On a warm, August evening I found myself contemplating the nature of change in, of all places, the courtyard of the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.
I wasn’t there with family, I there with friends, it was just me. A 40 year-old, alone, running amok at a theme park with an American Express card and some anxiety to burn.
The trip was a lark – an exhalation of pent up energy after 18 months of an oppressive pandemic and an even tougher slog at work.
My job is to push a boulder uphill. I have to convince teams that have done something one way for years, to do something another way despite the fact it might not be as beneficial for them in the short term. It’s not en enviable position to be in.
Even in the best of circumstances, change isn’t easy. Throw in a global pandemic and the economic uncertainty that comes with it, though and you can understand why I would want to fine respite among singing audio-animatronic birds and ice cold dole whip.
I should also mention I was just getting out of a bad relationship – not romantically but professionally. My boss and I didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on things and I had done my best to be a dutiful direct report. However, in the words of Kim Scott, I couldn’t “forget to quit.”
Luckily, in this case I was able to switch roles. I was able to jump ship within my company to work for someone I had known before. Someone who I had much better report with and whose growth trajectory was better aligned with my own. More importantly, my new boss was also a “change agent” and knows what its like to wake up every morning knowing that the frequent think you will hear is “no.”
The thing about being a “change agent” – and we’re ALL change agents to some extent – is that to do it for an extended period of time takes two things. First, is determination. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, every day is usually pretty predictable. You’ll try your best to convince someone that your way is the right way and they’ll try their very best to resist the influence of whatever logic or incentives you’ve thought up.
Second – and this is likely more important if you want to stay sane and/or a remotely nice person – is empathy. It’s easy to dismiss people and processes that are older or outdated as less valuable as whatever change you’re trying to bring. However, when you look at the “why” behind those people and processes, you end up being able to understand a more about why “the way its always been done” ended up being the way things are done.
It doesn’t make it any easier or – at least- it feels that way. It does however soften the blow when best laid plans for change end up being thrown awry. Empathy creates connection in the “no” and helps inform how you relate to people.
In my case, my empathy had started to wear thin. I began becoming jaded and miserable. I no longer began to care “why” things were the way they are I became tired of fighting the “good fight” while feeling like I was loosing myself in a culture that was falling apart.
This is where the trip to Disney came in. It was the best place I could think of to recharge the wonder and excitement that drives my own empathy. Somehow among the crowds and the over-priced merchandise, I got lost in a sea of humanity just to be able to find myself again.
Change ins’t a bad thing. It’s in fact the most natural thing we do. However, when change is a way of life you do have to look out for yourself. Self-care becomes about caring as much about yourself as you do other people and having compassion for those who don’t want to change.
People and processes do change, eventually. The boulder you push up the hill eventually does get lighter. You even get to change a mind or two. The most important thing you can do to engender change is to not just believe it in but trust in it. It will come, particularly if you yourself are willing to change.
Just like fear you have to face change, yourself. Just like fear – as Roosevelt said – the only thing you have to fear is change, itself.
Only change can make you. Only change can break you. It’s up to you and how well you’re willing to treat yourself. And that’s why on that day at Disneyland, with that cold dole whip in hand, I knew that change would come, eventually if I changed.