

PS – If you’re dealing with major changes right now, you might be interested in my e-book, “Remember to Look Up: 35 Tips for Making a Comeback in Your Job, Career or Life.”

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