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.”