A Coaching Power Tool created by Della Spring
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
Are they mutually exclusive?
Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge. Eckhart Tolle
As human beings in the modern world, we seem to fear change. It is unfamiliar, different and indicates an uncertain future. Often, we will avoid it to the detriment of our own personal growth and well-being. Does it make a difference if we determine what the change is to be, or if it comes from an external source? We may make the decision to manifest change in our own lives, but it is still often made with resistance or trepidation. Why is this?
What is change? In the most basic sense, change means “to become different”. This can mean different from the way things were before, if we left it alone, or a substitution. To change is to remove and replace, become altered or modified somehow. Change is inherent in the cycle of life, however, and is ultimately unavoidable. As a species, we would not have survived without evolution, which is change! How paradoxical, then, that we try to avoid it.
In earlier, tribal societies, there were formal traditions and rites of passage centered around change. Teenage boys were sent off to test their strength, courage and wits in the wild and returned as men. At the beginning of the twentieth century, they went from wearing knickers to trousers to indicate that they had become men. These days, it isn’t so simple or clear-cut. Our modern lives are much more complicated and stressful; it is often hard to identify, articulate or even understand the changes that we must pass through in order to grow. There are fewer markers to help us adjust or to let the world know that we are changed. Some rituals, such as Bar/Bat Mitzvah and marriage, are a public announcement of change, but rare is the ritual that shows an internal transformation, such as becoming a parent, an empty-nester, divorcee or a retiree.
Change is scary because it means the end of one thing and the beginning of something new. We must undergo a symbolic death and say goodbye to the old, and that frightens us. We must grieve the loss and make a plan to move on. The messy transition of being “stuck in the middle”, in a spiritual limbo, causes distress, especially if we have trouble with “letting go”, as many do.
So, what is opportunity? It is a situation or condition for attainment of advancement or success. As revilers of change, we can prevent ourselves from achieving success (what ever that may mean to us), by fearing and avoiding what is natural and indeed essential to the opportunity for healthy growth. Opportunity is an outgrowth of change, but we must learn to embrace it and see it as a positive kind of change, in order for it to bestow its benefits.
Seeing opportunity is a healthy perspective on change, but first one must be open to simply recognizing it . As Louis L’Amour said, “Some say opportunity knocks only once; that is not true. Opportunity knocks all the time, but you have to be ready for it. If the chance comes, you must have the equipment to take advantage of it.” The first piece of equipment, or tool, is awareness. Unfortunately, in the face of change, our awareness is often not focused on the opportunities, but on fear of the unknown and the inability to let go of the past.
There are many reasons that we fear change. Perhaps we are fearful that we will have no control over our own life if our environment becomes different. We may feel foolish if we look like we are uncertain or if we fumble around at first while we become accustomed to our new surroundings. Not only do we want to be in control, but we prefer to appear as if we are in control as well! There can be embarrassment and humiliation if we sense that we are being judged by our seeming incompetence. In the process of change, we feel that we lose control and are not the master of our own destiny. When we feel constrained by how others view us, we feel self-conscious and powerless, which in turn increases our likeliness to resist change. “What we resist persists,” Carl Jung purported. Essentially, when we fear change, we become dis-empowered.
Case Study: Elaine
Elaine was 48 years old and her youngest child was heading off to college. She had been working in her husband’s dental office as general manager and supervisor, but was beginning to think about how dreary it was and how boring she found it. She wished that she had an interesting and fun job, like her friend Peggy. Recently, Elaine had been taking Peggy’s Zumba classes and she felt like she was gaining a new sisterhood of friends and a fun, new lease on life. The songs were fun to dance to and, to be honest, they made her feel young again. In her husband’s office, on the other hand, she had to maintain a professional distance from the staff. Although they had a friendly camaraderie, she was still the boss’ wife.
As it turned out, shortly after their son left for college in September, her husband told her about his plans for his mid-life, which did not include her. Elaine was shocked and devastated. She convinced him to go to marriage counseling but, after four sessions, he opted out and moved into an apartment near his office. He mentioned that she would no longer be needed there, as he had hired someone to replace her. Elaine was bereft and paralyzed with disbelief at how her life had suddenly changed completely.
This was the moment of truth for Elaine. She could remain in her daze and try to scramble reconstruct her former, familiar life OR she could take her time, evaluate her options and see it as an opportunity to make some beneficial changes. She could remain frozen in fear or turn her new reality into a time of personal growth. What opportunities might she want to create during this transition?
In fact, what happened, was that Elaine allowed herself to grieve but did not deny that her comfortable life was indeed going to change, drastically. She had been married for 24 years and had long identified with being a wife and mother first and foremost; now she felt she was neither. She did not want a new life and felt that it was unfair that she had to adjust to three major life-changing events all at once. But, facts were facts and she was starting over.
The key here is that Elaine was realistic about the fact that her life was not going to be the same and, after her mourning period, she carefully let go and began to move forward. However, she recognized that each moment of life is unlike any other; to live life to the fullest, she made every effort to be in the moment, fully. By exploring her feelings, rather than analyzing the myriad thoughts spinning in her mind, she could face, and indeed embrace, moving forward. Elaine willingly thrust herself forward into the unknown, and signed up for Zumba teacher training. She reasoned that, even if she did not ultimately pursue it as a career, it would enable her to maintain a positive outlook while being open to new opportunities.
It is critical to emphasize to Elaine that a new life does not invalidate her old life. She needs to feel that the years spent raising her kids and working with her husband were great years and that they are not going to become anything different now. However, it is important that she allows herself the time and opportunity to grieve the end of her former life before beginning anew. This is a great time to ask Elaine to outline her strengths and to take the time to reflect on them and acknowledge herself for them; she needs to believe in herself again. She must feel good about herself in order to take on the enormity of starting her life over.
As a coach, it was necessary to help Elaine reframe her perspectives about her future. First, they explored, understood and articulated her core beliefs and values. As her new awareness emerged, they worked together on setting up support systems for Elaine. These support systems — people, structures, routines — allowed Elaine to function on a day-to-day basis as she explored her preferred future. She evaluated her current resources and skills to see how they may become incorporated into the next phase of her life. Visualization exercises in conjunction with powerful questions resulted in committing to some short- and long-term goals, as well as a time frame in which to complete them. Discussions about what progress might look like increased her ability to establish concrete action-based steps toward her new goals.
This major upheaval turned out to be a perfect juncture for Elaine to transform the change of her marital, child-rearing and job status into an opportunity to achieve her ultimate happiness in life. Instead of accommodating others’ needs, she has created a life of her own choosing. Once she recognized that it is who she is (and always was) inside, and she allowed herself the freedom to embrace her opportunities, it transformed her life. Once she made the shift to this perspective of change as opportunity, she found greater satisfaction, personal growth and empowerment.
- Do you recall any personal experiences regarding resistance to change while reading this power tool?
- Think about your underlying beliefs and perceptions of change. What are the behaviors you notice in the face of change? Are they serving you well or do they hold you back?
- How do you typically react when offered an opportunity? Do you tend to seek or evade opportunity?
- What structures and support systems and empowering perspectives can you employ to help manage your fear of change and reframe it into opportunity for personal growth?
- As a coach, what tools could you use to support your coaching around being open to change/opportunity?
- As a coach, what do you do if a client really refuses to see change as an opportunity for growth?
Come to the edge, he said
We are afraid, they said
Come to the edge, he said
He pushed them…and they flew. Apollinaire Guillaume