- Katy Ainslie-Wallace, LPC-IT, SAC-IT
9 Effective Ways to Cope with the Inevitable: Change
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is quoted as saying: “There is nothing permanent except change.”
Many of us are no stranger to change. We are in an ever-evolving state of change with our society: social media, technology, Woodman’s and Target stores moving the damn aisles, construction, etc. While sometimes we can accept that change and go with the flow, other times we become aggravated, fearful and push back. Particularly when change happens that hits close to home, and has an impact on our lives.
I’ve been thinking a lot about change, as the school I'm employed by is going through leadership change. Many staff are worried about what to expect, and I feel like we are all holding our breath as we watch the summer fade away and the first days of school quickly approach.
I’ve been in education for 10 years, and I’m definitely no stranger to having a new boss. As I’ve reflected on the past and moments of change that I’ve experienced, I can remember how I was fearful.
Would they be kind? Would I be respected? Would I lose my job? Will they like me? How will my program/position/allocation/resources/all the things change?
I won’t lie. The last time I went through this kind of change, it sucked. I quit my job. I felt like the unknown and uncertainty was a much better option than the insecurities that I felt. AND… it was the best decision I made. Again, I won’t lie... it’s been hard, but SO worth it. It took that experience to learn my worth, to value myself, and know what my capabilities are. And because I have been through it before, and lived, I feel like I’m not as afraid this time. However, I do hear the worry and concern from my coworkers. And it’s made me reflect on change for us as humans, and how we deal with it.
Change is hard. While some things are easy to accept, it’s the changes that cause us stress that we need a little extra help dealing with. We often fear the unknown, the uncertainty, loss of control, or our ‘status quo’ being upended. We often project the worst case scenario, convince ourselves of these negative perceptions, and seek validation for said negativity. (C’mon, we’ve all been part of the mini huddles of chit-chat by the proverbial water cooler). It’s so easy to get caught up in the theories and probabilities of stories...
So, without further ado, here are some tips for how to handle change in an effective way:
Identify your emotions. Are you feeling scared? Angry? Happy? Check out this handy emotion wheel if you need some help.
Applying this to the change of leadership at the school I work at: I’m a little scared and anxious. I’m also feeling optimistic and curious of how this will all play out. So if I check out that chart, my base emotions are fearful and happy. Both are totally true.
Allow the feelings. Validate yourself. Of course you’re worried. You don’t know what will happen and there are things you can’t control.
Of course I’m worried about what changes will happen, how they will affect the morale or culture of our school, and what that means for my work load. And of course I’m happy that there will be change, cause if I’m honest… there is a lot of change needed!
Gather factual evidence! When you have a thought about what might happen, try to gather real facts. Is your thought a truth? Is there truly a threat, or just a fear of one? Try to collect some evidence against your thoughts.
Based on past experience, I have thoughts that I’m not going to be valued. That I will be pushed aside and be “outside the circle” and not have a spot at the table. If I look at the facts, my environment is very much opposite of that. My coworkers do seem to value me, include me, and I’ve gotten great feedback about my work. This new leader is someone completely different, and she won’t necessarily lead in the same way. I’m also much more confident in myself and my skills than I was a few years ago.
Look at what is in your control, and what is not. If it’s not anything that you can control, then look at accepting it. You don’t have to like it, but do you really want to spin your wheels on something you can change at all?
I don’t get to pick my boss, but I can choose how I will work with her. I can’t control others thoughts and make them look at the bright side, but I can choose to remain optimistic. I can’t fix the copier, but I do have a number to contact of someone who does. You catching what I’m laying down? I choose how I react, how I conduct myself, and the thoughts that I give power. I value working as a team and being kind, so I choose to lead with that
Let go of the past. Often we compare experiences from the past that haven’t turned out well, and can think the worst. You are not omniscient. You are not a fortune teller. You can make assumptions and make a hypothesis, but you truly won’t know.
I’ve had some crappy bosses; who hasn’t? I’ve also had some phenomenal bosses! I need to just let things play out, and give this new human a chance. They are walking into a super tough situation, and deserve an opportunity free of speculation and assumptions about who they are as a person.
Look for the benefits. Change can be good! What are the positives of this change? Benefits? The more you look for what can go right, the more likely they are to come true!
New ideas! We are steeped in tradition, and have also tried some new things that just aren't working. We need fresh ideas for the drawing board! I’m excited.
Make a plan. I love cope ahead plans! Plan for the worst, but expect the best!
If I do feel that I’m not valued, or that I’m not a good fit any more, I’m ready. I have my data and information showing what I do. So, my plan is to continue keeping that information to show why I’m needed there. When I do find myself at the proverbial water cooler, I will walk away or remind others that we don’t know how things will go. I plan to try not to get wrapped up in other people's worries, and do my best to help calm their fears. My hope is to be the calm to others storms! (Wish me luck.)
Practice patience. Change isn’t easy, and there are frequently bumps. Have patience for all involved, and practice loving kindness for all.
I have so much respect for new leaders walking in. There are so many feet they have to watch out for, and they are tasked with trying to lead a group whom they also have to earn respect from. That is one booby rigged trap I would never volunteer to walk into.
If it’s not working for you, the new environment is not healthy or productive for you, or the change isn’t what’s best for you… leave. You are not a rock.
If you have done all the effective things: remaining positive, looking for the benefits, changing what’s in your control, shooting loving kindness like blinding rays of light, and you have acknowledged and validated all those emotions, AND you feel like the environment is toxic or it just sucks, then revamp that resume and move on. Or just radically accept that this is where you are. (If you are truly feeling like the environment is toxic, and it’s nothing that is in your control, then I highly recommend leaving for your own health).
Change is inevitable. We can be a productive part of change, we can be the rock in the cog, or we can choose to get the hell out and have no part in it. What we tell ourselves about change will influence how we embrace or resist that change. Overall, we gotta do what's best for ourselves. Here's to rolling with the punches!
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]
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