CHANGE – one of the phenomena that is guaranteed to occur in your life, but can also be difficult to accept. It often means that something we are used to, an environment or behavior we are comfortable with, is shifting towards something new. Everything we think we know is turning towards something we have little experience with or something we may not think we are ready for at all. The discussion of this feeling has come up a lot for me recently with friends and colleagues, as many of us begin to think about next steps in our lives. “What am I going to do after I graduate?” seems to be on everyone’s mind – as it is on mine too. It’s scary. It’s not an easy reality to come to terms with, as it means diving headfirst, willingly or unwillingly, into the unknown.
Beyond understanding “change” in terms of stages of life, I believe there are many ways to understand it that can help us all feel more confident in ourselves during times of instability. This belief comes from an undying understanding that change is healthy. To truly get to understand this and believe in it, I’ve had to look at my past and identify moments that changed me. In my own life, many things have changed. Homes, schools, friends, countries, and even goals. I was reminded of these moments in a recent interview where I was asked a question about how ZULUECHO Initiative has changed with me over the years. As I responded to the question, I realized that it changed with me in ways that I never expected it to, but had it not changed, it would not be what it is today. Without the change ZULUECHO Initiative went through, it would not have been able to grow. This simple example reminded me that change comes in ways that we may not expect, but the need to change comes from a change in context, a change in audience, a change in skill set, or in a larger sense, a new stage of life. Each step is a chance to grow.
Let’s look at it from a few different angles. Let’s look at our health. Often times when we notice something in our health and well being that is not helping us, there is a literal need for a change. A change in routine, a change of diet, a change of physical activity. The human body needs change in order to counter unhealthy habits. What about “new years resolutions?” Every year we tell ourselves we will make a change. Why? We do it because we have a desire to grow. As far as I know, nobody makes a new years resolution out of something that is not good for them. We strive to elevate ourselves every year by introducing change at some level. A change in spending habits, in friends, in work ethic, in athletic activity… whatever it might be, without that change, the things we want can’t occur. When we get stressed, or irritated by a sense of repetitiveness, we say we want a “change of scenery” – a literal change in what we are seeing to help us stimulate our minds in new ways.
I think we are starting to paint a picture here… change and growth go hand in hand as part of the process of our lives. Without change, growth does not occur. I hope we can agree that growth is a goal that we all share – a desire to use our experiences to draw on wisdom that can help us navigate our lives as we get older and the challenges we face get more difficult. It’s not so much that life gets harder as we get older, but simply the fact that we are capable of more, and aware of more because we have changed, and because we have grown. This is a really beautiful concept if you think about it. A concept that would not be possible without change. A concept that when you take a moment to internalize can help you understand how strong you really are. If change scares you, just think back on your life to every time something did change. You’re still here, you got through it, and even if it was difficult in the moment, I guarantee you that if you ask yourself what you learned, you will come out with some really great answers. Answers that have helped you navigate your life to this point.
So knowing that change is a part of our growth process, how can we prepare for it when it does scare us? How do we go through something knowing very well that we don’t know how it will turn out? I think the graduation example is very interesting. We’ve been graduating our whole lives. From one stage to the next. From middle school to high-school, from high-school to college. What’s different this time? The answer is obvious, I know. What’s different this time is that we are fully in control of what happens next. Suddenly, it’s not about attending classes to learn how to do something, but rather taking what we have learned and applying it to something new. Something from which we have no idea what to expect. What if what we learned does not actually work? That can be really scary, but in a unique way it’s also exhilarating. You can now show the world who you are, what you believe in, what you bring to the table, and how you will achieve it. There is no RIGHT way to go from here. It is truly, your life. The idea of the individual becomes really interesting here, as your “change” provides the world with a new perspective, a new mindset, a new outlook, and a new skill set. I had a professor who once told me that he asks the youngest people in the office for ideas related to projects, as it keeps his ideas fresh and “young.” He uses their change, to help him also change his outlook.
Shifting your perspective on things is a very effective way of looking at the big picture, but also for getting through difficult times. The unknown is not an abyss of inexperience, it is an opportunity to grow and thrive in a new environment. The unknown is a canvas, and you as the artist can paint the picture you want. The unknown is a fresh start, an opportunity to use your knowledge and experience to start something new and exciting that inspires you. Things will change, that is obvious, but that’s a good thing. No matter what happens, you will learn and grow. Be open to the changes that come your way. Ask yourself what you can learn from them, and how they will relate to the larger story of your life. Take control of the change you are experiencing, there is an incredible value in who you are becoming, but it starts with you believing in it.