The courage to change

I’ve been thinking about this post for several days, but couldn’t get it started. This morning, though, the serenity prayer was referenced in a book I am reading (“A Trick of the Light” by Louise Penny, if you’re interested) and thinking of the courage to change got me started.

In the last month, two family members have initiated major changes in their lives. A cousin has decided to divorce her husband after decades of marriage; a sister has decided to suspend her endurance riding quest and rethink her ‘horse life.’

What courage it takes to make these decisions to change! Time and energy and money and emotion have been invested. Even if one is unhappy, it’s so much easier in many ways to maintain the status quo. Making a change means admitting that something isn’t working or isn’t right, and I think for most of us, there’s an element of failure in that admission. My cousin is admitting that she is miserable, that despite her best efforts, she is not able to renew her marriage; my sister is admitting that the passion for horses and riding is, if not gone, at least in abeyance.

Even positive changes can carry with them this element of failure. About three years ago, I joined Weight Watchers; having been a healthy weight most of my life, I had gained 20 pounds and wanted to lose it. It was eight months, though, before I got serious about following the program. Why? It wasn’t that I minded adjusting my eating habits or exercising more. No, it was that to lose weight, to make that change, meant acknowledging that I was overweight and had, to some extent, failed to practice health.

In addition, many of us automatically associate change with loss, especially when the change is forced on us, e.g. an unwanted ending to a relationship, being laid off from a job. Like many people in the USA, I have been through multiple corporate reorganizations and an acquisition. The first time it happened, all I could see was that the department for which I worked no longer existed, that I might not have a job, that things would never be the same. It took a couple more reorganizations, and good advice from a colleague, to see that each time, there was opportunity. In fact, one of those changes led to the chance to work on a project I’d been interested in for years.

But while change can be positive, it is still scary and painful and uncomfortable. When we change, we are letting go—letting go of a part of our lives, even a part of our identities. The change may leave us an emptiness in our lives, where once there was a marriage, a passion, a routine, a sense of security. We are left wondering what comes next, but trying to move forward into that uncertainty.

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