Change is hard. Is it?

“Change is hard,” or is it? Whenever someone said “change is hard,” they always made me think.  

To give you some context, I want to tell you a little about myself. As a young girl, I came to the US without my family, with no money and spoke no English. Within a month, I was abused by my host family and had to move out. After lots of struggles, I not only survived but thrived. I got accepted to my dream school, UC Berkeley. What I had to go through as a teenager were many big changes – moving away from family, relocating to a different country, becoming a sexual assault survivor, and transitioning into an independent life. In my professional life, I had to reinvent myself several times as well. Although I graduated as an electronics engineer; for my first job, I was hired into a different discipline of electrical engineering – power system. The interviewing manager had so much confident in my intellectual ability that she thought I would pick up the new discipline in no time. My heart still fills with gratitude at the confidence that she had in me. Later on, when there was a need, I came back to school while working full time to get my MBA, and transitioned my career into a whole new different field. Each of the big changes in my life, although they might look scary and fearful at first, always led me to better circumstances. Therefore, I learned to embrace changes, and got excited whenever a new change came my way. To me, changes equal challenges and opportunities which lead to new learning and discoveries. 

In this short article, I want to explore why we think change is hard, and what are some ways that can help you embrace changes and make the best of it. 

The only thing constant in life is change. For every breath we took, the oxygen air is breathed in and the carbon dioxide air is breathed out, creating a change of air in every breath. The cells in our body are going under trillion of changes every day. Our modern life is a result of many new inventions, which included lots of changes and challenges to the old beliefs. For example: hundreds years ago, we never thought we could use electricity to light up the city in the evening, or that we could travel into space. The breath we took and the mutations of cells in our body are examples of the changes we have no control over. The inventions of new technologies are the changes that we have worked relentlessly to create. For some changes, we are in the driver seat, and for some we aren’t. As we take a minute to reflect deeply on this, we realize that change is the only thing constant in life. There is nothing we can do to stop the changes that happen within us, to us, and around us. My Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, wrote a poem that describes this so well:

 “The Five Remembrances:

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health.

I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.”

Not all changes are hard. Think about the day your child was born. Although it requires a lot of hard work, no parent would describe it as hard; instead, they would say it was the happiest day of their life. Think about the day you graduated from school or when you got your first big job. That was exciting. Think about the day you got married; that was a big change as well yet was happy at the same time. I can name so many changes that you and I would not label them as “hard.” So, why are some changes hard, and some are not?

Changes are hard when we perceive that the change is a mistake, will take us in the wrong direction or make our life miserable, and that we we have no control over it. As a result, we become fearful; our flight or fight mentality kicks in, and we stop thinking rationally.  

Here are a few tips that can help you overcome fears and tackle changes heads on:

1. Establish and stick to a routine. With the changes and chaos that happen in our life, it is good to have one thing that gives us the feeling of stability. 

  • Take a deep breath, and bring your attention to your breath whenever you feel a fearful or uncertain emotion. Your breath is your anchor. Bring your thoughts and awareness to your breathing, and notice your breath going in and out. Do this for a few minutes, and this will give you a sense of stability to latch onto. 
  • Keep a morning and evening routine. Even though the day may be filled with chaos, waking up 10-30 minutes early in the morning to have a morning routine, such as meditating, praying, exercising, and spending 10 minutes before going to bed, such as reading, praying or meditating, can give you that feeling of stability and constancy in life. 

2. Let go of negative thoughts about ourselves. Increase the affirmations. 

During time of changes, we may feel helpless, and develop the victim mentality – why me? why is life unfair? etc. We forget how intelligent, strong and awesome we are, and become hopeless. In those times, it is good for us to: 

  • Talk to a trusted friend, colleague or mentor who can encourage you, remind you of your past achievements and tell you how awesome they think of you. Think of them as a lifeline that you can reach out to be validated and affirmed. 
  • Write down a list of past accomplishments, and the personal qualities that helped you overcome past challenges. Read that list daily. Brushing up your resume is a great way to do this as well.

3. Act.

  • When a self-pity or hopeless thought arises, gently care for it and let it go. Don’t dismiss the thought as invalid right off hands, but gently care for it as you would care for a hurt child, listening to what it has to say, and telling it that you are strong and mature enough to take care of the situation and that you and the child will get through this together. Then, focus on the solution. 
  • Change is hard when you feel like you are not in the driver seat and don’t have any control over what happens. However, in all situations, you have a choice. Ask yourself the following questions: Can you change yourself or your ways of thinking to get on board with where the bus is going? Can you talk to the bus driver to make a change in the direction? And, finally, can you get off the bus? Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, once said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Before we part, I want to share with you another experience and another perspective. Many years ago, my husband and I took our children back to Vietnam to visit our birthplace. As we were sightseeing, talking and laughing, I fell down a manhole. At that instant moment, I thought I was dying and my children thought they would lose me forever. That experience gave me new perspective about life.  

Life is precious. Every day you live on this earth is a gift. You never know what may happen tomorrow. Don’t waste your time living in fears. Charge forward and make a difference. 

“I will always have fears, but I need not be my fears, for I have other places within myself from which to speak and act.” – Parker J. Palmer

With loving heart,

 Thanh Nguyen

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