How do you respond to change?

September 11, 2001. It was a ruinous attack. Completely unexpected, it was a brutal violation of trust in America, the land of the free. It would change the world, we said. And it did.

More recently came COVID 19. Unexpectedly lethal, it quickly grew in strength before our unbelieving eyes. A tiny bug that brought the world to its knees. It will change the world, we said. Right again. COVID changed how we live, work, learn, and even love (heard of Zoom dates?). The whole picture of COVID’s impact on human life will not be known for years when we will be able to look at the current situation through the 20/20 vision of hindsight. But one thing is for sure, we will never go back to life as it used to be before COVID.

Global warming is burning down the Golden State relentlessly. Every year, California’s wildfires get bigger and hungrier. What was once a distant occurrence in the wilderness is now much closer to cities. With each passing year, wildfires are burning down more homes and even entire neighborhoods. They will change the way of life in California and the world, we say. And I am sure we will be right once again.

But what if these are not isolated incidents or anomalies, but instead the norm? The world was always changing and will continue to evolve in the future. All the events we talked about may have been landmarks on the path of world evolution but not the drivers of the change.

Everything comes to pass, nothing comes to stay.

— Matthew Flickstein

Now, our response to change is diverse. What we do in response to life events is unique and distinct. Change is a constant but our response to change is what sets us apart.

Some shake their heads in disbelief at such events. They are unable to comprehend, let alone accept the transformation. They reject it completely. For their remaining life, they will reminisce the days gone by, living in the past and unable to move on.

Others move beyond denial to timid acceptance. They miss their old life but begrudgingly dig themselves out. They resentfully accept the new world order and start to live by its rules. Their acceptance of change is late and carries a sense of resignation. Still, this reluctant acceptance allows them to live a healthier life, than the one of denial or dwelling in the past.

Finally, there are a rare few with a very different response. They are caught off guard and unaware like the rest of us. They had no way to anticipate or adequately prepare for such life-changing events. But they are different (remember I said rare?).

They are different in two fundamental ways. First, in their minds, they have a clear understanding of the ever-changing nature of the world in general and their life in particular. Then big life events fail to overwhelm them. Their disbelief, if any, is shortlived. There is no question of denial in their minds. They accept life as it is and they do it wholeheartedly. Therefore their acceptance is robust and not resigned like the previous category.

Second, having quickly regained their composure, they look for ways to thrive in this new way of life. In that sense, they have not only accepted the change, they have embraced it. They possess the uncanny skill of finding ways to make their life better than before, as a result of this change. They use the momentum of changing situations to their advantage. For such people, all change becomes an opportunity to improve themselves. They use the momentum of the change to empower themselves to break the state of inertia and get to a higher state of mind, a better way of life.

This third category of people, they are the ones who get to play a part in creating the new world order. They find their way to the helm of the ship, or pick up the drawing board, or join the planning committee. They become instrumental in creating the new world order that the rest of the world will live by. It is in their energetic response to change that their power lies.

If we wish to lead a life bigger than one of denial or timid acceptance, then we need to grow into the strengths of this last category. We must learn to use the momentum of change to grow to overcome our weaknesses, acquire new skills, and explore new horizons. Then our life story will be defined not by what happened to us but what we did in response.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”– Rumi


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