Monday, July 8, 2013

Change is Inevitable, Suffering Isn’t: Strategies for Managing Change

After 35 years of working hard and loving every minute of it, my mother is retiring.
For my mom, this moment came as a surprise. Of course, a part of her brain was aware of this reality but the other part was in a complete denial. 
For some people, work is a paycheck; a means to get the bills paid and live life. For others, work is a sense of purpose; a validation that their existence means something to someone and that by doing their job and living their life purpose...the world is becoming a better place. For my mom, the latter was the case and this is why it felt to her that someone had just turned off the lights in the middle of the show. 
In Israel, we have a perfect example that age has nothing to do with who you are and what you are capable of doing.  Shimon Peres, at age 90 and Israel’s President, is living proof that as long as you feel you have something to contribute to the world, then it is your obligation to do so.
So the question to ask is, why is it so confusing and scary, at times, for people like my mother to retire.  I think the answer lies in our ability to manage change or better yet, manage life transitions.
Transitions as a Journey Across a Bridge
Some of the changes in our lives are by choice and our response to the change is positive. Other changes are being forced on us and our response to them might be negative. Either way we need to realize that we are leaving something behind (if we get married – we leave our single life behind, when we start a family – we leave our freedom and sleep behind, when we lose our jobs – we leave our routine and security behind, when we age – we leave our youth behind and all the possibilities we could have had). That is when the journey starts. It is like crossing a bridge. Sometimes we are excited about the journey, and sometimes we are scared. Sometimes the bridges are short and the view is spectacular and sometimes it is long and foggy and we can’t see what’s on the other side. At times we run fast on the bridge, can’t wait to start the new chapter in our lives and sometimes, we refuse to take a single step, holding on to the railing and keeping looking back to all the things that we left behind.
Harry Woodwards, in his book “Navigating Through Change” has identified four human reactions to change:
·         Confusion – “I’m ok but my whole world is destroyed”
·         Denial – “If I don’t talk about it or think about it – it doesn’t really happen to me”
·         Anger -  “Just as it happened to me, it will happen to you too!”
·         Loss – “Who am I if I am no longer have my career or my identity as a spouse?”
All four reactions have a positive aspect (in moderation) and negative aspects that we must watch out for. We have the ability to recognize the type of reaction that we have, validate our feelings and deal with the difficulties. If we choose to stay “stuck” in any of the reactions – we will never be able to progress in the transitional journey and start a new chapter.
Managing the Road Blocks
Sometimes transitions are difficult because of the things that keep holding us back. My friend and colleague, Myriam Khalifa, had suggested that there could be others areas in our life other than our reaction to change that we should look at, such as: 
·         Others – beliefs and thoughts of people who are close to us. For example, “my parents raised me to always put my family first, before my own needs”.
·         World – circumstances in our life, such as financial crisis, “our mortgage is upside down”, conflicts in the middle east etc.- all that prevent me from leaving the place I am at now.
·         Work/Stay home – logistics around the house, commitments that we have at work/home. For example, “my paycheck is really good, even if I’m unhappy with my job”. Or, “I don’t have time for what I really want to do since I have to be here for my children”.
Sometime we are so bogged down by the roadblocks that we can’t even start thinking of our dreams. Every time we dare to come up with a new idea for ourselves, a roadblock pops in our mind and we soon let go of our dreams. Why not, instead of letting go of our dreams, let go of the roadblocks. This does not mean letting go of the people and responsibilities we have. It means, letting go of the thought that we can’t do things because of our responsibilities.
Tools for Dealing with Transitions:
  • Recognize and identify the situation: time of transition. What kind of bridge it is? Where are you on this bridge?
  • Re-connecting to your core essence. You are much more than the roles you have in your life.
  • Understanding the natural process of transition and the kind of reaction that you have.
  • Make an inventory – what has really changed in your life and what has stayed the same?
  • Allow time to mourn. Even if the change is positive – you are leaving something behind.
  • Try to enjoy this time of uncertainty. Dare to dream again about a new bright future. Stay open to new ideas and thoughts.
  • Take care of yourself!  What makes you calm and happy? – Do it!
  • This is the time to rely on your support group (friends and family). You are always there for them…it is time for them to remind you how wonderful and capable a person you are!
  • If the change gives you some free time – enjoy it.
  • Don’t worry!  Its going to be OK. Your body is feeling the stress, allow it to breathe deep and relax.
  • Let your emotion be. The more you try to fight sadness and insecurity – the more power they will have over you. We all want to feel positive feelings, but there are other kinds too. Recognize your own feelings and don’t let them take you off track.
  • Be brave – trust your core essence and god’s gifts
  • Instead of saying “I used to be” or “I had” – say: “I hope to be” or “I plan to do”
  • Even if feels that someone had turned off the lights...we always can turn them back on.
I’d like to wish my mother a smooth journey crossing the bridge into retirement and finding a new and fulfilling new chapter in her life.

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