I don’t know why we are so afraid of change. Change is the only constant in our lives. Everything changes, all the time. Yet, most people work up a great deal of anxiety about the possibility of impending changes. As a therapist I often work with people who are control freaks. They try to prevent change to the point of making themselves and their relationships unhealthy. They suffer from the illusion of control. The illusion is, “If I am in control, then the randomness of life will not find me. I can protect myself from risk and harm, from hurt and loss, from sadness and grief.”
We all know that this is not possible. But, most of us indulge in some form of magical thinking that implies we have some ability to control events. We may try to control circumstances in our lives and protect ourselves and those we love from harm. Life happens to all of us; we all get hurt, we all lose, we all grieve, we all cry and at times we are all alone. We cannot identify, nor prevent any single one of these things from happening. We can make plans, we can try to predict events, we can choose among options, but we cannot control outcomes and we cannot stop change. Life evolves and change happens. The only thing that never changes is change. Does that sound profound? This statement is one of the things we do to give ourselves the illusion of knowledge and wisdom. If we are smart, we become thoughtful, we try to direct the currents and make our lives better and safer. We try to learn and become educated and master a knowledge base. We can use this knowledge base to manipulate the odds and improve our chances of success. Often we do it well and make our lives appear to flow in the direction we desire. It seems we have defeated the negative energy of the universe. Then, suddenly, we discover the randomness of the universe. Something blindsides us and knocks us off our axis. We go tilt. We get hurt in some way we never expected. This does, or will, happen to all of us at some point. We can not avoid it and we must learn how to survive it. If we are flexible, we can change directions. We need to learn to bounce and develop resources for adapting to change. Surprisingly, life can become more energized and more exciting in positive ways if we learn embrace change. Darwin said it best, “those who adapt survive.”
This week everyone I encountered was struggling to get their minds around major life changes. Some of these events were predictable life events that for years we saw on the horizon, some were the uh-ohs of randomness. For example, I met with a young man who is a senior in high school. He is experiencing a great deal of anxiety and not sleeping well. His mind gets stuck in a rut of obsessive thinking that prevents him from relaxing. We talked about why this is happening and about some strategies for reframing the source of his anxiety. Is the glass half full or is it half empty? You get to decide. The glass only has a given amount of liquid. You get to label it so that you can respond positively or negatively to the label. He was anxious because in a couple of months his life will change. He has never really had many options from which to choose. His parents and the law have dictated that he must g
o to high school. His parents have dictated which course to take and that he must graduate from high school. When he walks across the stage to accept his diploma he will enter a stage of life where he can chose a direction. He will have many choices, his life is open for his direction and he will be (or could choose to be ) in the driver’s seat. He understands that intellectually, but he is beginning to experience the emotional reality of it. He could leave home, he could go to college (he has been admitted), he could enlist in the military, he could move to Australia. He could get a job and an apartment and a car and a woman and settle in. He could become a bum, if he so chooses. All seniors face these options and all seniors experience this anxiety. This change was known, predictable and inevitable. Still, it hurts and frightens. It is like learning to drive in a simulator. It becomes different when you get in a real car by yourself and turn the key.
My aunt is ill. She was in a diabetic coma and was put on hospice. We all scrambled to be with her. This change, too, was predictable and in some respects inevitable. Perhaps she could have made different choices years ago, eaten differently and watched her weight, because there is a known family history of diabetes. Had she done that and avoided diabetes, it would not have prevented her from also having Alzheimer’s. We don’t know how to avoid that, yet. Alzheimer’s seems to be somewhat random. We start at this point and begin to plan as best we can for the rest of her life. We all come together, we spend time with her, tell her we love her and ask what she wants the last few months to consist of. We plan, we take advice from the hospice nurses, we see doctors and we get medicines. She may live longer than we plan, she may have a heart attack (those run in our family as well.) In the near future, her race will be over and ours will continue (unless we get run over by a bus before she goes.) We make plans and we play the hand out as best we can.
But, it is not the hand, it is the approach to the play. You must play the cards you have. You can not just sit and wish for different cards. Sometimes you can shuffle the cards and sometimes you can cut the deck to try to move different cards into play, but you have to play the ones you are dealt. The challenge is to play them efficiently and with joy and enthusiasm. Be open to life as it unfolds. Enjoy it, embrace it and manipulate it as best you can. Know the odds, if you can figure them out, plan your tactics with consideration of your skills and cards, use finesse when you can, but play with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Do not fear and do not avoid. Embrace life in all its opportunities and live every day you are given. You never know when the fates will cut your thread, but you also never know how many ripples across the pond of life you will start which will impact the lives of others. It is the only game in town, play hard, play well, and embrace the change.