Be it in our personal or our professional lives, #change tends to most often be brought on from the outside – and it can be welcome or unwelcome. If it is welcome, we embrace it much more easily – just like positive change that we choose to bring into our lives ourselves. However, if change is unwelcome, forced upon us, we are not necessarily willing to embrace it – we resist. We find the psychological transition it takes rather unpleasant – we don’t want it.
Yet that change may be inevitable – there may be nothing we can do to avoid it. However, adapting to the new context and situation is a process. None of us can just take the ‘Tarzan swing’ from our previous ‘place in the sun’ to complete new adjustment and fresh ‘flourishing’. Each of us goes through what Claes Andersen so aptly described as the ‘Four Rooms of Change’, with lots of confusion – some do this faster, some more slowly, some get stuck for a while or for good … but we all have to move through, in the exact same sequence.
Being a trained change consultant myself, I had of course thought for quite some time “Sure, I can do this – in terms of personality type, I tend to welcome change and novelty anyhow, and I have learned to sit with uncertainty, too.”
Well – life can teach you some humility there … If the change is big and unwelcome enough, also as a trained change consultant you really get to learn to ‘swallow your own medicine’ …! And then you go “OMG, is that me trying to deny this is happening? Is this me feeling lost? Is this me clumsily trying out different new paths …? And trying in vain to somehow bargain my way back into the old situation …?”
And what, you can proudly sit with uncertainty for … six weeks? Try three years! Really accept a profoundly changed situation and context? Having to notice that you can’t just snip your fingers and be there? That you can’t just mentally ‘teleport’ into a new situation?
In my case, acceptance that external interference changed my health context, which profoundly changed my professional situation, took much longer than I thought. I remember that young doctor who eventually scolded me “I want you to finally stop hoping!” (that you can go back to flying around the world as an international consultant). I remember how angry I was at her for being angry at me. And then … after more than seven (!) years, I suddenly noticed in myself one day “Oh – I think now I have finally stopped hoping. Now it’s okay. I have arrived at acceptance.”
And taking/needing that time is okay indeed. “It is as it is” and “It takes the time that it takes” are actually – deep wisdoms.
Already in 1969, Dr. Elisabeth Kuebler Ross pointed out the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Nowadays, we know that also this is not a linear process – that people might go back in circles to any of the stages of denial, anger, bargaining and depression. That reaching acceptance the first time around may still require reaching it again and again and again, at better and deeper levels. That ‘super-resilience’ and ‘just sailing through’ are rather rare …
Therefore, regarding big changes of that kind – have you experienced a serious illness yourself? A divorce? Betrayal by a (business) partner? A death in the family? Having to care for an elderly parent? Losing your job or your company? Having to move to a city or country you don’t necessarily like because of your partner’s new job (or your home country’s unfavorable political developments), having to leave friends and family behind? Experiencing professional disability? All of these experiences are – normal. Human. May eventually hit us – because we are not different from other people. From everybody else.
And then, what happens is that you do experience the four rooms of change and the five stages of grief, in some form. Lighter – or harder.
Eventually, it helps to actually – mourn enough. Yes, you read that right. It is necessary and healthy to mourn endings. Eventually, you may also have to consciously look at what you may have to let go of in order to adjust to your new context. And yet later at how you can integrate your new experience with your life narrative as it came before – simply because even with disruption, we long for some kind of coherence. So we try to eventually (re-)construct some coherent narrative.
I just want you to know, especially if your ‘big change’ situation is still rather new to you, that all this is normal. And that you are not alone. Feel free to write to me privately if you would like to confidentially share your own story. And feel free to seek support through coaching and/or therapy – it can help hugely to look at everything with somebody well-trained who can competently look in from the outside, so we can now start constructing what we so far used to consider our ‘self’ and our life – slightly differently.