Face the Strange

David Bowie ChangesDo you ever wake up and have random song lyrics pop in to your mind? And stay there? There is a name for that. Stuck song syndrome, also know as an earworm. For the past three weeks it has been impossible to interrupt the loop that keeps playing a single lyric from a David Bowie song. Actually, it is a one word. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

My attempts to end this particular bout of earworm have been unsuccessful and have coincided with the start of the new school year. If you have school aged children, back to school brings a multitude of changes as well as reminders about the passage of time. Wait a minute, a completely new song just made an appearance. Landslide anyone? Anyway, you get the drift.

Change can be as small as switching laundry detergents and needing time to adjust to a new smell on your clothes. It can also be bigger than anything we can imagine and happen without warning. Unexpected changes are never a picnic but the times when we have advance warning can feel just as unsettling. Which is easier? None of it for most of us.

Last year at this time I dropped off my oldest son for his first year of college. We had an entire summer to ready ourselves for what was going to happen, but no amount of preparation or advanced notice stopped me from bawling the entire ride home and for the two weeks that followed, give or take.

This was a marking point in time for not only him, but for us as well. If I am being honest, and possibly a little overly dramatic, it felt like the beginning of the end. From that moment on, we expected his time in our home would be limited to summers and holidays. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. A year later, everything has changed yet again. More on that later.

What is the difference between someone who is successful at dodging and rolling with things as they happen and those who get jammed up and stuck?The list of changes for those who come out later in life, especially if they are married with children, is lengthy. I actually wrote a book about it. However, we late in lifers do not corner the market on this one. Everyone experiences shifts in life and must adjust.

Life is a series of moments which require quick feet and nimble hands. Being able to dodge when life weaves requires skill and fortitude. High fives for those who are experts in navigating change. For the novice among us, I can empathize. Many times I have felt paralyzed by fear and overwhelmed when events outside of my control begin to play out. Other times it has been smooth sailing. The goal is not eliminating change but learning how to be flexible in the midst of it.

While we cannot control the when, where, how, why, or who of change, we can choose how we react and respond to it. Baby steps or leaps. The choice is yours. Start small and build from there. Think carefully about the pros and cons of situations and stay grounded in hope that not all change has to affect us in a negative way. Arriving at this conclusion leaves the door wide open for us to create a plan for ourselves to best handle whatever comes our way.

One of the biggest reasons we fight change is our inability to see what we have to gain instead of what we are giving up. Thanks to Pinterest for this gem. When my son left, it was difficult to see past what was lost, namely my oldest son’s presence in our house and daily life. The last thing on my mind was the potential gain for not only him, but ourselves. Our loss was his gain.

Being able to look at the possibility change offers rather than the deficits is not easy, but it is possible. Reframing thinking is as simple as reminding ourselves how boring life would be if everything stayed exactly the same. Eliminating change, expected and unexpected, is a feat not yet mastered by any walking on this earth and is highly unlikely to be achieved in any of our lifetimes.

Which brings me back to my son. After a year of college, his plans changed.  Instead of finishing his degree in finance, he decided to become an electrician and moved back home. His new journey as an apprentice includes working full time and beginning classes in the spring. In four years he will be a journeyman in a career he decided was a better fit for him. This kid is one of my heroes and the poster child for fearless living.

He listened to his inner voice and did not spend time wondering what would be lost if he quit college. He looked ahead to all he had to gain with his decision. Instead of ruminating over what not having a four year degree would mean for his future by forgoing higher education he took steps to create a secure future with a high demand career. Ballsy if you ask me. I could not be prouder of him and grateful for his example of what rolling with changes looks like in practice.

When we believe we can rise above whatever is thrown our way, big or small, life is good. It takes time and practice to learn to think in a new way. Progress may seem slow, but even the simple decision to briefly consider what the upside may be is a step in the right direction. In those moments you may be surprised to find that you feel energized and strong rather than stuck.

Confidence and fortitude are like muscles and grow when we retrain our minds like gymnasts train for their events. Life is a lot like the Olympics. We may not all be Michael Phelps in the pool, but with effort and determination we can earn our own Olympic medals in the dealing with change arena. Sorry, could not help myself. Go USA!

Making peace with change, both known and unknown, is the first step in creating a life that is not weighted down with fear and negativity. Learning to be hopeful and optimistic in the midst of a shit storm is a gift to ourselves and affords us the opportunity to make it through whatever we stumble upon along our journey.

This week, challenge yourself to allow for the possibility of thinking about the upside. Pay attention. Look for opportunities to focus on what may be gained rather than focusing on the chaos, changes, or fact that things did not go as planned. Now there is a great idea for a new sport. Chariots of Fire theme anyone?

More about dealing with change