How to Embrace Change?

When I was twelve, my family moved unexpectedly to Singapore. I showed up at a new school in a foreign country in the middle of a semester and was the only new student starting then. On my first day, the teacher was unprepared and was caught by surprise as well. I was standing at the front of the classroom with a sea of unfamiliar faces staring wide-eyed back at me. After an awkward introduction, the teacher had to scramble and ask for an extra desk and chair to be brought in. Being uprooted and transplanted abruptly to another country marked one of my earliest life-changing experiences.

Change is inevitable.

Since then, I have encountered many more relocations across coasts and continents, relational disruptions, and career changes. However in every transition, there is always a part of me that feels like my twelve-year-old self — staring at the intimidating face of the unknown and missing the comfort of the familiar. Each adjustment makes the next one easier; one learns to observe and adapt but there is still an inherent sense of loss that comes with each move. Friendships and relationships evolve over time. I no longer belong to the inner circle of one group but find camaraderie and form new connections elsewhere. In today’s world, work and relationships are much more fluid. Even though we may feel more connected through social media across geographies, shared in-person experiences still create a bond far deeper than a twit, a text message, or a Facebook post. What can beat a hug and a shoulder to lean on?

In the upcoming weeks, there are a few changes in my work and social circles. Initially, all the feelings of excitement and anticipation have trumped the more subtle feelings of closure and ending. Inherent to change is that things will be different and will not be the same again. While I’m moving into something really good, I realize that I’m also leaving some good things behind including established partnerships and relationships that had developed over time. It will take time to gain and build trust with a new team and partners.

Being kind to yourself

To be effective, we are often told to adapt and embrace change. However, I also realize that it’s important to be kind to yourself and embrace the feelings that come with the change. Whenever we move forward, we leave something behind which explains the feelings of grief and loss, however small they may be. Whenever we confront unknowns and are out of our comfort zone, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable regardless of how well you may adapt to change. Self-loathing and negativity are often counterproductive to embracing change, while kindness and positivity are often helpful.

Taking the slow lane

In our heightened emotional state and the desire to “hit the ground running”, it’s so easy to rush through the process. Sometimes it’s ok to drive on the slower local lane rather than driving at or over the speed limit on the fast lane. It’s often important to enjoy the ride and practise patience to self and others. Wherever you are in life, it is less about reaching the destination quickly but valuing the journey along the way. It often takes time to accomplish anything worth achieving. Shortcuts are seldom available, especially in relationship building.

Furthermore, when we make a change, it’s likely that we are not only affecting ourselves but others in the process. It may be healthy to take time to slow down and assess the situation. How are you feeling? How are you making others feel? How do your actions and decisions affect others around you? It takes intentionality and sensitivity to take into consideration the needs of others when you are under stress.

Setting realistic expectations

Along the same lines, it’s also helpful to set realistic timeframes and expectations. It will take time for you and others to adapt to the change. Sometimes it’s difficult in the beginning with a new chapter or a fresh start. During those times of vulnerability and self-doubt, don’t feel afraid to reach out or tap into your network for support. When insecurities surface, it’s also often helpful to look back and remember lessons learned from other transitions — changing schools, neighbourhoods, relationships or jobs.

Learning to live with uncertainty

Living with uncertainty is easier said than done. The more we attempt to take control of the situation and avoid the distress that the uncertainty brings, the more we become inflexible and the harder it is for us to adapt. When faced with unfamiliar situations, though difficult, it’s critical to suspend judgment, to keep an open stance and to remain curious. By maintaining an open mind, the transition will become easier.

New situations often create opportunities to confront old fears, to assess priorities and development areas, and to be stretched. The discomfort of uncertainty may also force you to focus on things that you can change and learn to let go of things that are outside your control. What are some steps that you take to move forward despite the uncertainty? What are new things that you can learn through the experience?

Sometimes it’s helpful to find outlets to process whether through journaling, exercising, mindfulness practices, or stress-reduction techniques — try to find and use whatever that fits you in creating mental, emotional and physical spaces to process and digest the experience.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” — Charles Darwin