I’ve long envied my friend’s bountiful garden. Several raised planter beds in her yard grow a farmer’s market worth of plump tomatoes, squash, eggplants, peas, and beets.
When I visited her recently, though, I was surprised to see the planters gone, the ground beneath flattened and awaiting sod. After toiling in the garden for years, she was ready to let it go.
There are those among us, like my friend, who embrace and even begin change. I admire them and often think they’re the better for it.
Of course, we know change is the essence of life. If you doubt this, look at your 17-year-old who once sat in a highchair dribbling liquefied carrots down her bib and is now taller than you. Impermanence is a core teaching of mindfulness. Yet, the constancy of change is difficult for many, myself included, to accept.
This is not an optimum position to hold. It’s a bit like standing in the surf and trying to stop the waves with your outstretched arms. You get knocked down doing that.
We may not like change – particularly when it’s forced upon us by events we can’t control – but fighting it is futile. That’s never been more true than it has this year, which is like a master class in navigating unwanted upheavals brought on by a global pandemic, racial unrest, and natural disasters. (One of my favorite memes likens 2020 to a Razor scooter to the shin.)
But while we may not welcome change, we can learn to wade into its icy waters and eventually open ourselves to the possibilities it presents.
Julia Samuel, a British psychotherapist, and author says it’s by allowing ourselves to feel the pain of change that we adapt to fit new circumstances. And pain can be a signal that change is either underway or that we need to be bold enough to initiate it. https://juliasamuel.co.uk/
Long ago, another friend of mine (I’m so fortunate to have friends or I’d have nothing to write about) moved from her quiet, suburban townhome to a Zen center located in a noisy, dense part of the city.
She made the choice for many valid reasons and was secure within it. But she missed the lush, shady trees surrounding her townhome and the community pool she swam in daily. One day, she had a conversation with the roshi at the Zen center about her internal struggle. The roshi listened patiently and then kindly said: “That was then, and this is now.”
My friend realized she was trying to stop the waves with her outstretched arms. After that, she began to settle into her new home.
The power of heeding the painful signals of change often reveals new prospects, adventures, or long-postponed explorations. As Samuel wisely counsels even in the midst of change there are parts of you that remain soothingly and reliably unchanged. So much so that you might be confident enough to broker the vicissitudes of life on your own terms.
I fell into a conversation recently with a neighbor who told me she was considering renting out her house and using her dual citizenship to move her family to Canada.
Because of COVID-19 she and her husband were working from home and could now work anywhere with a solid WiFi connection. What’s more, schools in Vancouver allowed children to attend classrooms in person, an appealing option for her kids who were struggling with pandemic-induced Zoom school.
The other week I noticed the rental sign on my neighbor’s lawn was gone. A storage pod stood in the driveway.
All I could think was: “Good for her.”
On My Mind
Sometimes we need more than a little guidance traversing change especially when it comes to the big questions in life or things that Bill Burnett, the executive director of the Design Program at Standford University, calls ambiguous problems.
A common and recurring one is: What do I want to do when I grow up?
Burnett points out this isn’t just a question kids ask. Adults encounter this question over and over again as they transition through life’s many stages.
Much of the time when we seek to answer this question Burnett says we engage in suboptimal thinking predicated on misbeliefs. Only a rare few, less than 20% according to Burnett, know what their passion is, for example. And 10 years out of school less than 20% of college students wind up working within the field of their major, he adds. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPjoCO5Juj0
Most of the time we have to try things before we fall in love with them. And that applies to ice cream as well as careers, of which we’ll likely have more than one. Using design thinking, or a non-linear, iterative approach, proves to be very helpful when working in try-it-out mode and finding what it is you love to do.
If you’re curious about learning how to apply design thinking to life’s thorniest questions, you can read Burnett’s and Dave Evan’s book (see above) or watch the Ted Talk (see below.)