Most of us know a guy who has been at the same job for twenty years and has lived in the same house and kept mostly the same routines that entire time. And then there is the guy who changes jobs every six months, it seems. He moves every few years and has never really established a consistent routine.
We could make all kinds of guesses as to why the first guy has stayed in the same job, same house and same routine, just as we could make all kinds of guesses about why the second guy is constantly making changes.
While we might not guess correctly about their specific reasons for their respective choices, we can probably make some decent assumptions about their reactions to change, right? The first guy doesn’t like change very much.
He probably stays in the same job because it feels safe (and maybe he also loves it, who knows) but safety and security of the job and home are priority. The second guy isn’t scared of change; in fact, he changes it up regularly and is happy to take a chance on a new job or living in a new location. This almost seems too obvious to point out. But the WHY beneath the surface of these two drastically different reactions to change is where it gets interesting.
Some people experience change as a fearful venture into the unknown, and some people seem to require it on a regular basis.
Essentially it comes down to an existential base. When examining our own reactions to change, the looming question becomes “what does change represent?”
In a sense, change represents the passage of time.
Time is the great unknown. Our lives are constantly changing; we grow, develop, learn. Even our skin cells change every two to three weeks.
When we get right to the essence of life, it’s all about change.
And the eventual, ‘big change’ is death. So, in a sense, this equation may fit:
If CHANGE = UNKNOWN, and DEATH = UNKNOWN, and UNKNOWN = FEAR, then DEATH and CHANGE = FEAR
Wow, that seemed too much like Algebra. But it’s true. Sometimes we approach the unknown factors of our lives in varying ways. Some people fear stagnation. If they don’t have regular changes in life they feel stuck. For those who fear stagnation, change is more of a carpe diem declaration than a threat. Their primary fear is more related to getting to the end of life and having a pile of regrets.
Those who fear change may take the opposite viewpoint. Change represents a leap from a perfectly safe plane. Why change something that is working? It may result in worse circumstances. The fear may be getting to the end of life and never having settled into anything and never having found contentment or stability.
Our willingness to make changes in life depends on a variety of factors.
Change can bring uncertainty; while this is terrifying for some, it feels liberating and life-affirming for others. Some people require stability and security, while others may actually experience these things as a rut that needs to be broken out of. In a sense, it is a battle between which fear carries the most weight; the fear of regret or the fear of the unknown.
Most people have both of these fears in reasonably equal proportion. Of course, we fear the unknown to a degree, but also have an aversion to too much sameness, especially if we’re not satisfied with the way life is going. We examine the pros and cons of making changes in our lives and decide accordingly.
When the fear on either end of the spectrum becomes dominant, however, it can result in extremes. On one end of the spectrum is the guy who fears change and insecurity so much he cannot make life changes that really need to happen for his overall health and wellbeing. The other end of the spectrum is the guy who is all too anxious to make changes.
His anxiety is triggered by lack of change in life.
The problem with this end of the spectrum is that he never learns to be satisfied with what is currently going on in life. Maybe he becomes bored or disinterested in aspects of his life too quickly and this has become a habit that has perpetuated itself over time.
From a distance, we can easily see when others are engaging in these extremes, but often in our own lives it is far more difficult to sort it out. Sometimes we just need to have an honest conversation with ourselves about our voyage.
Are we charting a course based on what is the easiest, safest route? Or are we venturing off into shark filled waters with a leaky boat?
Consider the following exercises as you examine your motives to either make a change in life or to keep things the same.
- Create a pros and cons list on paper. We do this automatically in our minds but the act of writing it out on paper can help clarify whether a decision has more legitimate positives or negatives. This can also help prevent making a decision purely based on emotion.
- Consider whether fear may be pushing you in either direction. As you think about whether to make a change in your life, what fears come up? Do you fear the unknown? Are you fearful of not making a change because it’s what you’re used to doing?
- Ask yourself: Am I satisfied with my life the way it is? Why or why not? Aside from the pros and cons and factual information about the potential change, what are my feelings about making a change? Is it facts, feelings or both that are urging me to make a change or keep things the same? If there were no repercussions, what would my decision be?
Regardless of whether you are more comfortable with the safety and stability of “sameness” or more inclined to embrace change, your instincts are there to help. Sometimes we forget that our instincts are a useful guide and this can lead us to battle with self-doubt.
Are you a risk taker?
Do you thrive on change, or even rely on it to feel alive and satisfied? Or are you a prisoner of your fear of change; reluctant to step out of what is known and comfortable? Chances are you fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
Be patient with yourself and embrace the path that feels genuine to your needs and values.