Change is Coming. Will You Be Ready?

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You’ve no doubt heard it said that the only constant is change. Despite the inevitability of change, most people hate it and hope things will stay as they are. Here are just a few of the many reasons people resist change:

  • They don’t want to lose control.
  • They are creatures of habit and don’t like the unpredictable. As author Rosabeth Moss Kanter says “People will often prefer to remain mired in misery than to head toward an unknown.” Or to use another common saying, “the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.”
  • They are concerned about competence. Will they be able to handle it? What if they mess up?
  • It involves extra work.

What it boils down to is this: change causes unwanted stress. While it may be obvious that negative events cause stress, research done by psychiatrist Thomas Holmes in the 1960s indicated that even positive changes, such as marriage, the birth of a baby or the purchase of a new home can cause negative stress because such events require significant readjustments.

Plan for Change in Advance

Inevitable changes and the stresses associated with them can be more effectively navigated with some advance planning.

Accept the Facts. Acknowledge that change is coming and resolve to prepare in advance to the extent you can. While some changes are unpredictable, such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks or the sudden death or illness of a loved one, many changes, both personal and professional, can be anticipated.

Consider the Possibilities. Be proactive by making a list of foreseeable changes. For a lawyer, changes in your professional life might include the following:

  • Your mentor leaves the organization
  • You get a new boss
  • The organization faces financial difficulty or experiences budget cuts
  • The firm or company merges with or is acquired by another
  • Your supervisor decides you are not a high performer
  • You decide you want to make partner, take on a leadership position or change organizations or careers
  • Your area of practice experiences a decline because of the economy, changes in the law or technological advances
  • You are asked (or told) to relocate geographically

Changes in your personal life that can be anticipated may include:

  • Having children
  • Buying a home
  • Getting married or committing to a life partner
  • The death of a parent
  • Caring for an aging parent
  • Retirement
  • Experiencing a lifestyle-based illness, such as diabetes or heart disease
  • A desire to pursue a different path in life

Respond to Change. Don’t Just React.

Once you’ve identified some of the changes that could potentially come your way, consider how you can effectively rides the waves of change with as little stress as possible. Thinking in advance about how you will tackle change will allow you to more calmly and thoughtfully respond to change in a measured and predictable way rather than employing a knee-jerk reaction to change. A considered response, rather than a shocked reaction, is more likely to help you minimize stress and maximize opportunity.

In addition to coming up with your own unique strategies for effectively navigating change, you may be able to mitigate pressure by doing some or all of the following:

  • Develop and implement a plan. Examples include seeking out more than one mentor, executing a will and advanced healthcare directive, drafting a strategic plan to pursue career advancement, establishing a retirement account or drafting your resume before you need it.
  • Strengthen your support system. Who are the people you can count on in a difficult situation? Identify the people you will turn to if the going gets rough and nurture those relationships because having people to lean on will make things easier for you.
  • Take care of your physical and mental health. When something changes, being strong and healthy will give you the mindset and stamina to manage the situation more effectively.
  • Focus on what you can do. Recognize that there’s only so much you can control. Get a handle on what you can do, and don’t create your own stress by worrying about what you can’t.

Change is coming and some stress may come along with it, but with advance planning you can increase the odds that it will feel more like an opportunity to scale a mountain and less like you are running off the road.

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