More often than not, change-based conversations focus on how rosy the future will be. The bigger the change, the rosier the future seems to be portrayed.
There is very little talk about how difficult the journey will be; the obstacles to be faced; the challenges to be overcome; perhaps, quite literally, the tears to be shed.
The expectation is that the hope offered by the future will be enough to propel you into the change and through to that ideal future state.
It won’t. Hope isn’t enough.
In the past we’ve talked about “uninformed optimism,” the honeymoon phase of big changes that we see in a positive light. And, we’ve described the “informed pessimism” that inevitably follows as the obstacles, challenges, and unexpected difficulties arise. While hope may be enough to get you to this point in the journey, it won’t carry you through… This is when people begin to check out.
Sometimes checking out is public. It may take the form of walking off the job, or calling off the wedding, or announcing a return to “the way it was before.”
Sometimes checking out is more private. People retire on the job. They have affairs. They “go through the motions” without ever investing enough time, energy, etc. to make meaningful progress.
The hope of a better future is necessary, but it isn’t enough to propel us through major change. There also needs to be pain associated with the present. The bigger the change, the deeper that pain needs to be.
Quite simply put, if where we are is comfortable, it’s hard to leave. And if the journey gets really difficult, it’s too easy to come back.
Comfort doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. In fact, it may be far from it. We have all heard stories–perhaps know someone or have even lived it ourselves–of an abused person remaining in the relationship, or leaving the relationship, only to return. For her, or him, the uncertainty of the transition is more uncomfortable than the certainty of the abuse.
If the change you are facing is personal, what is your pain?
If the change is organizational, and you are responsible for some part of its execution (or maybe even the entire thing), what is your pain? If you are nearing retirement and have a golden parachute (or even a good retirement nest egg), your commitment may be very different than if your next promotion (or continued mid-career employment) rests on the success of the change.
It doesn’t matter if the change is being driven by a problem or an opportunity; it doesn’t matter if it is the current state or the future that is driving it.
What matters is how badly failing will hurt.
Identify that pain. Sit with it. Know it. Envision what it will be like to live with it. if you decide you can live with it, even if uncomfortable, then my best counsel is, don’t proceed with a really big change. You may begin it, but it is unlikely you will carry it through.
If others are taking the journey with you, whether family, friends, or co-workers, they, too, will need to feel the pain. It may be felt differently for each one; that’s okay. But, each person on the journey has to feel the need to leave the status quo, and to know that the price of going back is too high.
If the change is big and success is not imperative, it is unlikely that true success will be achieved.
What is your experience of pain and change? Have you moved forward with the execution of a good idea only to turn back? Share your story.