I’m in an organization that is struggling with change. I would say almost anyone on the planet could say this right now. Who doesn’t struggle with change? Sure, I’m a change agent at work. I always have been. I like to move. I like to change jobs. I like to be the lead on projects where change is happening in a really big way. I find it energizing, and I find it exciting. But, when it’s not business, or it’s a change that I don’t think makes sense, I resist change.
All of us hate change in some area of our lives. This weekend I was visiting my parents, and my mother mentioned that she and Daddy have about five good, traveling active years left. I immediately deflected the comment. “Oh, that’s not true,” I said. “I just saw where someone did a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail when they were 90.” There …. I put that back in the box of denial where it belongs. We can worry about that after they’ve finished their thru-hike on the AT. I don’t like that change. And I don’t like it when I do the math on my own life either. The smaller that number is in front of me, the more anxious I get about the change that it represents.
Do you remember the story The Three Billy Goats Gruff who were trying to cross the bridge, but there was an old, scary troll underneath that threatened to eat them? There are many variations of the story, and you can read them here. The gist of the tale is that there were three billy goats trying to get to a field with more food. As in most change, it really wasn’t working – not enough food – where they were, so they had to go somewhere else. A terrible, scary, stinky troll lived under the bridge. The first two billy goats managed to deflect the scary troll by telling him to wait until the fattest goat came across, but the third badass goat knocked the troll off the bridge and gave him the “what for.” He called his bluff and everyone lived happily ever after eating all the grass that they wanted.
Change is terrible, scary and stinky, but mostly its bark is worse than its bite. The worst change I ever faced was my second divorce. My first one was bad enough, but the second one was definitely the one that signaled to me that my ability to manage a long-term relationship was doomed. I could blame number one on the situation, but I was the common denominator when it came to two failed marriages. I HAD to change. The troll was on the bridge with his dukes up in my face. It was a long haul across that bridge, and me and that troll had a few rounds before it was all over. My life on this side is better than it has ever been, and it’s better because I made the changes I needed to make in myself. If my analogy were real, I think I’d go give that troll a big hug and a bite to eat – no matter how stinky he was. In hindsight, I don’t know why I put up such a fight.
After many rounds with trolls under the bridge, it’s gotten easier for me to recognize when I need to change. It takes more energy to resist change than it does to just get on with it. And, honestly, by the time the need for change is pressing on me, I’m ready for it. The troll is nothing more than a bully, and change is just a bridge to something better.
I wish that I’d let Momma talk about her statement instead of cutting her off at the pass. I’ve found that if people are allowed to talk about the change and the losses it represents, it helps to deflate the troll. When I’m working a change management project at work, I know that it’s a push-pull effort to help people deal with change in fits and starts. Management always wants people to see the evidence and make the switch in a snap, but true leaders realize that creating change that is beneficial is more like walking the billy goat across the bridge and showing them how to deal with troll. It takes longer but there are less casualties that way. And the less casualties there are, the less loss there is for the organization. Personal change works the same way. Change is a process … not an event.
When any of my friends are facing major change in their lives, I remind them that “leaving is a process.” We leave all kinds of things. We change internally and leave the wounded, angry person behind. We quit addictions and leave a substance that got us through many situations on the table. We leave husbands, lose jobs, face decaying health and physical abilities and eventually lose our lives. Life, it seems, is a series of changes of varying intensity. The trolls are relentless. Our only hope is to learn to kick them off the bridge with less pain and move as quickly as needed to our inevitable new pasture …. may as well get on with it.
What is the change you are resisting now?