One of the weirdest things about being a human is how we get comfortable with our habits, and resist change, while at the same time we get bored when things stay the same. In this weeks episode, we’ll talk about how to deal with the paradox of change.
When one day is pretty much the same as the next, we crave variety. If something is too easy, we get bored and quickly lose interest in it. But when life throws a challenge our way we often complain and whine about how life isn’t fair.
So how do we deal with the challenges that life throws our way? How can we learn to cultivate and attitude of gratefulness for the hard things in our lives, and use them to grow and become better people?
“A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.”
I want you to think about the last movie you watched or book that you read. Can you remember the challenges the hero had to face? The obstacles they had to overcome? Maybe the hero got knocked down and had to struggle over and over to get back on her feet, and eventually through hard work and determination, overcame a great challenge. This is something that we as humans crave in our stories. I mean how interesting would it be if the story started with, “Our hero had everything her heart desired, and lived happily ever after”? Not much of a story, and certainly not one I would be interested in.
So why do we love this in our stories, yet complain about it in our lives? This is what I call the paradox of change. Life is continually changing and bringing new challenges our way, but we get comfortable and feel distressed when our comfort is disturbed, forgetting it’s the challenges that make us who we are, that help strengthen us into being the kind of people we want to be.
Say that you wanted to start your own company. If you want to succeed, then you have to learn how to deal with difficult people and situations. Because it is impossible to never face a tough situation or to have everyone you deal with simply follow and agree with everything you say. You have to expect setbacks and failures because you are going to have to learn how to navigate difficult situations if you want to succeed. In fact, the more you can anticipate and plan for setbacks, the better off you will be. If you only plan for rosy scenarios, then you will have a much harder time when challenges come your way.
“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests. ”
When challenges come our way, one of the most important things that we can do it learn how to face them, and not shy away. If we make a habit of turning away from difficult situations and challenges, we’ll never get stronger. We’ll never reach our full potential. When we make a habit of leaning into the hard things, even if it scares us, then open the door to greater growth and opportunities. If we only take on the easy challenges, then our skills will never improve. If a pilot only sails their ship on the calmest of waters, they’ll never leave port because they can’t count on always having great weather. If a singer only sticks to nursery rhymes, they’ll never develop the skills to tackle the aria they want to master.
How can we look at something in a way that helps us see it as a tool for growth? I think the biggest thing, and this is something that I struggle with, is to let go of the outcome. When we get so tied to the desired outcome, we often just want to skip the hard stuff and get to the end result. When we’re stuck thinking that we want a situation to be a certain way, we can begin to feel like that’s what we’re entitled to. The problem with this kind of thinking is that we can’t control the outcome of any situation. Life has too many random things that happen that are simply out of our control.
When we develop a love of change, an acceptance that everything and everyone is always in a constant state of change. No one in life is static. Too often we get stuck thinking of ourselves as being a certain way, and what our lives should be. When something comes along and disturbs that, we often resist those changes and ignore the reality of the situation. We do this with other people as well. We decide that a person is a certain way and hold to our judgment of them, we find it difficult to accept that they may have changed.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
― Marcus Aurelius
When we can look at a challenge, we need to see it as a teacher, as the thing that will actually train us how to overcome it. We need to look at something and ask, “What can I learn? What skills do I need to develop to over this?” When a musician starts a new piece, she doesn’t simply try to play it start to finish and then give up when she can’t play it perfectly. She starts working at a very basic level. She’ll break it down into smaller workable parts. Each passage presenting its own challenges. She will probably run into things that she’s never done before or isn’t very good at. Working on these passages are the very things that will help her to become better. Maybe she struggles with triplets, and rather than wishing they weren’t in there, she doubles her practice on them. Working on the challenges of the piece is the very thing that trains her in the skills to be able to master it.
“Win or learn, then you never lose.”
It’s been said that those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. And while this was said more as a critique of society, I think that it’s very true for each of us individually, as well as the places we work. If we label our failures as such rather than as something to learn from, we risk repeating them. A client of mine once made a mistake that brought down some of his companies computer systems. The company fired him missing an opportunity to work with that him to figure out how to prevent it in the future, as well as improving their employee training.
When we can learn to be grateful for the challenges that we face, we can approach them more readily, and humbly. We don’t try to avoid them, but rather welcome the challenge and become excited for the skills and the growth that they will bring. Then when things don’t go as planned, we are able to quickly regroup and learn what we can from the experience, and push forward and do better the next time.
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