For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by change. I might even admit that I am a “Change Junky”. I need a regular dose and will resort to extreme measures to get it. Generally I have a good look where I’m going and then I turn the other way. New experience is my rush.
To go from one situation to the next requires us to go through change, i.e. let go of what we know and what feels comfortable and embrace something new even though we don’t know how it will work out. It takes us out of our comfort zone.
When you really do this, it feels like jumping of the coast of Ireland with the vague idea that you might swim to New York. In truth, you have no idea if you swimming in the right direction and it would be more accurate to say that you are drifting.
For all the theory of Change Management and Living Through Change, the part where you go through the change is just that: drifting around. With hindsight you can tell the story of your drifting and you will most likely rationalise the journey. It might even sound like you had a vision, a plan and a road map. Often, these are post-change summaries of a wholly uncontrolled situation.
Drifting is scary. When you float in the ocean of your life, you may not know which direction to take or whether it is even worthwhile swimming or if you should let the current take you where it will. You can’t be sure that signs you’re seeing are pointing in the right direction or whether they are delusional and will lead you further astray.
If only you had a raft! If only you had something to hold on to; something that feels stable whilst you drift around.
In the theory of corporate change management, it is advocated that you should establish a framework of values before you cast off the anchors of safety and security. Values that you can share with your fellow drifters. Things you can believe in when all else is absent. In the corporate world you’ll see values like integrity, Innovation, Accountability, Customer First etc. While the corporation is by necessity trying to reinvent itself, values provide the answers to questions of direction.
But how about us individuals? We all have strong and deeply rooted values. But are they enough to hold on to and help us differentiate up from down? Life coaches will encourage you to look deep inside and work out who you really are. That deep identity will then serve as a stable framework for determining where you are and where you might go. But this assumes that your deeper identity is a immutable entity – which is not obvious. In fact, the change you may be going through may well change your identity.
Many people turn to their religion and their community for support. I have a friend who consults his rabbi on every decision he makes. It doesn’t matter what the answer is, such religious and social frameworks create stability and comfort. But, you may well be trying to get away from religious and social influences, or friends for that matter…
In the meantime, you are still drifting.
Where can you turn when values, identity and socio-religious groups can not provide you with support or direction? When there are no references left and we are lost in the vast tumultuous space of the ocean of life? We can only use one last resort, one last reference, one last anchor: the point where you are.
It is surprising perhaps that we will turn to external references and deep internal introspection to work out where we are and where we are going when at all times we are ever tightly grounded in a place that is here at a time that is now. Even your direction is perfectly clear: wherever you set your foot next. How hard it is to accept that you are not going where you plan to go but there, where you actually end up.
“But,” I hear myself think, “this is hardly a satisfactory point of reference or direction. This is self-defeating, pointless and stupid. Hardly a strategy for success in life.”
On the other hand, if we look back at our lives, did we ever really plan it the way it turned out? Aren’t the best things that ever happened the products of coincidence, chance encounters and luck. When did a good plan ever come together? I mean, really?
What if the whole notion of change in our life is wrong and we have it all upside down? What if change isn’t about leaving the comfort of safety and security to find the next port of happiness? What if our natural state is one of change and drifting and the ports of safety and security are mere pins on a map. Pins that we blow up into snapshot images of who we are and how we live. Pins that we get so attached to that we begin to believe that they are us.
All the while we are drifting, changing, and the further we drift from the last pin, the bigger the strain becomes. We are no longer who we thought we were. Our situation is at odds with the one we thought we were in.
Our lives are not defined by the series of pins we stick on a map. We are not defined by our birth town, our schools, our jobs, our relationships, our houses, our success, nor by the absence of any of these. We may well define our lives like this and then feel good or bad about it but we are deluding ourselves.
We are drifters in a universe of life. We bounce about and the more we do that, the more we experience life.
I can take stock of my life and feel really good or really bad about it, depending on my self chosen perspective. But all the time, the ocean of life flows around me. I can ignore it and revel in the happiness, sadness or frustration that I associate with my situation. Or I can delight in jumping into the currents of life, not concerned with their direction but only with the feeling of life brushing against me.
This is not a philosophical mind exercise that aims to change my perspective to give me hope and make me feel good. This is as real and immediate as it gets. “Change is the only constant” we are told sometimes. How silly – there is only change. Any constants are delusional. Change simply is.
I’m sitting in a food court in a shopping centre, drinking a coffee. The chefs are preparing lunch for a crowd of shoppers here. As I write this, I feel life swirling around me. Currents are tugging at me. Come, come! Not a subtle whisper but a loud calling. Even the pin that fixes me here in time and space and whose situation I could describe in great details is already past me.
Come, come! Can you hear it too?