“Weep not that the world changes. Did it keep a stable, changeless state, it were cause indeed to weep.” — William Cullen Bryant, 19th century American poet, critic, and editor
“I hate all this change. Why can’t things just stay the same?” Dirk shouted angrily at the TV news anchor. He threw a pillow at the TV screen and clicked it off with a snort. Suddenly a hissing noise arose from the corner of the room and green, shimmering mist filled the air. Dirk stood in shock as a one-foot tall, wrinkled old man emerged from the glowing cloud. The tiny, grizzled fellow had a long flowing white beard and was dressed from head to toe in green. His eyes twinkled with mischief as he flashed a gap-toothed grin. “Hi, I am Mike. I can take you to a place where people don’t have to deal with change and things stay the same all the time.”
Before Dirk could say a word, the little elf drew a handful of sparkling green dust from his vest pocket. With an impish smirk and a big wink, he threw the powder at Dirk. With the hissing sound filling his ears Dirk was engulfed in the green, twinkling fog. Still unable to see through the emerald haze, he heard Mike say, “Here we are. Here’s a place where things stay the same and people don’t have to deal with change.” The elf blew away the mist. They were standing on the lush green grass of a well-trimmed graveyard. Neat, polished gravestones stretched far out to the horizon.
“Life is change,” the aged elf said with a chuckle as he leapt to the top of a headstone. “It’s one of nature’s mighty laws. Eons ago, I had this conversation with my old buddy, Heraclitus, and told him that change is the only thing that’s permanent. Of course, he took the credit for saying that,” the elf playfully grimaced. “It’s a timeless principle. People who aren’t changing and growing aren’t living. Growth is one of nature’s vital signs. It shows you’re alive. Once you stop changing and growing, you’d better check your pulse.”
We can’t manage change. The single biggest “change management” failure of the 20th century was the old Soviet Union. With highly centralized planning, the politburo tried to tightly control the lives of an entire block of nations. There were to be few surprises and activities that weren’t in the official plan. Bureaucratic organizations often try to do the same thing. So do many static, low growth individuals. We need to be on guard against our own rigid thinking and “hardening of the attitudes.”
The faster the world changes around us, the further behind we fall by just standing still. If the rate of external change exceeds our rate of internal growth, just as the day follows night, we will surely be changed. To the change-blind with stunted growth, it will happen suddenly and seemingly “out of the blue.”
Change forces choices. If we’re on the grow, we’ll embrace many changes and find the positive in them. It’s all in where we choose to put our focus. Even change that hits us in the side of the head as a major crisis can be full of growth opportunities — if we choose to look for them.
We don’t always get to choose the changes that come into our lives. But we do get to choose how to respond. In my workshops and speaking engagements, when working with people who feel under siege by negative, unwanted change, I often show the Chinese symbol for crisis. It is a stark example of the timeless wisdom of choices. Apparently, the top character in the two-part symbol reads as darkness, disaster, and danger (it could be a lot of swearing for all I know. But I have had this interpretation confirmed by a few people who can read Chinese).
The bottom character reads as opportunity, renewal, and rebirth. Many people or organizations — who didn’t give in to the dark forces of despair and Victimitis — and successfully weathered a serious crisis, look back years later and say that was a significant turning point. Most would rather not go through that pain again, but it was a key part of their growth. Crisis can be a danger that weakens or destroys us. Or crisis can be a growth opportunity. The choice is ours. Whichever we choose — we’re right about that crisis. We make it our reality.
Change is life. Successfully dealing with change means choosing to continuously grow and develop. Failing to grow is failing to live.