Julia was exhausted. Business was outstanding. Her team was scrambling to keep up and she was stretched thin. They had trouble finding enough good people to fill the new positions that were being created by the company’s rapid growth.
During a family gathering she talked about her crazy-busy life and shared her frustration with a favorite uncle who was semi-retired from decades of building successful businesses. Uncle Vern had become a mentor and great sounding board for Julia. He smiled knowingly as she outlined her growth problems at work. As they talked Uncle Vern gave Julia nuggets of sage advice from his years of accumulated wisdom. The comment that she puzzled over most during the following weeks was “This too will pass.”
Julia was exhausted. Revenues had plunged off a cliff. In a few short months their high-growth market sharply reversed direction at a dizzying rate. Their company was scrambling to cut costs and began laying people off. She was stretched thin trying to cover vacant positions on her team. All the while Julia grew increasingly insecure about her own job.
During another family gathering Julia anxiously sought out Uncle Vern’s advice. He told her of similar market downturns he’d lived through and the sleepless nights he’d experienced as his life work and life savings hung in the balance. She took comfort in much of his wise counsel on the way home that evening. The comment that stayed with her over the coming weeks was “This too will pass.”
Punnadhammo Bhikkhu, ordained Theravadan Buddhist monk and abbot of the Arrow River Forest Hermitage, a Buddhist forest monastery near Thunder Bay, Ontario said, “Our wealth, health, and very existence are all extremely provisional. Here today and gone tomorrow. This is the way the world is and the way it always will be.”
Mystics, philosophers, and spiritual teachers have for centuries emphasized that a fundamental key to dealing with life’s turbulence is acceptance of life’s impermanence. We’re here today and gone tomorrow — making room for the next cycle of renewal. In their book The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler describe a central tenet of Buddhism critical to thriving in tumultuous times: “Without cultivating a pliant mind, our outlook becomes brittle and our relationship to the world becomes characterized by fear. But by adopting a flexible, malleable approach to life, we can maintain our composure even in the most restless and turbulent conditions. It is through our efforts to achieve a flexible mind that we can nurture the resiliency of the human spirit.”
As we’re seeing now, unpredictable, unexpected, rapid, and often unfair change regularly rocks governments, businesses, and people worldwide. And will keep on doing so. There’s no “getting through this crazy period” to some mythical place of stability, or predictable sameness. Whether these changes are deadly threats or growth opportunities often depends upon how we deal with them. When our rate of growth and learning is slow or stalled, any change can be sudden and overwhelming. It leaves us scrambling to catch up with its impact, learning, or skills we need to just cope — never mind thrive.
In their book, Built to Change: How to Achieve Sustained Organizational Effectiveness, Professor Edward Lawler III and research scientist Christopher Worley of the University of Southern California’s Center for Effective Organizations write, “Organizations that are built to change must view people as open and willing to learn and as eager to try new things. They must have structures that are constantly refocusing attention and resources on both current and future problems and opportunities. They must have reward systems that encourage learning and growth as well as current value-added activities. Finally, they must have financial processes and other systems that support innovation and the start-up of new products and services.”
When we’re growing at the speed of change, impermanence nurtures and encourages our development. We often don’t choose the change or even chaos thrown at us. But we choose how to respond We can be green and growing or ripe and rotting. As the 19th Century Irish playwright, poet, and novelist, Oscar Wilde, said “The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development.”
Humor brings perspective. As the hands of time wash us away, we need to be careful about taking ourselves — or life — too seriously. George Carlin (1937 – 2008), American comedian, actor, author, and winner of five Grammy Awards for comedy albums, pointed out; “The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A death. What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, and you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating….you finish off as an orgasm.”