Change is positive, change is good. Change is what allows us to grow, to expand our horizons, to seek out new opportunities, to boldly go where he have not gone before (for all you Trekkies). All true. Without change we would turn inwards, wither on the vine. And yet, every time we change we leave a little something behind. We turn our backs on a part of what made us who we are. You see, every change, no matter how desired, requires sacrifice.
Equally, every change, no matter how well planned and thought through, will never be implemented with the ease or simplicity it should. No matter how much we might crave the change we bring upon ourselves, it never seems to work out quite as effortlessly or as smoothly as we’d imagined. Did you ever notice that? Fitting new into old always seems to require more adjust than it ought, whatever the change we are bringing about.
Let’s start with the simple material changes. Try redecorating. Start that process and you are painting the Forth Bridge (Canadian readers – google here). Do the walls and the ceilings need doing; start with the trim and every door needs painting; move a picture and there are a thousand holes to fill; paint one room and every other looks shabby. You’d think that replacing appliances should be a simple swap-out. Not so in the land of the non-standardised units it ain’t. Fridges come in different widths – 30”, 33” and 36”. Except the one we are taking out is 35”. So the simple act of replacing an appliance means alterations to cabinetry, touching up the decoration that was finished just last year, skimming a half inch of cupboard doors. Another example – who doesn’t love a new car? But is it bigger or smaller than the last? Does it fit the garage? You can’t find that perfect adjustment for the seat and wheel. That space for the cloth/phone/mints isn’t there in the new car. The controls are unfamiliar, the boxes don’t fit as snugly as they did in the old one, your one-sweep entry into the garage is jerky and awkward, backwards and forwards as you learn the new dimensions, fearful of scratching that nice new paint.
It’s the same throughout life, don’t you think?
Fitting in any new routine, however much it is welcome and desired, however well you think you’ve planned and prepared for the change, means adjusting other aspects you never dreamed could be impacted.
Look back at your life. This happens time and again. That new job? The ‘50% travel’ that sounded so appealing at interview now means you must give up your weekly darts/knitting/yoga class (does anyone else take weekly knitting classes?). The extra commute means every other schedule in the house must be adjusted – maybe another car is needed, maybe additional childcare. That promotion will change your relationships at work, as well as impacting on home and family life. It’s like squeezing a balloon – the air will just pop out somewhere else. All these little adjustments will rub against another area of life. And like a shoe rubbing your heel, if you don’t fix it, you’ll get a blister which will eventually lead to that pair of shoes going to goodwill, no matter how beautiful or expensive they were.
Whether we are talking about new jobs, promotions, kids arriving, kids moving out, starting (or ending?) a relationship, moving homes, retirement – every one of these is a major life event, and as such will majorly impact every other aspect of life. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either woefully unaware or totally self-centred. I’m not saying don’t make these changes for fear of the wider impacts – I’m saying just be aware of basic physics: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction; energy is neither created nor destroyed, just transformed.
All these examples are things we should desire and exert effort to achieve. All are potentially life-enriching opportunities that will make us better human beings and add to the enhancement of society at large. But each and every one requires sacrifices you would never have dreamed possible.
In the last decade, we quit the UK to reinvent ourselves in Canada. We planned the transition with military precision and the transition went well. Until we got to the little details. We had to squeeze and shimmy ourselves into unfamiliar shoes (remember those blisters?), jabbing our old UK habits into new Canadian ones, incredulous that Canadians had never heard of Squash (the drink) or Ribena, craving the taste of decent beer or the TV shows we might have loathed but are suddenly quaint and comforting. Over the years we’ve mellowed, our sharp English corners rounded with the sandpaper of time, until our new life fits us almost like the old. Almost. And the transition has been different for each member of the family, for each sees the world through their own paradigm filters, built from personal life experiences.
And now we face another self-imposed major life event. We are slowly but inexorably shifting away from a working life directed by others. Our time of feather the nests of so many cuckoos in corporate suits is coming to an end. The end of Work is a monumental transition into the Third Age. We will replace Work with – well not quite sure yet. But this change will mean we turn our backs on the lives we’ve known and built over the last 30+ years – the conformity and comfort of the daily grind. It’s like the old lags finally released from prison after serving 20 years and now woefully unprepared for life in the real world. I want the new life of Freedom, and yet I still subscribe to the daily emails from the job boards, just in case the perfect opportunity is there to allow me to shirk this decision for a little longer. I don’t need to work – I guess the fear of NOT working and being accountable (to myself) for my every-day is the issue. Why, I don’t know. Work does give us purpose, for sure. But if work is the ONLY thing that gives us a raison d’etre, then something is very, very wrong in our lives. I can tell you from personal experience, your bosses will not think twice about taking a sharp knife to that lifeline you cling to so perilously if it suits, no matter how many outstanding evaluations you received.
But now, faced with the reality, cutting loose and taking accountability for the every-day, making my own schedule free of the demands of conference calls and dreary, pointless meetings, is actually far harder than it should be. I’m finding I make my own deadlines for life instead (and any former leaders might be amused to know, I still miss my deadlines, even though self-imposed!). I’m busy learning Spanish (not sure why, but it seemed a good language for potential snow birding somewhere down the line). I’m clinging to my youth by trying to learn guitar for the dozenth time. And this writing thing – my one true passion in all of this – is the one piece I find extraordinarily hard to get going. And my personal change is of course impacting those around me. It forces my better half to consider her own future, and together, our own mortality, for Freedom of this kind only comes when we are significantly past the mid-point of our mortal existence.
And so, I conclude that Yes, change is tough. Change is wearing, frustrating, debilitating even. And this is true even for the changes we yearn for and pursue with a passion. Those forced on us by others are doubly, triply challenging. And every single change we make in our lives requires a sacrifice from ourselves, and very often from those closest to us. And that sacrifice is likely something we might never have considered – might even by something you actually don’t want to give up.
Yet stick with it. Sail out of the safe harbour, out of sight of land. Hold the tiller through the hurricane force winds of change and you will reach calmer waters. And the new you, the new world you discover on the other side, will be better, stronger, fuller. You just need to have los cojones grandes.
I knew those Spanish classes would come in handy.