Hanging on for dear life

Posted on 15 August 2020

For many, change is unsettling, leading to feelings of insecurity, imbalance and instability.

“We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what in the morning was true will in evening become a lie.” — Carl Jung

We’ve all heard the expression “change is the one constant in life.” The truth is that every day we’re experiencing change in some way. Life evolves continually — at work, at home, at play and in relationships. Yet, if pain and suffering accompany change, they are less likely to come from the experience of change itself than from trying to hold on to the past and your familiar ways of thinking, being and doing. Underneath reactivity to change is fear of the unknown, fear of new ways of doing or thinking about things, fear about having to learn something new, and fear of letting go.

To tap the inherent growth and developmental opportunities within change requires you first to explore the question: “What am I afraid of?” This exploration allows you to understand what’s beneath your fear and what you can learn about it. Rather than talking a detour around it, suppressing it or trying to control it, you can come directly into contact with your fear and see what it wants to teach you about yourself.

You can only grow, personally and professionally, through change. You cannot change and grow while defending and holding on to the status quo — hanging on for dear life. Change is not a threat to growth but an integral part of it.

In our world of duality, fear and love are on opposite ends of a continuum.

The greater our ability to be with our fear, allow it, understand it and learn from it, the greater our ability to experience life from the love side of the continuum. When we experience the love side , change is not so threatening; we feel less resistance to it, we are better able to ‘go with the flow’, we experience less need to control, and surprisingly we find we are more trusting when change happens, even change at work.

The first step toward being okay with change is acceptance, not of the change itself, but acceptance of yourself and your fears around the change. Acceptance that it’s OK to feel what you’re feeling. The next step is to go inside and explore what’s underneath your fears. I mean really explore, not try to think your fear away (an art form in Western culture). Once you accept yourself in the face of change — and become more clear about the causes of your fear,reactivity and resistance — you’ll become more able to open the door to allow change inside. Exploring your fear will lead you to right knowing, right understanding and right action.

The beauty of the fear, and its attendant feelings of tension, is that without tension no growth is possible. A seed cannot and will not grow without tension. Some seeds need cold, some need warmth. When seeds begin to grow, they meet the resistance of their shell; they need to push through the soil — some even need to push through concrete or macadam — against gravity and the elements. None of these resistance elements inhibits the seed from growing. They enhance its growth into a mature and strong plant. This is why fear is an opportunity for growth, even at work.

The comfort factor

Many people resist change because they want to remain comfortable. Yet the reality is that the comfort they wish to hang on to is wrapped in fear. it is a quiet (or not-so-quiet) state of vigilance and subtle agitation masquerading as comfort. It always involves being afraid that something or someone will change. What these people want is harmony; what they experience is inertia and numbness. Hanging on for dear life does not result in a ‘dear’ life. It results in tension, stress, anxiety, resistance and resentment.

Life is change. Life is choices. Whether you embrace change, or come to it kicking and screaming, the choice will still be there. Since you cannot grow and thrive without change and tension, avoiding change or denying change will keep you feeling like a victim, always wanting to blame someone or something for the way you feel. Only when you consciously choose to explore your resistance and fear and to meet the challenge of change, will you become stronger, more courageous, more autonomous and more engaged in living life. That’s the real and true ‘dear life’.

How to deal with fear

  1. Acknowledge and feel your fear without judging and criticizing yourself.
  2. Ask your fear what it’s there to tell you. Be alert for inner messages that will bring you greater understanding of your situation. Listen with your heart — your inner self — not your logical, ego mind.
  3. Be fully present. Relax into your present well-being. Breathe deeply and continuously into your belly.
  4. Ask your higher knowing: What can I do to improve my situation? What do I need to know and understand?
  5. Take action on what you learn to help get your energy moving. Action absorbs anxiety; paralysis doesn’t.

Here are some questions for self-reflection

  • Where are you experiencing tension or conflict in your life? Where are you struggling in your life or facing major challenges? Career, home, play, relationship, finances, health, emotions?
  • Would you characterize yourself as an embracer of change or a victim of change?
  • Do you face change with attention or tension?How can you use tension and conflict to grow stronger and become more authentic?
  • What is a current change or conflict in your life telling you? What area of potential is it pointing to? What quality about yourself is it pointing to?
  • Are your current tensions or conflicts the same as last year, the year before and the year before that? If so, why?
  • Do you feel you have the right and the power to decide how anyone or anything can affect you?
  • Would your colleagues, friends or family say you most often embrace change or resist change?
  • Are you hanging on for dear life in some way, shape or form in your life? Why?

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This post was written by:

Peter Vajda - who has written 24 posts on Slow Leadership.

Peter Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a founding partner of SpiritHeart, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching and counseling. With a practice based on the dynamic intersection of mind, body, emotion and spirit, Peter’s 'whole person' coaching approach supports deep and sustainable change and transformation. Peter facilitates and guides leaders and managers, individuals in their personal and work life, partners and couples, groups and teams to move to new levels of self-awareness, enhancing their ability to show up authentically and with a heightened sense of well be-ing, inner harmony and interpersonal effectiveness as they live their lives at work, at home, at play and in relationship. Peter is a professional speaker and published author. For more information: www.spiritheart.net , or [email protected] , or phone 770.804.9125.

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Lee Cockerell says:

    Nice posts and good things to think about as we confront change. As Jim Collins said in his book, “Good To Great” most people settle for a good life instead of going for a great life because they mainly fear the changes they would have to adopt and most often don’t want to take the risks. You have to be careful not to end up with a lot of regrets later in your life because did not want to change. I was with Marriott for 17 years and had a great career going. I was offered a job with Disney to move to Paris. When I told my wife about the offer and asked her what she thought, she said immediately, “Let’s go.” She went on to say, “Lee, if you don’t make this change you will look back in five years and regret it.” We made the change and my career soared after that and it was the hardest job I ever had. Going through change and tough issues makes you a whole lot better leader in all parts of your life. …Lee

  2. peter vajda says:

    Hi, Lee,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing part of your story; some thoughts, briefly:

    It’s not only about moving from good to great; it’s also about going from good to better. It’s about “moving”-forwarding the action of one’s life; self-actualization, however it unfolds.

    Settling in life, i.e., maintaining our comfort zone, often leads to discomfort in the long run (emotionally, physically, psychologically, mentally or spiritually). Eventually, our comfort zone no longer supports us, as much as one might try to “justify” doing nothing.

    Change involves risk and in such situations a support group (i.e, here, your wife) can make a big difference in helping one to see the big picture (i.e., not staying stuck or paralyzed in one small corner of the painting, life) objectively, and summmon the courage and strength to move forward.

    Finally, as you say well, change is often hard, challenging. It requires effort on many levels. That’s the long and short of it. Coming out the other end is often rewarding and insightful.

    “Be not afraid of changing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” (Chinese Proverb ) and

    “To try is to risk failure. But risk must be taken because the greatest hazard of life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, live, and love.” — Leo Buscaglia

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