Dinah Liversidge explains how to embrace long term change
When the COVID-19 outbreak spread around the planet at the start of this year, many of us were convinced it would be a short-term challenge that we would overcome in a matter of weeks. As the numbers rose however, we all watched with daily despair as friends and colleagues lost family members and headlines looked like they were out of a disaster movie. How much longer were we supposed to cope with this imposed isolation and lack of clarity? When would it all get ‘back to normal’? I suspect we will never return to the way it was before this outbreak, and on many levels that is going to be a good thing. We’re just all struggling to find a positive to focus on at the moment.
Change has always divided us. Some embrace change with a sense of excitement and look for the opportunity to learn. Others, and I suspect it is the majority of us, are wary and even a bit resistant to change. We will do our best to hold on to the way we do things, especially if it has taken us years to get our team to work in the way we’ve ‘trained’ them. We can feel like the changes are happening specifically to undermine our efforts or take the wind out of our sails. Change that we didn’t choose can feel like an invasion into our space.
The thing about change, though, is that it is responsible for all the great things in our daily lives as well as the difficulties. Without change we would never make any new friends; we would not have discovered our passions or our talents. If change was always a difficult and unpleasant thing, we would not be so grateful for so many of its outcomes. If we stood still, always resisting change, we would not learn or grow or develop into the people we have become and will become as we continue to change. We are pretty exceptional at not just allowing change but growing and developing and becoming more because of it.
Learning the Lesson
Change is not to be feared, but instead, to be questioned and noticed and looked at as a lesson we get to learn; and in order to learn from a lesson, you have to be listening to what it has to teach you. This can be hard, especially when there is so much general noise out there. Filtering out what the lesson is for humanity, or your way of life, or even your family, is not a challenge any of us is ready for. Start small, start on a level that is about yourself and your space and your head-talk. Being responsible for everyone else’s change is not your job.
Getting quiet enough to think about what this looks like for you, even in the short term, is also about being honest. Being brave, holding it together for everyone else as you feel the need to solve all their ‘work from home’ new challenges makes it hard to express how you are feeling. I’m a big fan of venting instead of bottling-up, and having trusted colleagues and friends you can turn to and say ‘today is not a good day’ is vital. One of the best things about getting brave and doing this, is that you are also giving them permission to do the same. You will be surprised how many of your ‘totally got it together’ friends are waiting for someone else to ask, ‘are you finding this tough?’
My first three steps to embracing change for the long term:
1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
This habit has to stop; it’s a killer and it will never serve you in a positive way. Comparing how other people are coping is also, often, based only on the bits of their reality that you are privy to (and if you’re relying on their Facebook posts then you’re seeing a highly filtered version). We all manage change in different ways and at our own pace and we all choose what we share about it too.
2. Take a Daily ‘Reality Check’
Focus for ten minutes every day on the things that are going well, the projects you’ve made progress on, the positive conversations you’ve had. It can be easy to only see the challenges at times of significant change, so this step helps you create your own story rather than getting swept up in the national or international epic that is playing out.
3. Get a Buddy
Nothing helps us more to ‘keep at it’ than being able to share the experience of change with someone we trust. This needs to be someone who is equally willing to come to you so that this never feels one-sided. Arrange a regular time to talk, or text each other and agree that you can reach out whenever overwhelm strikes. It’s also a great idea to update each other when you have successes too; sharing these is an excellent motivator for you both.
Track the Process
It can be easy to start seeing everything as ‘nothing like it used to be’ and when you’re spending more time working on your own this can soon spiral. Keep it real by tracking the process and you can be smug the next time big change impacts your company, by already having a procedure to follow. We learn from challenges and mistakes, and by keeping a record of what went well and what went so badly it made us want to scream, you will have key lessons for the future. We also start to feel more in control of our situation as we take notice of the reality rather than the story in our heads.
Every successful business has a story of thriving during a challenge, a bump in the road that nobody saw coming, a political impact on their sector or even the loss of a great leader; they’ve all seen times of massive change and come through stronger than before. And what was it about these businesses that enabled them to succeed? Their people. The attitude, aptitude, and ability to change of the people that make the company a team rather than a lot of individuals.
Own Your Story
And every Assistant will have their own story from the challenge; of how they had to adapt at a moment’s notice, whilst carrying the fears and concerns of their entire team. They’ll each have their story of the high days and the dark, low days. These stories of how change helped them become more assertive, more inclined than ever to become a partner with their executive, will take time to tell and come at the cost of many hours of self-doubt and struggle. A key theme will be one of support for each other, of how generous their fellow Assistants were with their knowledge and their time, and how they seemed to know when to reach out and say ‘It’s okay, we’ve got this’.
I took an hour yesterday to reflect on the things I am glad have changed in the last ten years for my family and myself. I looked at the amazing home I now live in with my husband of 32 years and the new, balanced life it has given us. I looked at our wonderful daughter and the partner she is so joyful with and how this has given her a glow. I looked at my daily health and my friendships and my businesses and I felt immensely grateful for the changes that created my reality today. I wonder what I’m going to look back on in the next year and say, ‘I’m glad that changed.’