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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.