The uncomfortable value of change
Change your underwear. Change your mind. Change your relationship status on social media.
Change is a constant, forward force present in all areas of our lives. Some changes we choose; other changes seem to happen whether we like it or not.
As a kid I remember accepting changes in my life whether it was entering a new grade or accepting the transitions of puberty. Things were always changing so I learned to get used to it. I grew to expect that things were meant to be different as time went on and embraced it more with every new school year's pre-season.
I'd look forward to fresh school supplies, a new backpack, and discovering who cut their hair over the summer. We would go to Old Navy or wherever to get new clothes to replace those that I'd outgrown. My tastes in friends, girls and clothes matured and how I responded to things followed suit. I lamented friends who had moved away and braced myself against the dread of breaching the social dynamics of high school.
But something happened when I became a young adult and I acquired the full responsibility and freedom to choose 'what's next'.
A comfortable place to rot
My story is a bit different from with what I'd expect healthier young adults to relate.
I lived with my parents until I was nearly thirty. It's funny that when there's no pre-determined decisions about where we're going, it's quite easy to fall into the mode of just keeping our head above water. And when there's no accountability for being responsible for ourselves... well, it's a comfortable place to rot.
I remember being told that "people are a lot like tomatoes: they're either rotting or they're ripening." My parents always told me that I was welcome in their home as long as I needed. They bought food, paid the bills - heck, they even paid my car insurance (up until my late 20's!). I mean, I was their son after all. As my parents, it was their duty to support me if I needed it, right?
Some might say that taking care of your kid's needs is normal. "I can't just let my son be homeless and go hungry!" But there's a term for this. It's called enabling.
Often we can get to a point in our maturity where all of the decisions have been made and the directions have taken us to our destination. However, when the GPS no longer tells us where to and that we have to go, why in the world would we move when where we're currently at is comfortable?
When my wife told me that her parents gave her more responsibility as a child, I shuddered. "Ew, I would have hated that!" And I meant it. I absolutely would have hated having more responsibility as a child. Oddly, however, the early responsibility of being accountable for herself inspired her to be more adventurous and to embrace change eagerly.
When we know that we're doing what we need to do for ourselves in healthy ways, it's easier to navigate change. When we're not, we hold on to facets of security that are just comfortable enough for us to resist change.
And that, my friends, based in fear.
It's easy to fear change because we think that the process isn't worth the result
...or we don't believe in ourselves or our ability to try, fail and adjust. When we choose to change something about our lives there is always a cost. A tradeoff. Sometimes the cost is little but other times it costs a lot. And it can hurt.
Remember earlier when I talked about the breaching the social dynamics of high school? Yeah, those years sucked. 100%. I hated high school. It was full of unfair social interactions, amplification of my insecurities and I felt forced into an education system where the dogma was inferred that learning's purpose was retention to make the grade. From my perspective, the cost of going to school - humiliation, hurt, waking up at 6am to catch the bus - all of it was a ride to a destination that I didn't choose. It's just one of those things everyone has to do.
Honestly, this may be one of the reasons I never fully pursued college. I felt like the cultural 'next step' of pursuing a degree, when I didn't have a destination in mind, was like paying money to spin my wheels just so I could say that I had done it. It was like I was expected to make a change just because it was something that's expected if I want to have any value. Getting a degree just to get a degree didn't make sense.
Consequently, I remained where I was. I was working towards 'making it' in Amway and that satisfied the small voice of conviction in my heart that made me feel like a trash bag for living off my parents. But since I was doing something I felt blissfully resigned to a life of getting lost in an online game for the majority of my time.
The interesting part of my choice to resist the changes I knew I should have made was that I didn't really see myself as worth the investment. I didn't value me so why would I change for me?
I remember being asked why I was pursuing Amway and my first outwardly commendable but inwardly selfish thought was, "I want to buy my parents a house." Sure, the idea was cool but it was my own way of coping with the fact that I was taking advantage of them and that reconciliation for my lack of personal responsibility would happen one day.
It was so easy to let myself off the hook.
The point, though, is that I was delaying change because I feared facing the way I saw myself. I felt like I would be worth taking the step one day and that was good enough.
Like it or not, we can't stop change
While I was waiting for my arrival in Amway, my 20's turned into my 30's. Sure, I was educating myself with self-help books, attending seminars led by coaches on topics 'to improve your life'. But my slow pace did not hinder the fact that I was getting older.
And while I was aging so were my parents. Their 40's turned into 50's. And because their son was living off their good intentions, their finances and relationship changed accordingly.
While I was losing myself in Final Fantasy XI online, I watched as my Facebook friends celebrated marriages, purchased homes, travelled - all things I wanted to do. Positive change was happening for them because they paid the price of admission. While I was achieving and claiming victories in my virtual world, my parents would wake up at 5am to go to work to pay for my lifestyle.
Meanwhile, I maintained my comfort level subconsciously aware that my level of responsibility for my life was truly responsible for the gradual pace of change in my circumstances - not all of the outside sources of my deflected blame.
Unfortunately, when we don't embrace change it has a tendency to make a lot of decisions for our lives that we, in retrospect, would have liked to have avoided. The cost of admission for my lifestyle was car repossession, low self-esteem, bad credit, failed relationships and loneliness. Apparently they take your car back if you don't pay for the loan. Who knew?
In August of 2015 after returning from our annual family beach trip, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time I had just turned 30 and moved out. For the first time in my life the accountability for my choices was completely and solely my own yolk. I had finally made the overdue changes required to take responsibility for my life from the shoulders of my parents.
My mom died 3 months later.
When we look back on things we could have, should have or would have, we see alternatives to the choices that were made that weren't clear to us in the moment.
After my mom died I went through a period of time where I regretted the lifestyle I had lived taking advantage of her love for me.
"If only I could go back and change things in my life that would have afforded more time to spend with her.
If only I could go back and tell myself to spend time with her instead of in that stupid game.
If only I could go back and get off my ass and take accountability for my life so my mom wouldn't have to stress over her adult son's bills."
Looking back on our lives with regret is one of the most evident realizations that life is never standing still - especially when we think it is. I honestly felt like I had forever to change when I was comfortable. When change happens because we've either not made healthy, preemptive decisions or due to things outside of our control, we begin to see the areas where we were rotting and feel bad about the decisions (or indecision) we've allowed ourselves to make.
But be tenacious when dealing with regret: it has the propensity even moreso than fear to prevent us from moving forward and anticipating change. It develops self-loathing. It causes us to dehumanize and devalue who we are. It truly damages the value proposition for why we can, should or would.
The only thing that truly cures regret is learning the will to change.
Responding to changes around us
Typically, we respond to our perspective on change in one of two ways: refusing our role or attempting to control the process.
It's akin to tuning a guitar. Sometimes we can tune too high and other times too low. But it's the sweet spot in the middle where accepting our responsibility and allowing the process to happen becomes a smooth harmony.
In marriage I'm constantly at a loss for how to do the husband thing well. I had a lot of preconceived ideas on what a good husband looks like and unfortunately a lot of them are contrary to the actuality of loving my wife well. Her feelings, circumstances, thoughts... everything is constantly changing because she's maturing in different ways every day.
She is always changing. And if I'm going to be a good husband to her, I have to be willing to change how I choose to respond.
I have tried refusing my role as a husband thinking that I can just let her figure it out. "I just don't get it," I've often thought to myself. But the crazy thing is that adapting to change as a husband isn't 'getting it'. It's also not a once-and-done process of getting it right and applying that success to each situation. It's choosing to give up my pride, be patient and to not lean on my understanding when it comes to pursuing her heart.
On the other side of things I've definitely tried to control the circumstances. In not so many ways, I've invalidated her feelings writing them off simply as 'illogical feelings' that have no bearing on her heart. "She just needs to get over it."
Neither of these processes made her feel loved, supported, or heard. I've realized my role as a husband is to walk through things with her and without controlling her process. Applying a previous solution that worked once to a new, current situation is a lazy way to avoid growth and honestly doesn't really challenge us. It's how we've come to elevate processes over people's hearts and cheapen the growth process.
In order to change we need to be willing to do 10% more today than we did yesterday. More challenge. More risk. More effort. More intentionality. Change is never static. It's a lifestyle. It's when we allow ourselves to think that we've arrived that we get stuck.
In order to change, we need to understand that the pursuit of 'the answer', 'the truth', and 'the best' is a journey with no destination. And as such we have to accept and welcome detours, delays, complications, accountability and the sights along the way.
As John Maxwell says, "Change is inevitable; growth is optional."
Embracing change as a lifestyle
During this Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of change is happening. A constant fear I hear from people is that "life is never going to be the same."
More accurately, the comforts of where we were prior will never be the same. But when did we lose the adventurous spirit we had when we were kids that anticipated change? We expected it and knew that even the yucky stuff was just part of the price we had to pay to get to where we're going.
Hoping for what can be. Willingness to dream. Failure as a process of maturity and not definition of value. All of this is so difficult in which to operate when we live lives based in regret and approval of the comparison states around us.
Learning to embrace change as a lifestyle is one of the most freeing things we can do to love ourselves and those around us. It prevents us from finding identity in things - especially money and relationships - because we expect them to ebb and flow.
How depressing is it to think to yourself, "This time 10 years from now I'm going to be in the exact same place with my finances, relationships and health?" It's counter-intuitive to our nature to resign to a lifestyle of stasis. That's why we're so motivated by the idea of more and better.
Building momentum in your life
One of the biggest threats to change is fear.
It's so easy, especially when we live from a perspective of control, to hold tight to the things we've acquired. Positions of authority/respect, trinkets, money - we spend a lot of time maintaining things that to our current state seem large that we neglect the ways that those facets can be much better if only we'd be willing to give up security.
So how do we get rid of the fear of lacking security? You already know this. It's the same way we learn to ride a bike, swim, navigate money and walk.
Take one step at a time.
At one point in your life, standing up was difficult. As you built your belief through trial, error, some awkwardness and a bit of pain, you were able to take your first steps. Then you began to run. Then climb.
Finances are the same. At one point managing $5 was tough (and a huge deal!). As a teen, $100 was a lot of cash. As a young adult, $1000 blew your mind.
Belief and maturity go hand in hand. We have to start with where we're at and do what we believe is currently possible. We have to have a destination in mind. And our destination cannot be someone else's destination. One of the greatest hindrances we'll face is aspiring to someone else's goals and dreams.
What is your best?
If you want something in your life to change, start with a goal. In your wildest dreams what would you imagine you'd like that change to be? What would be the best?
Then, what is the biggest, believable change you can make right now in that direction? Even if your biggest, believable change is, in comparison, minimal to other people don't discount the value of a starting point
The span and speed of change is not as important as your perspective on it.
Revisit your best goal often. Stretch yourself to make a change 10% more significant than the last. And when you reach your best, make a goal 10% more significant than the last.
You will make it. You're designed to make it.