Stepping onto a brand new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation that no longer fits, or no longer exists.
The reason for our suffering, in all walks of life, is our resistance to life’s inevitable changes.
And life is all changes. To have lived is to have changed often.
Sometimes this is hard to accept…
What you have today may become what you had by tomorrow. You never know. Things change, often spontaneously. People and circumstances come and go. Life doesn’t stop for anybody. It moves rapidly and rushes from calm to chaos in a matter of seconds, and happens like this to people every day. It’s likely happening to someone nearby right now.
Sometimes the shortest split second in time changes the direction of our lives. A seemingly innocuous decision rattles our whole world like a meteorite striking Earth. Entire lives have been swiveled and flipped upside down, for better or worse, on the strength of an unpredictable event. And these events are always happening.
However good or bad a situation is now, it will change. That’s the one thing you can count on.
And while I resist change, and suffer sometimes just like everyone else, I have learned to adapt. I have learned to be flexible and look for the beauty in life’s changes, even when they aren’t what I want. But before we get into how to do that, let’s take a look at…
Common Life changes All of Us Tend to Resist
- Someone you respect snaps and yells at you – The change is rooted in the fact that we expect certain people to behave a certain way. Specifically, we expect them to always treat us kindly, fairly and respectfully, but the reality is that they don’t. They lose their tempers sometimes. And when they do, we resist this reality, and want things to be the way we want them to be. It forces us to change our perceptions and expectations. And so we get confused, agitated, or even offended.
- Your 10-month-old (or 10-year-old or 20-year-old) refuses to listen to you – Again, we expect our children to behave a certain way, but of course reality is different, especially as they are growing and maturing. And when the present reality of their behaviors doesn’t conform to our expectations, we get worried and stressed out.
- You get laid off or fired by your employer – Sometimes, in the haste of our busy lives, we tend to confuse what we do for a living with who we are. So when you lose your job, things get really complicated because this change affects not only your livelihood but your identity as well. If you are a personal fitness trainer, and you lose your job, and you’re struggling to find a new one, who are you in the interim? You now have to deal with the changes in how you identify yourself. This can be extremely challenging, and resisting these changes (and the financial challenges that come with the job loss) can be quite painful.
- You suddenly realize you have too much on your plate – In other words, you’ve gradually committed yourself to way too many obligations and you’re finally at the point where you feel overwhelmed by the fact that you have more things you’re ‘supposed to’ be doing and not enough time to do them. You realize something has changed, and something needs to change again – because you can’t possible be everything to everyone, or everywhere at once. And this upsets you, because you thought you could do it all, but of course you can’t.
- A close friend or family member passes away – One of the ultimate life changes is death, of course. A person who gave meaning to our life is now no longer in our life (at least not in the flesh), and we are not the same person without them. We have to change who we are – we’re now a best friend who sits alone, a widow instead of a wife, a dad without a daughter, or a next-door neighbor to someone new. We want life to be the way it was, before death, but it never will be.
Obviously, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Change is the only constant thing in life. Every fraction of a second is different, and we resist it. Our day gradually passes, our body gradually ages, our relationships gradually shift, other people don’t act the way they used to, we ourselves begin to think differently, and this is tough to deal with.
So this is the pain of life’s changes, of realizing that we are not in control, of reality evolving and not meeting our expectations.
But how do we find the beauty in this?
The key is to cope with change in healthy ways, rather than hopeless ways…
We can cope with change hopelessly in many ways (and sadly many of us do):
- Screaming at other people and ourselves
- Drinking lots of alcohol
- Using drugs
- Watching one mindless television show after the next
- Sitting around all day and feeling sorry for ourselves
Or we can find healthy ways to cope:
- Meditation and mindfulness rituals
- Discussing our problems honestly with a counselor or coach
- Focusing on the next step forward – i.e. controlling what can be controlled rather than craving control over the uncontrollable
But the most important thing to understand is that all healthy coping strategies require us to embrace life’s changes, first and foremost.
Think about it. If changes are a basic fact of life, then why resist? Why not embrace, let go and live fully?
Why not see the beauty in life’s changes?
I know it’s hard – but only because we’re so darn used to resisting.
Let’s put aside our habitual resistance and judgmental impulses for a bit, and instead look for…
The Beauty in Life’s (Painful) Changes
- Someone you respect snaps and yells at you – This person is hurting, frustrated or angry, and is taking it out on you because you’re close to them. They’re reaching out, wanting to be saved from the uncontrollable, and (of course) they’re not succeeding. Can you empathize with this? Have you ever been in their shoes? There is beauty in our parallels, in our joint struggles, in our interconnection as human beings. Emotionally embrace this beautiful, hurting human being, feel her pain as she deals with the change in her life, give your compassion, and then carry on without taking her struggles personally.
- Your 10-month-old (or 10-year-old or 20-year-old) refuses to listen to you – Remarkably, your child is maturing and asserting her independence. She’s thinking her own thoughts, and proving that she is her own human being, not just a little minion that follows orders. Have you ever been in her shoes – perhaps at work or earlier in life? Have you ever been agitated by someone else trying to control you? There is beauty in this kind of growth and independence, this fighting spirit, this coming of age. See the beauty and smile. Appreciate it. Give your child some space to learn and grow.
- You get laid off or fired by your employer – As difficult as losing your job is, it’s an ending that leads to the beginning of everything that comes next. Let the heaviness of being successful be replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. This new beginning is the start of a different story, the opportunity to refresh your life, to reinvent who you are. See the beauty in this opportunity – the freedom and liberation from a fixed routine – a solid foundation from which you can rebuild your life the way you always wanted it to be.
- You suddenly realize you have too much on your plate – When your plate is too full, life is difficult, there’s no question about that, but it’s still possible to appreciate the chaos of your daily tasks and obligations. No, you can’t do everything, or be everything to everyone, or be everywhere at once, but you can let go of wanting everything to be under your complete control every second. There is beauty in the chaos of your day. It is random, it is wild… it is real life. And it means you have people, projects, passions, and ideas in your life that move you. Notice the pain of your resistance, and the beauty in your struggle. Then realize you can only do one thing at a time, so just do that one thing. Then let it go, and do the next thing. And do it with a cheerful heart.
- A close friend or family member passes away – Certainly the most painful life change of them all, death can be sad. Angel and I have dealt with the loss of siblings and best friends to illness, so we know from experience that when you lose someone you can’t imagine living without, your heart breaks wide open. And the bad news is you never completely get over the loss – you will never forget them. However, in a backwards way, this is also the good news. You see, death is an ending, which is a necessary part of living. And endings are necessary for beauty too – otherwise it’s impossible to appreciate someone or something, because they are unlimited. Limits illuminate beauty, and death is the definitive limit – a reminder that we need to be aware of this beautiful person or situation, and appreciate this beautiful thing called life. Death is also a beginning, because while we have lost someone special, this ending, like the loss of a job, is a moment of reinvention. Although sad, their passing forces us to reinvent our lives, and in this reinvention is an opportunity to experience beauty in new, unseen ways and places. And finally, of course, death is an opportunity to celebrate a person’s life, and to be grateful for the beauty they showed us.
With a life coaching career that spans a decade, Angel and I have worked with people of all ages, in all walks of life, from every corner of the globe, and I can honestly say that nothing is more beautiful and powerful than a smile that has struggled through the tears. So don’t regret your time, even the moments that were filled with painful life changes. Smile because you learned from these twists and turns and gained the strength to rise above them and adapt.
Ultimately, it’s not what you have been through that defines who you are; it’s how you got through it that has made you the person you are today, and the person you are capable of being tomorrow. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
What painful life changes have you had to cope with? How have these changes shaped the person you are today? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.
Photo by: Gaia Pazzagli