Sometimes we are very conscious of the process that has brought us to the verge of–or even into the heart of–a life-altering change. The light bulb came on. We reflected on the idea, shaping it, “fleshing it out.” We engaged others in our thinking, taking their feedback to further refine it. When we are ready to move forward, we are proud to face the world (or some portion of it), and say “I am changing…”
Then there are the times when it was somebody else’s light bulb that went off. The first time we hear of the change, it hits us like the proverbial whack on the side of the head. The company is downsizing; the compensation structure is being significantly modified; the divorce filing is waiting on the kitchen table when you get home from another way-too-long day at work. Whose change is this anyway? How would you answer?
- The company is downsizing; you are being laid off. __ My change __Not my change
- The compensation structure is being significantly modified; you will have to think and work differently–perhaps significantly harder–to earn the same income. __My change __Not my change
- When you left for work, it seemed like any other day; the papers filing for a divorce are waiting on the kitchen table when you get home. __My change __Not my change
For some people the answer to the first two (or even all three) scenarios is “Not my change.” This can be played out in any number of ways, but the bottom line is: “I am a victim of circumstances.”
One of the early lessons I learned about change is this: We cannot always control the hand we are dealt. We do have the ability to control our response to it. What that means for me is, quite simply, if the change affects me, it is my change. It doesn’t matter if I formulated it. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t have a clue that it was heading my way. It doesn’t matter if I have everything–or nothing–to say about the how, why, what, when, where, or how of the change. I do have a say about my response to it.
Perhaps the most powerful application I have seen of this principle was in the early 1990’s. I was Deputy Director of Bailey House, a nonprofit providing permanent housing and support services to homeless men and women with AIDS. Back then, an AIDS diagnosis was often seen as a death sentence; the treatments available today weren’t even on the horizon. Yet over and over again, our clients refused to accept the role of victim. They would step up to this life-challenging change and say, “This opens up the opportunity for me to get the support that I need to take control of my life and turn it around.” And, over and over again, they did just that!
Whose change is it anyway? Does it matter?
If it affects you, it matters whether or not you claim it as yours. It matters whether you approach it as victim or victor.
What do you think? What has your experience taught you? Comments welcome!