If you knew me in my 20’s you know I was a hot mess. Being a mess, however, is a great incentive to make some changes, and oh boy, have I had incentive and opportunity! Maybe you have that incentive and opportunity right now, just like I still do.
Those that knew me in my 20’s would think I was shy, lacking confidence, afraid to speak up. Those that know me now pretty much laugh when I tell them I was that way. I’ve learned a few things about change over the years as I have been experimenting with it for some time.
I have learned that some changes are easy – they just require an Aha moment or change in perspective. Others feel like you’re standing on the edge of the proverbial cliff, choosing between the inevitable fall or the mid-air, windmilling feet moment, each option lasting a painful eternity.
I have also learned that change is not always easy, but gets easier with practice. So, regardless of the outcome, the exercise itself is well worthwhile.
If you are in the pre-contemplation stage of change, you are considering doing something different or new. Congratulations! Good for you! I hope you will choose to make the change that you are contemplating before hitting rock bottom or letting the situation completely degenerate. If so, you are wiser and braver than I have been.
Here’s some advice for those who are considering a change. Maybe this will make it easier to move into the execution stage so that you can have some control over the change as opposed to having it forced upon you.
1. Consider the real consequences of making a change – Not the ones you fear deep down. Most of us catastrophize the outcome: I’m going to look or sound really stupid! I’m going to make a mistake! Well, welcome to the real world. If you’re making a mistake, it means you’re taking a risk. Risk and failure are pre-requisites for success, so good for you! As for those who will judge you for looking or sounding stupid, they are pretty much hypocrites, since who has not looked or sounded stupid at some point? So you don’t need to worry about those hypocrites or nay-sayers. The only judge that matters is your own, and you’re going to retire him for good.
Let’s take my shyness as an example. Talking to strangers made me feel deep down I was setting myself up for rejection. But really, who cares if a stranger or acquaintance rejects me? Likely I’ll never see them again and their judgment of me (another stranger) cannot really be taken personally. They don’t know me!
2. Consider the real consequences of not changing – If you’re contemplating a change than something is likely not going well. What is the real consequence of doing nothing? Take into account your anger, resentment, powerlessness, frustration and lost opportunity in this equation.
Being shy was standing in my way, both professionally and personally. Networking and speaking up are important skills. By caving to my shyness, I was doing myself a huge disfavor on all levels. By being afraid of rejection I was ensuring I would be ignored. Same thing. AND another self-fulfilling prophecy.
3. Consider the opportunities of making the change – What doors will you open for yourself? What situations will you right? Focus on the positives instead of letting your fears define what you’re willing or not willing to do.
Expanding my network both socially and professionally can potentially open up many doors in both spheres. New friends and important professional contacts are just waiting for me to discover. Speaking up means I could have a positive impact on the outcome instead of letting my opinions languish on the tip of my tongue.
4. Take a small step – You don’t have to make all the change at once. Just like any big endeavor, break it into small, manageable bites. Test the water, experiment with that, re-evaluate and try again. Be strategic about your approach, choosing a strategy that works best for you.
I used to really hate being in social situations, like cocktail parties, where I had to meet strangers. I decided the approach that would feel most comfortable to me is to find the person in the room who looks uncomfortable too and introduce myself. I reasoned that they’d be more likely to be receptive to meeting a stranger and also grateful to me for saving them from their own social discomfort. Nine times out of 10, this has proved to be a successful strategy while simultaneously not making me feel like I was going out too much on a limb.
5. Practice – Write it out, role play it, imagine the scenario in your head. You wouldn’t enter into a competition without practice and repetition, so why would you stick your neck out for a long awaited change without practice? Give yourself the best possible chance for a good outcomeiby preparing for it. You’ll also feel more confident going forward with practice. Practice until it feels rote and automatic and it will be almost as if you’ve already made the change.
“Hi, my name is Susanna and I’m a ____ at _____. How about them ‘Niners? How is the crab dip? Do you think biological drug discovery will be driven more by technology or market demand? Say…. What is that stain on your tie? ”
6. Forgive yourself and others – We are all just doing our best to be our best. It’s not always a pretty or linear journey. Forgive yourself and others for the detours we must all take at some point. Sometimes the detours are the best part.
7. Commit to being a change agent – Get into the habit of doing things that make you uncomfortable. Your friends will think you’re courageous, but it will just be habit for you at that point!
I don’t believe in change for change’s sake. But I do know that you sometimes don’t know what you’re missing until you try something new. I could not do my job effectively today if I did not overcome my shyness. I also cannot count the number of times that I have been glad I spoke up or made the effort to meet someone new. There have been times when I felt stupid or awkward but the positive outcomes far outweigh the failures.
I also personally wouldn’t wish perfection on my worst enemy – growth is what keeps us vital and alive. Nourish yourself and don’t be afraid of the growth that occurs. The beautiful you that emerges may surprise and delight you.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr