By Marisa Stokley, Director of Marketing, WhiteFire Publishing Group
Clouds and a heavy gray overtone colored the sky as the gigantic Atlas truck pulled out of the perfectly suburban neighborhood on August 4, 2006. My attention followed it as I contemplated what would happen next. I was seventeen and about to begin my senior year of high school in a new state. I knew no one other than my parents and my two younger brothers. Trepidation weighed upon my shoulders but so did a sense of relief. I was somewhere new. I could start over. My family was about to encounter change in a way we never had before, and I refused to look forward with anything other than hope.
When I tell this story, the most common response I hear is something akin to the difficulty of the situation. While I can’t fault that thought process—there is something to be said for moving three children between the ages of eleven and seventeen—the missing piece is adaptability. Adapting to change is a learned behavior, and those of us who learn it from an early age find nothing out of the norm of making big or small changes with little preparation or concern. Two years into our marriage, my husband still calls me crazy for thinking that way, but I’ve found adaptability to change to be a favorable trait. There are also positives to having roots and sentimentality, as I’ve learned from observing my husband’s three-generation-strong Philadelphian family. Hope can be found on both sides of a balanced perspective.
The Influence of Habits on Change
Life is a series of firsts and new changes: first days of school or at new jobs; first haircuts, cars, or vacations; moves to new places; beginning or ending relationships; births, marriages, and funerals. These momentous—or perhaps not momentous yet still significant—moments comprise the daily goings on of life in small and big ways. Yet while the intricacies that encompass these moments will differ between us all, the theme that crosses the boundaries of them is the same: change.
People are creatures of habit. The rituals that indicate what we are supposed to do, when we are supposed to do it, and whom we are supposed to do it with bring a sense of comfort in knowing what to expect. By its nature, change is just the opposite. It pushes us toward the new, the unexpected, and the unknown. Change often brings about fear and anxiety for that reason—when we don’t know what to expect, we can’t prepare for how to handle what may come. Much like how I walked into my new high school ready for homework, knowing how to change classes, and expecting the same type of adolescent behavior, I also faced the unknown relating to change. Would my new classmates accept me? Would I get lost trying to find which classrooms to go to? Would I have anyone to go to prom with? No amount of preparation could answer those questions despite how much I wanted them.
There is a sense of security—if not a little monotony as well—when things stay the same. Whether or not we like the outcome of sameness, when we know how to take the next step, we have a much greater sense of the forthcoming outcome. We can look ahead with a sense of comfort and continuity when change is not a part of the plan. Habits, schedules, plans, and routines ensure success because people thrive on the known. Children grow as rapidly as they do in their first years because they can depend upon their caregivers keeping them on strict feeding and sleeping schedules. Adults who keep to regular exercise routines are more successful at being fit and healthy. Employees who know when and where to attend meetings show up. Changes, however—even small ones like the color of a wall or a new haircut—throw off expectations. After all, if a meeting time can change or a new haircut be tried, what else may follow?
The Challenges and Benefits of Change
While some of us accept change more readily than others, whether that change is within our own hands and how comfortable we are with adaptability differentiates with how much gusto it is embraced. A fabulous opportunity could present itself, but if accepting it requires someone to leave behind comfort and stability, there’s a chance nothing could entice that person to change. In the case of my family’s move in 2006, my parents had raised the three of us to accept change without question. We’d moved almost every year for my entire life, so not moving regularly was more uncommon than otherwise. Change did not phase me and my brothers, but as our parents found out, attempting to bring about change with teenagers required more mental fortitude than they’d ever experienced before. Change forges adaptability, true; stability, though, provides the comfort that so many need.
It is much easier for most of us to take a step toward change when the floor to the unknown remains in sight. That may mean a change is willingly sought rather than forced, such as someone seeking a job change because they want a new opportunity rather than due to a lay off. It also may mean someone making a change of their own accord rather than at the mercy of someone else, such as a person changing their lifestyle because they want to be healthy rather than because a medical scare pushed them to do so. It all comes down to control. Change is easier to accept and to follow through with when we have control over it. We may never know what will happen days, months, or years later due a change we’re considering or when something new presents itself, but when we have the option to take that change at our own pace or to pull back if we dislike how it is going, we can better handle the fear of the unknown.
The unknown that comes from change incites fear and anxiety because of the loss of control that accompanies it. That loss primarily may pertain to something outward, such as being let go from a job or moving away from family and friends, but often it is accompanied by a loss of control over emotions that is equally as frightening. Without knowing how something new or how a big change may influence an outcome, we have no way to know whether a risk will be worth the reward. My parents faced this challenge when they batted around the idea of the 2006 move. In the midst of a challenging job market, they had to determine whether keeping our family where we lived at time was worth the uncertainty or whether moving us to a new state was worth uprooting three teenagers. Ultimately, they took the risk of moving our family and did, in fact, pay the challenging price of waiting for moody children to adjust to a new home and new schools and admit that the end of the world had not fallen upon them. Fourteen years later in the same home, the positive evidence of the relocation is more than evident…even if none of us saw that coming at the time.
Once change is enacted, the challenge is to look forward rather than to look behind—or perhaps it should be how to look forward with joy and behind with peace rather than regret. Leaving what is comfortable never is easy. There is growth to be had, though, from pushing ourselves to be more than what we are at the present time. While comfort is not bad, we are called to be more than stagnant. Without change, we become flat. Without pursuing something new, we see too little of the world and do too little for it. We do not have to lose ourselves—our identities, control of our emotions, or our self-worth—if change is difficult or doesn’t go as planned. We can make small changes to ourselves but still retain who we are. We also can push ourselves to be better, go farther, and do more yet return home at the end of the day. Like with most of everything that we come across in life, there is a middle ground with change and the new. Fear and anxiety do not have to be negative. We can experience them, learn from them, make the change, and still be OK.