Monday, April 8, 2013

Getting Through the Fear of Change

Okay, the cat's out of the proverbial bag.  Which raises a question, by the way: who put a proverbial cat into a proverbial bag in the first place?  Why would anyone consider doing that?  I mean, I put our little four pound Therapuppy, Yuki, into a carrier "bag" occasionally, and that's a traumatic enough affair despite the fact that she, for all of her moxie, doesn't come equipped with razor-sharp claws and teeth.  Yes, her teeth are a little sharp, and yes, if I hadn't trained her not to bite hard I'd be a little concerned over the power in those tiny jaws, but nobody ever sang a song about "Chihuahua Scratch Fever," did they?  Cats, meanwhile, are blindingly fast, and they're well-armed, and they're extremely formidable foes.  Who would ever put one into a bag on purpose?

Then, once said cat is safely and securely in a bag, who has the cajones to let a pissed-off feline with tons of pent-up energy out?  Not this guy.  Nuh uh.  Somebody else is gonna have to be the one to risk their lives letting the creature out of its enclosure.

Back to my original point, though: proverbially, anyway, I let the cat out of the bag.  Spilled the beans.  Came clean.  Tipped my hand.  Leveled with them.  Gave my notice.

...threw my thesaurus away....

I told my current employer that soon they're gonna be my previous employer.

And yes, I'm terrified.

Now, people have complimented my adaptability, my coolness under fire, my ability to not just accept change, but to wade right on in and wallow around in it.  Sometimes I'm even the change agent, myself.  Therefore, I must be immune to the common fears regarding changing situations, expectations, and experiences, right?


Lookit, I attended and graduated from the nation's--perhaps even the world's--foremost leadership institute, and leadership is frequently defined in terms of the amount of change it brings.  Is the person in the front cart of a roller coaster a leader?  Of course not; everybody else is still going to go the same path as he does whether he's there or not.  It's an exciting place to be, certainly, but it's not a leadership role.  On the other hand, Mahatma Ghandi is considered by many to be one of the greatest leaders in modern history, and yet the change he brought about was slow, building, powerful yet not exciting.  But it was change.

Change is stressful.  It is.  It's part of the human existence, really.  We go through one when we figure out how to walk, right?  It takes several times of falling on our butts, but we eventually get it.  Later on we change from one school to another, from one social group to another, and so on.  In doing so, we never quite know how it'll end up.  It's that unknown that brings about the stress, and it does it to every one of us.

It's scary.  Frankly, I don't think a human being exists who doesn't have some degree of stress--and a related fear--over change.

It's wrapped up in being a human.

Yet while it's scary, the fear doesn't have to be paralyzing.  It doesn't even have to be apparent.  It's all in how we deal with it.

So how do you deal with it?

See, I have a bit of an advantage.  My background has caused me to face down change and survive the experience many, many times.  One of my favorite responses to the "why aren't you scared of change" questions is to tell of the time I looked down the wrong end of a main gun of an enemy tank.  Luckily for me they weren't true enemies, and so they were only firing blanks, but the impact was still there, strong, everlasting.  No matter who yells at me in the future, it sounds like nothing compared to a tank gun shooting at me.

I've also had obstacle courses where right in the middle we changed leadership.  When it changed to me, I had to pass through the "ohmygodwhatamIgonnadocrapohcrapohcrap" mental phase first before I could actually start directing the action.  The Army likes putting leaders through that, because combat can be like that as well.  Combat is chaotic.  Combat is also deadly, though it's less so if the leadership is competent.  Competent leadership through chaos, then, is what it's all about, at least in the Army.

The only way to prepare for leading through chaos is to lead through chaos.

So, like I said, my background kind of over-prepares me for a move to Memphis, TN (my new duty assignment) to take over a somewhat larger campus.  What it doesn't do, though, is make me immune to the stress of change.  I may be better at hiding it, but I still feel it.

The key to successfully dealing with it, then, is to follow a few steps:

  • Grant yourself the fact that fear is normal.  Accept your fear, and allow yourself to feel it. It's okay, really.  John Wayne said that "Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway."  Hell, some people posit that fear is all that we have to prove to us that we're truly alive.
  • Put the change and/or challenge into perspective.  That's where the "I've looked down the wrong end of a main gun on an enemy tank before; how difficult can this be?" thought helps me.  You may not have done the same--hell, I hope you've never done the same--but surely you've been through difficult times, and you've made it.
  • Recognize that every change has three phases: the before phase, in which you're losing something that you may or may not be happy to be losing; the during phase, which is the part where the most fear of the unknown is generated; and the after phase, which is the part that we fear as the unknown (and usually the part where we're discovering that the unknown ain't so bad after all).  Which phase are you in? 
  • Whatever you draw your faith and strength from, be it religion or self or something else, call directly upon it to deal with the stress of the change.  It hasn't let you die yet, has it? 

So, Gentle Reader, how do you deal with the fear of the changes in life?


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