Slaying the Change-MonsterNovember 25, 2013
Is anything more challenging than change? Change is unsettling because it threatens our status quo, and it is uncomfortable because it requires us to get out of our personal comfort zones. Recently, I was reminded of just how difficult change can be. Nearly every day I use an online service called Blackboard; it’s a very necessary part of my life. I am comfortable with everything about the site—its look, its capabilities, and its processes. I’ve used it so often that navigating it has become second nature.
About three months ago I received word that the site was going to receive a major overhaul that would improve its functionality. I understood that coded language—it meant that the site would have a new layout and new requirements. AND, I would have to develop a new skill set to use it. When I got the news I responded in typical human fashion—angst. The questions began swirling around in my head: “Why are they doing this?” “Why can’t they just leave well enough alone?” “What was wrong with the old system?” “Why wasn’t I consulted before they decided to make this change?”
Finally, it was time for the new rollout. The site looked totally different! It was arranged differently and it required different steps to use it. I could feel my temperature rising as I absorbed all of the new information. It was then that I realized that I had three simple choices. Choice one: I could try to escape it. I didn’t have to put myself through this. After all, it was my choice to be involved in the situation. I could choose to simply walk away. But, that would be foolish. Serving as an Associate Professor for Liberty Seminary adds great value to my life on many levels, and nobody abandons an otherwise great situation simply because of a change. Change is part of life—you can’t escape it. Choice two: I could try to resist it. I could have written testy emails to administration or complained to my Instructional Mentor, all the while outlining what a hardship the change was for me at the personal level. That too would be foolish, however. The decision wasn’t mine to make, and frankly, Liberty University is striving to increase quality and productivity, not to satisfy the fickle whims of individual professors. Choice three: I could choose to embrace it. When I accepted the truth that the site added far more value to my life than vexation, I knew that I wasn’t about to abandon it. And, when I realized that the people in charge probably knew more about the need for the changes than I did, I simply chose to accept and embrace them.
I dove into the new site and began to look around. When I did, I realized that the changes weren’t as vast as I first thought. Then, I began to use it. I taught myself the new variations on the platform and found that they worked better than previously. After a couple of weeks I had an epiphany—I LOVED THE NEW FUNCTIONALITY OF THE SITE! You can imagine my surprise when I came to that conclusion. What at first seemed like a terrible idea now seemed brilliant to me; all because I embraced the change rather than trying to escape or resist it.
Following that experience, I began to consider again this monster we call change. Why is change such a threatening thing to us? Why do we resist it so militantly? Why, when change is such a normal part of our lives, do we try to escape it at all cost? As I reflected on these questions, I had another epiphany—the problem isn’t change; the problem is us. We all want to feel as though we are in control of our lives, and situations that require us to change threaten that sense of personal autonomy. Once I realized that I was the problem, I began to see that the way I view change is critical to my response to it. Here are three laws of change that I’ve committed to follow as I move forward in my life.
- The Law of the Big Picture. I struggle with change because I tend to view it only from the perspective of myself. I ask, “How does this affect me?” This is the wrong question. When I am a part of a larger unit of people (family, church, school, workplace, civic organization), I must see myself in light of the big picture. I must ask, “How will this change improve the functioning of the organization of which I’m apart?” When I see change in light of the big picture, I will be more willing to embrace it.
- The Law of Team. I struggle with change because I tend to view it from the perspective of my preferences. I ask, “Why wasn’t I consulted about this?” This too is the wrong question. While I would love to weigh in on every potential change in my life, the simple fact is that people in greater positions of authority than me are often tasked with making changes. There can only be one head coach on every team—everyone else is a player with a specific role and function. As a result, I must ask, “How will this change help me be more effective in accomplishing my task on the team?” When I see change in light of the team, I will be more willing to embrace it.
- The Law of Personal Growth. I struggle with change because I tend to view it from the perspective of my performance. I ask, “What will this change require of me?” Again, this is the wrong question. I prefer staying in the warmth and protection of my comfort zone. I don’t want to be pushed to try or learn new things. I know what I know and do what I do—and I like it. Yet, we’re always either growing or dying—the notion of status quo is a myth. When change comes I must ask instead, “How will this change make me a better person (in my family, church, school, workplace, or civic organization)?” When I see change in light of my personal growth and development, I will be more likely to embrace it.
Here is the simple truth: I am the Change-Monster. Change is never the problem—the problem is always me. My response to change is the real issue. When I encounter change in my life, I always have a choice to make. I can try to escape it or to resist it. This choice will always have a negative impact on my life and the people closest to me. Or, I can choose to embrace it, considering as I do the law of the big picture, the law of team, and the law of personal growth. When I respond like this, I slay the Change-Monster and enjoy all of the gifts that change can give me.
- Bill Curtis, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Homiletics