Chapter 15
Knowing That Nothing Stays the Same

In This Chapter
  • Knowing that change will happen
  • Dealing with change can be difficult
  • Identifying different kinds of changes
  • Figuring out how to cope with change
  • Knowing when to look for help

One thing of which we can be certain, is that nothing stays the same. Our days pass by, one spilling into the next so seamlessly that we often don’t notice all the changes occurring around us.

One day, though, you glance in the mirror and for a moment you barely recognize the person looking back at you. Or you look at your 18-year-old son and wonder when he stopped looking like a boy and started looking like a man.

The seasons change again and again. The paint peels off the window sashes, and you call the painter to come and take care of it . . . again. Carpets, furniture, and cars wear out and need to be replaced. You change jobs. You move. One of your best friends dies. Kids graduate from high school, then from college. They move away. They move back. They get married, divorced, and then married again. They have babies. You retire and move yet again.

Life is full of changes. Some are subtle—like the onset of gray hair. Others, like the death of a spouse or close friend, can knock us down and make us think we’ll never get up again. Not all change, of course, is bad. Maybe you’ve recently received a great promotion at work or found out that you’ll be spending a year in England as part of your company’s expansion plans. Major changes, however, whether good or bad, rarely occur without challenge.

Change may be difficult, but it’s inevitable and necessary to our lives. Learning to deal with change effectively is the key to successfully navigating the twists and turns in life. As Benjamin Franklin so succinctly stated, “when you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

Folk singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie spoke of change a bit more colorfully than Franklin, but his message is basically the same. Guthrie said, “Life has got a habit of not standing hitched. You got to ride it like you find it. You got to change with it. If a day goes by that don’t change some of your old notions for new ones, that is just about like trying to milk a dead cow.”

Woody’s dead cow analogy is an interesting one, to be sure, but he’s right. We can’t avoid changes in our lives, so we’ve got to be ready to make the best of them.

Coping With Change Isn’t Easy

Change is rarely easy, but life would be pretty stagnant and boring without it.

Many people resist change, finding it far more comfortable to drift along day after day in the same old routines. They eat the same kind of cereal for breakfast—every day. They shop at the same grocery store every week, buy their gas and coffee at the same convenience store, drive the same route to work every day, contribute every year to the same charities, and sit in the same pew every week in their church or synagogue.

Go Figure
A bumper sticker expressing our general reluctance toward change was spotted recently. It said, “Change is good. You start.”

While routine is not a bad thing, it can become really stifling if carried to the extreme.

Not everyone balks at the thought of life changes. Some people, in fact, embrace change. They view change—most change, anyway—as being positive, and call it opportunity. Others see change as threatening and something to be feared.

Those who embrace change must be in the minority, however, because experts say that resisting change is a natural human reaction.

Being uncertain about the future, as we often are when change is occurring, can be a very uncomfortable feeling. Sure, it was just fine when you were in college to have not a clue as to where you’d be living when classes started up again in the fall. You figured that if you couldn’t find a spot in the dorm, there would be a friend of a friend somewhere who’d be looking for somebody with whom to share an apartment.

Somehow, however, that kind of uncertainty becomes much less acceptable, and far more stressful, as we move out of youth and into middle age.

Business leaders fully recognize the need for change, and go to great lengths to encourage employees to effectively cope with the changes that occur in the workplace. Motivational speakers who teach coping techniques are in demand at seminars and conferences.

Your attitude toward change plays a big part in how you’ll deal with it. If you view all change as bad, it sure won’t happen easily for you. If you look at change as opportunity, you’ll be more open to it and willing to make it work.

Work and job-related changes are so significant to people in their 40s and 50s that we’re going to spend several chapters discussing them. For now, however, let’s look at what other kinds of changes could be waiting for you.

Types of Changes You May Encounter

Change comes in many forms, often when you least expect it.

A car accident could cause paralysis and leave you in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. Or you could win 50 million dollars playing the lottery and decide to move to a secluded Greek island.

Your boss may come into your office and announce that you’ve been transferred to the company’s Indiana facility, and you’ll be leaving New York City at the end of the month. Or your youngest child could show up at the door one day, wondering if her old room is still available for her use.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the changes people in their 40s and 50s are likely to encounter.

  • Work changes. We spend a significant amount of time discussing job-related changes in Chapters 16, “Job Changes,” 17, “Dealing With Losing Your Job,” and 18, “Going Out on Your Own.” Be aware, however, that changes in the workplace are common at any age, including middle age.
  • Financial changes. Financial changes could result directly from work changes or from other events such as inheriting money, selling a home, or cashing in some investments.
  • Physical changes. While most of us will not encounter serious health problems in our 40s and 50s, nearly everyone notices some changes in their physical condition. Blood pressure may begin creeping upward, or you notice a nagging pain in your back every time you play a couple of sets of tennis. You’ve had to trade in your glasses for bifocals or are considering LASIK surgery. Most women experience menopause during their 40s or 50s. You have a good measure of control over your physical condition by how well you choose to take care of yourself, but we’ll all experience physical changes as a normal part of aging.

Go Figure
The divorce rate in the United States was at around 50 percent in 1999, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s up from 43 percent in 1988. And the bureau estimates that if the divorce trend continues, the rate will climb to 60 percent before 2010.

  • Domestic and relationship changes. Your spouse of 23 years comes home one day and tells you that she wants a divorce. Or, having been divorced for several years, you finally meet Mr. Right and decide to remarry. Your last child moves out and you begin suffering from a big-time case of empty-nest syndrome. Your first child moves back home—with her six-month-old baby—and you begin longing for the empty nest. These sorts of changes can continue through middle age. Your attitude toward change will help determine how you deal with it.
  • Spiritual changes. It’s not uncommon for external changes—such as a divorce, illness, job loss, or death—to spur spiritual change. You may accommodate spiritual change through meditation or join a discussion or prayer group. Perhaps you’ll begin attending religious services or attend more regularly than in the past. You may discover spirituality in music, art, sunrises and sunsets, gardening, fly-fishing, mountain climbing, or traveling to new places.
  • Living changes. You sell your home on the three-acre lot and move to a brand-new condo, where your outside work is limited to sweeping off your deck and watering the pots of geraniums. With all that extra weekend time on your hands, you and your spouse decide to take up mountain biking. The next thing you know, you’ve joined a biking club, installed a bike rack on the back of the car, and are traveling to spots you’ve never heard of to bike on steep and rocky trails. You make a lot of new friends, and you’re both in better shape than you have been for years. Using change to your advantage can result in positive changes in your life, regardless of age. You can either respond positively or sit around your condo on weekends, wishing you hadn’t moved from your home. Change is all about choices.
  • Personal change. Stuff happens. Your husband goes off to work one day as usual, and three hours later you get a call that he’s been taken to an area hospital. By the time you get there, he’s died from a massive heart attack. Or your best friend from the time you were in third grade moves to a city halfway across the country, leaving you with a huge void in your life. Your wife, a lawyer, is accused, and then convicted, of stealing money from clients. The story, along with photos, plays out for weeks in your local newspaper. Your daughter is going through a very difficult and ugly divorce, and you feel powerless to help her. These are no doubt the most difficult kinds of changes we face, and the events that really test strength of character.

It’s difficult to predict how you’ll handle these sorts of life changes. You might think that you’ll always be strong when tragedy occurs, only to find when it does that you’re completely devastated and feel totally helpless. Or you may absolutely dread any sort of change, only to end up thriving from it when it occurs.

Let’s look at some means of coping with life changes.

[image] Don’t Go There
When bad stuff happens, some people have a tendency to withdraw from family and friends, preferring to “deal” with the changes on their own. If that’s your tendency, try to avoid it. Experts say this is not a healthy reaction to change, and that it’s much better to talk about and deal with your feelings than to isolate yourself.

Strategies for Handling Life Changes

Experts say that when change occurs, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge it, rather than trying to ignore or avoid it. Once you acknowledge change, you can effectively work toward accepting it. Some tips for dealing with change are listed here. Although some of them may seem obvious, they’re all important.

  • Try to not be afraid of change. Accepting that change may occur at any time can help you to adapt when it does. Routine might be comfortable and reassuring, but acknowledging that it could change at any moment will help you to better cope when it does.
  • Get a support system in place. It’s better to have a support system in place before change occurs than to try to establish one when it does. Hopefully, you’ve got good friends with whom you can share problems and concerns. Perhaps you could talk with a clergy member or have a relationship with a counselor. Rely on family members for help—they’re the people who love you most and want to help. People who have strong support systems normally come through stressful situations far better than those who don’t. They also stay healthier, live longer, and are generally more successful.
  • Take care of yourself. When change occurs, it’s important to pay attention to your physical and emotional health. Change produces stress, which can have very real and serious health consequences. Get enough rest, eat well, and take time every day to get some exercise, even if it’s just a 15- or 20-minute walk. Reach out for friends or family members, and talk about how you’re feeling. Continue with activities that you enjoy, such as playing the piano or hiking in the woods. You might consider joining a yoga class or getting a massage.
  • Take charge of change. If your job situation is changing rapidly, and the changes aren’t for the better, take the bull by the horns and do something about it. Ask your boss if you could be reassigned to a different area. Or think about looking for a new job. If your changes are occurring because your spouse has withdrawn from you and your relationship has badly deteriorated, ask if he or she is willing to see a marriage counselor. If the situation is impossible, and the relationship past saving, you may want to consider ending it. Doing something is almost always better than doing nothing because it gives you a sense of having some control over the situation.

[image] Money Morsel
A friend in a high-paying health care administration job saw the writing on the wall when her job responsibilities were cut in half. Figuring that she was on her way out, she contacted a headhunter, negotiated a terrific severance package with her company, and resigned from her job. Four months later, she started a new job with a comparable salary, while still benefiting from her severance pay.

This is a great example of someone who anticipated, acknowledged, and acted offensively in the face of change.

  • Don’t blame yourself for changes you can’t control. Many of us have a tendency to blame ourselves when a life-changing event occurs. “If only I wouldn’t have let him use the car, the accident wouldn’t have happened.” “If I’d set a better example when she was young, my daughter wouldn’t be getting a divorce.” “If I was 20 pounds lighter, my husband wouldn’t be having an affair with his secretary.” You get the picture. Change will keep happening, regardless of how we feel about it. Blaming yourself when it does is not productive, and will not help you to effectively deal with changes.

We’ll all face major changes in our lifetimes. And while learning how to deal with change is extremely important, it sometimes is more than we’re able to do on our own. If that’s the case, you may need to find some help.

Knowing When You Might Need Some Help

If your wife comes home from work one night and tells you she’s met somebody else, she no longer loves you, she wants a divorce as soon as possible, and there’s a moving truck waiting outside to take half of your furniture to her new apartment, you’re bound to be more than a little shaken by the experience.

You’ll no doubt experience a dizzying range of emotions. You may well spend some time in a state of shock, unable to comprehend what’s happening. You’ll be angrier than you’ve ever been in your life. You’ll feel incredibly hurt and betrayed. You may wonder what you did to trigger the situation and go through a period when you blame yourself for her leaving. You may one day beg her to come back, and tell her you never want to see her again the next. You’ll mourn the end of your marriage, and wonder about your future.

If you’re mentally and emotionally healthy, you’ll eventually begin to heal. You’ll accept what has happened and get on with your life. In time, you’ll become open to new relationships, perhaps even seeking them out. You’ll learn to deal with your ex-wife in a civil manner, and eventually you’ll remember the good times you and she had together.

[image] Adding It Up
Physicians describe mental health as being able to maintain mental balance during times of emotional stress. If you lose that balance, you may need to get some help to restore it.

If you find you’re unable or unwilling to accept what’s happened and move on with your life, you probably should look for help. Some people resist seeking help because they perceive it as a sign of weakness. Experts, however, say most people encounter within their lifetimes a period when they could benefit from the help of a counselor or therapist.

Help is available in many forms. Some people think that contacting a counselor or therapist will result in a prolonged period of intensive therapy. They have visions of lying on a couch recounting their life stories while the therapist scribbles notes and mumbles to himself.

[image] Don’t Go There
If you suspect you’re suffering from depression, call your doctor and make an appointment. Millions of people are being treated for depression, most with good success. Don’t ignore symptoms of depression, which include persistent fear, feelings of worthlessness, sadness and crying, trouble sleeping, constant tiredness, trouble concentrating, eating disorders, and loss of interest in sex.

In reality, counseling or psychotherapy is not like that, at all. A counselor or psychologist may feel it’s necessary to see you only one or two times. You don’t have to lie on a couch, and a counselor of psychologist does not judge your character.

If you’re still uncomfortable with counseling or therapy, consider attending a support group. Many churches and synagogues offer these groups for people dealing with changes such as the loss of a spouse, parent, or child; separation or divorce; and illness. Support groups in your area should be listed in the blue pages of your telephone book.

And check the Blue Pages of your phone book for mental health services available in your area. Many communities offer counseling services and other mental health resources. Some of these services may be available at little or no cost, depending on your ability to pay.

Keep the following considerations in mind if you’re wrestling with the idea of looking for some help:

  • Nearly everyone experiences a period in life where they could benefit from professional help.
  • There is no shame in seeking help for an emotional problem.
  • Finding help can allow you to move past your problems and get on with your life.
  • Taking the initiative to find help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It is a step in taking control of your life.
  • Living with depression, or in a prolonged depressed state, isn’t necessary. Most doctors and therapists recommend a combination of medication and counseling to treat depression, and it’s usually done successfully.

Change happens, and when it does, it’s up to each of us to deal with it the best we can. Preparing for change is as simple as acknowledging that it will occur and having a support system in place for when it does.

Remember that not all change is bad, but even good changes can cause stress. And if you find you’re having problems coping with change, keep in mind that there is help available.

The Least You Need to Know
  • Something in life we can count on is that nothing ever stays the same.
  • Being open to change can help make it easier to deal with when it occurs.
  • Change comes in many flavors, including physical, personal, relationship, work, financial, life, and spiritual.
  • There are strategies we can use to make dealing with changes easier and more successful.
  • If you find you’re unable to cope with changes as they occur in your life, it’s a good idea to get some professional help.
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