I’m resistant to change. You probably are, too.
I resist seeing my kids change (They’ll be 14 this summer – How did that happen??); I resist changes in my business (But I’ve always taught that class that way and I don’t want to make new slides!!); I even resist changes in rather mundane things, like refusing to try a new brand of hot sauce when my favorite brand of hot sauce is out-of-stock at every grocery store I’ve been to this week. (This is absolutely and sadly true, my friends.)
Last weekend I was reflecting on my resistance to change and had one of those rare, unexpected, perspective-altering insights:
Change is loss… and gain.
I put that ellipses in there because when this insight first hit me, I only recognized the first part: Change is loss.
This insight felt hard and sad, but I knew it was true. When things change, we always lose something.
When my kids grow up, I inevitably lose their babyhood.
When I change what I’m teaching, I lose the comfort of delivering predictable material.
And if I change the hot sauce, I lose that familiar, enjoyable taste.
But the real reason “Change is loss” felt so hard for me was because I’ve recently lost someone very close to me. This is the hardest change I’ve ever had to adjust to.
So yes, change is loss.
But it is also gain.
When this second half of the insight hit me, I felt a buoying glimmer of hope, followed quickly by suspicion.
What do we gain by change? Aren’t some changes—like the death of a loved one—just loss?
I thought of nature, that ultimate teacher and arbiter of truth.
When a seed sprouts there is no doubt it changes. What does it lose by this? The comfortable protection of its seed-form, encased in soil, hiding it from hungry omnivores. But what does it gain? Flowers, fruits, sunlight, the opportunity to reproduce, the possibility of dazzling passerby with exotic colors or smells.
I followed this lesson further. As that plant continues to change and inevitably ages, withers, and dies, what does it lose? Here the answer was easy: its life, its vibrant colors, its tall, strong stem. Now the harder question… What does it gain? I imagined all those nutrients returning to the soil, nourishing it, providing an optimal environment for future seeds to grow. All those future plants will contain the genetic remnants of the former plant.
In other words, by losing its life, it gains new life.
I suddenly understood why all religions contain the idea of resurrection or reincarnation or rebirth.
We are not that different from the plants.
As I asked this second, harder question—What do I gain?—about my current life changes, the ones I’m resisting, I realized there was plenty to be gained.
When my kids grow up, I gain the opportunity to see them flower into adults, to develop responsibilities, to live a full and vibrant life.
When I change aspects of my business, I gain the opportunity to learn new things, reach new people, and develop myself personally and professionally.
And yes, when I change the hot sauce, I just might gain a new favorite condiment.
The gains from harder change—like losing someone you love—are more difficult to see. And I definitely don’t see all of them now, only six months out. But I know I’ve already gained a deeper sense of compassion for those who are suffering. I don’t wait to send cards or reach out or try to pretend people aren’t hurting when they clearly are. I’m no longer afraid to witness others’ pain, because I now recognize their pain as similar to my own. I think this allows me to be a better person. I’ve also gained some deeper insights into life, which allows me to write things like this, which I hope helps people.
When change feels difficult, it’s because we aren’t focusing on both aspects: the loss and the gain.
Despite what we may initially think, neither is better than the other. They’re just different. However, if you’re like most of us, you view loss as “bad” and gain as “good.” This is normal. We humans have built-in loss aversion.
But what might happen if we looked at loss and gain from a new perspective? What if we simply saw them as the inevitable outcomes of all the changes in our lives? What if we saw them as equal? A way to create balance? It might take a long time to see that balance, but it’s there. Trying to accept this has been very helpful to me as I navigate change lately.
I hope this post helps you embrace the losses and gains that come with change.
I’m curious, what big changes are you facing in your life right now? Feel free to email me personally at [email protected] and let me know.