When do you just go along for the ride, embrace the change and bloom or grow with it – or – when is it time to leave?
Change is inevitable. Even when you dig your heels in and stand still, change will occur all around you, which will inevitably change you. Take note of an infant that grows to be a toddler, then a young child, then a teen and finally an adult. One cannot prevent this from happening. You can’t prevent responding to change. Your choice is whether to respond in the negative or in the positive.
After having worked in two hospitals over the span of nearly twenty years, I’ve seen massive change in the industry. We can expect even more change in the future. In 1996, our organization embarked on a massive change to respond to the trend of the moment, to create an integrated delivery system (IDS). The purpose was to provide services to our patients and their families ‘from cradle to grave.’ We planned to bring them into the world and assist in escorting them out of the world – all things to all people.
As part of this change effort, we had a variety of meetings. Our chief operating officer led the first. After two hours of explanations about where we were headed and how we were going to get there, he stated his version of the bottom line;
“The train is leaving the station. You can get on the train with us, or outplacement services will be provided”.
We had at least two more steps in our process of helping staffs deal with the impending changes. One was to hire a consultant to speak to the entire organization (multiple meetings over multiple days) then embark on a training course for how to work in teams. ‘Teams’ was the hot topic of the day for health care and many other organizations. Lots of material was available, and we planned a 16-hour course. The results were exceptionally revealing
This consultant spoke to everyone in our organization. His presentation lasted about three hours, with multiple sessions at various locations so everyone had an opportunity to hear him. He was a very animated and humorous speaker. Everyone was actively engaged in his goal to help us ‘deal with’ the inevitable change. My major ‘take away’ from these meeting has stayed with me ever since. –Significant Emotional Events – or SEE’s.
According to Ben Bissell (our speaker/consultant), we all have significant emotional events in our lives, we just don’t always pay attention to the impact they have on us. A “SEE” could be:
- A new job, one that’s a positive change in your life
- The unexpected loss of a job
- A child in your family graduating from high school or college
- Minor surgery
- A divorce
- A marriage
- A death
- A birth
These are a mixture of events, some of which we pay great attention to and some of which we move through so quickly that we hardly notice they occurred. His message to us? Be careful about those events that we let roll off our backs as if they are everyday occurrences. They are piling up behind our backs, we are bringing them to work with us, and one day there will be that one more additional change or event that sends us straight over the edge.
To the edge of what? It depends on the individual. Some of us may wake up one morning to say, “I just can’t get out of bed today” or “I need a day off. I just can’t deal with all the issues at work”. Or it could be a host of other things that people say they just can’t deal with any more.
“The only constant is change.”
Some will continue to force themselves to go through the motions of life. They will drag themselves out of bed, get dressed, go to work and walk through the motions of their lives. But many times these people take “mental trips to Pittsburgh”. Ben had fond memories of Pittsburgh, so any time he needed a mental break, that’s where his mind drifted!
My mental trips take me to the beach. I’m sitting in a wonderful beach chair, under a large umbrella, sipping my drink, reading a book and running my hands through the sand while the waves are washing in and out, taking away with them all the worries of the day, the week, and the year. I’m totally and completely relaxed. Oops. Someone just asked me a question. What? Oh, I’m not at the beach, I’m here in Knoxville, and I’m supposed to be able to respond to the question appropriately and here my mind has been at the ‘beach.’
Organizations are experiencing change in spite of themselves. Funding is diminishing; therefore, they are trying to provide the same service in the same way with fewer people (lay-offs) and fewer funds.
Yep, change has its effect on me, too. I have the ups and downs of normal people. Some days I just need to take a day off for ‘mental health.’ Other days I push my way through all the changes going on around me. I try to put up a positive attitude, convince those around me that all will be fine even if I don’t really believe it myself. All this effort takes its toll. I didn’t realize how much until I left it behind. It took months to quit dreaming about the job and all the people around me. It took a longer time for my shoulders to leave my earlobes and take their rightful place at right angles to my neck. Now I can actually reflect on what I did and did not accomplish with that particular job.
The Change Exercise:
Change can feel like a death, a sacrifice. It seems like a ‘leaving’, like what we experience in the ‘change’ exercise. If you aren’t familiar with this exercise, try it with a group of people.
- Have the group divide into pairs.
- Tell them to turn their backs to each other and then tell them they’ve each robbed a bank. Their goal is to disguise themselves so the police won’t recognize them.
- Give them a minute or so to make changes; then have the pairs turn around to observe what changes have been made.
- Most people ‘remove’ something from themselves. They take off belts, earrings, glasses, shoes and all sorts of ‘legal’ accessories or clothing.
- Take a moment to debrief and point out the changes people made. Be sure to observe the one or two who might have added something to themselves in order to affect change.
It’s been demonstrated over and over again that most people view ‘change’ as something less than what they’ve experienced before. Have you heard the saying “I’m more comfortable with the devil I know rather than the devil I don’t know.”? In the change exercise you’ll likely have less than 10% of the group add to themselves rather than remove items.
So how do I deal with change?
One thing for sure; I KNOW change will happen regardless of whether I accept it or not, so I work really hard to have a positive attitude. I try to find all the positive aspects of an impending change and embrace them.
Our son and daughter-in-law had our first grandchild a few years ago. Were we excited? Thrilled would be an understatement. Did change occur in their lives and in ours? Absolutely. This new baby is ours to love and adore for all our remaining days. I’ll be called ‘granny’ (No – not me!) We’ll babysit. We’ll stay awake at night. We’ll wipe vomit off our necks. We’ll fuss at the dog for playing with the baby’s toys.
Oh stop that! Let’s get positive.
We now have a beautiful new addition to our family. We will spoil this child rotten. We’ll play with the baby who will become a young person and an adult, hopefully within our lifetimes. No, not ‘hopefully’ but ‘definitely’. I WILL do better about taking care of my health so I WILL live a long time! I will become an ‘Auntie Mame’ type grandmother, ‘Gigi’ will be my grand mom name. The dog WILL learn the command “leave it” before the baby gets here.
Do you get the methodology? The example of a new baby is an easy one for me. I’ll embrace this new journey in my life with both arms wide open. Some people don’t. When a dear friend of mine was having her first child (more than 30 years ago), the first words out of the mouth of her mother-in-law were “Don’t expect me to babysit.” We can guess how that woman was embracing change!
One of our ministers in the not too distant past preached a sermon about Noah and the Ark. I don’t remember his entire sermon, but I came away with something significant. He gave us four phrases to live by, and it hit me right between the eyes of what we were going through at work at that moment in time.
· Make new friends.
· Be careful which voice you listen to.
· Travel light.
From: Mike Jackson
These words helped me through a difficult transition in my work life. It told me to be ‘open to the outcome’. Some other things I’ve found helpful in working through the transition of change:
My Five Steps for Embracing Change:
- Find out more about the change. Why is it happening? What is happening? How will it impact me?
- Recognize the negatives of the change. Make a list.
- Find the positives in the change. FORCE myself to make a list of positives.
- Quit talking about the negatives. I mean it. Recognize the negatives, then ‘leave it’.
- Find my place in the world. Will it be with the change? Will it be against the change? Will it be somewhere in the middle?
Even those of us who say we embrace change find difficulty with it. Change adds a certain amount of stress to anyone’s life.
Be careful to distinguish between burnout and frustration with part of your job or your life. For about eighteen months I’ve been working on a project at our church as a volunteer leader. We’ve had a variety of setbacks (from my timetable) that have slowed the project down. It appears some church members are setting up barriers to our progress. But at each barrier or unexpected corner, I continue to find new ways to move through it or around it. I get upset and blow off steam (behind closed doors!), but I continue to move through, around, or find a different direction.
That’s frustration followed by creativity, not burnout. If I were burned out I’d likely throw up my hands, bury my head in tears or lash out at those I think are getting in the way of the progress of the team and the project.
Ask yourself the question: Am I burned out or just frustrated? Hopefully the next post will tell you what to do.