I remember sitting in my mom’s classroom the week before school started where she would change her classroom from a blank, cold canvas into a welcome haven for incoming students. She would bring my sister and me to run around the school as she prepped for the upcoming school year, letting us wreak havoc on echoing hallways. I have a vague memory of bringing rollerskates as well, but maybe that was wishful thinking. We would occasionally pop back into her classroom in between navigating the maze of the high school halls where she both attended and later taught Special Ed and Math.
My mom has always been a big proponent of lifting others up, of being their champion, of finding ways to motivate each student in a particular manner that they needed. She also loved those motivational posters from the 80s. You know the ones- usually, a person in silhouette with their arms thrust up in fists of “I did it”-ness, standing on a mountain top with a cheesy phrase or over-used quote superimposed above their head. Or a cute kitten saying dangling by her needle-like claws saying, “Hang in there!” My favorite poster of my mom’s has stuck in my memory. It featured a photo of a baby in a hefty diaper with the phrase “If it stinks, change it.”
I can think of many times in my life that stunk. I must have forgotten the poster because I thought of myself as a quitter for years. Sports, college majors, jobs, friends. I would routinely “quit” things that stunk, and would receive grief from people in my life because I didn’t stick with it. Here’s the thing- I tried. I truly gave it 110%. Because that is the person that I am- I don’t enjoy not following through. But I thought that I was a massive failure, that I just quit everything that I couldn’t handle. Now, at 39 years old, I have enough insight and hindsight to realize that I had a special skill that not many have- the ability to make change when things stink and not just suffer through it out of a distorted sense of duty.
I recently had to make the biggest change of my life. I won’t discuss that here because I am not ready to do so, and it wouldn’t be fair to parties involved. I do, however, want to reflect upon the biggest changes I have made prior to this, and how practicing change-making has strengthened that muscle. Not quitting. Change-making.
What is the difference between quitting and change? For me, quitting is giving up before fully trying. Quit has a negative connotation, so I refuse to use that word anymore. Change, however, is one of the most positive words in the English language. I recently spoke with a friend of mine, and he asked me if “I’m sorry” or “Congratulations” was in order in response to a recent change I made in my life. My heart bloomed because he understood that I hadn’t quit, I made a change. He informed me that he is a proponent of change, and I look forward to a lengthy conversation with him about it.
The only thing constant in life is change. And if you keep doing things because “that is how they have always been done,” you are living by someone else’s definition of how life should be. What is your definition? That is the beauty of it- YOU get to decide your own personal beliefs and live your life according to them.
When I graduated from college in 2003, job opportunities were scarce. I wasn’t a great student (I preferred sleeping in to attending a massive 400 person lecture where I didn’t learn anything and wasn’t missed). I did, however, have excellent grades due to my ability to stay up all night before an exam and cram. With close to a 4.0, I should have had an array of available job offers. I had exactly two- one was for a plumbing company in retail sales, and the other was at a tech company. In sales.
I was NOT the ideal candidate for a sales position. I would rather give things away for free because people needed them than try to convince someone to buy something. I didn’t know that though because I was 22 and thought I could do anything. So I took the job in technology sales. It enabled me to move to Chicago and make friends with three women with whom to this day I am extremely close. However, I did stop working at this job after 6 months because each and every day was excruciating for me. Partly because my personality was NOT cut out for sales, and partially because the gender bias against women was horrific. I simply made a change because, frankly, the job stunk.
Other people in my life didn’t see it that way. They were shocked. How could you quit a job that you have had for less than a year? How is that going to look to your future employer? How irresponsible! Well, I managed to find another job. And when that one stunk I made a change there as well. I eventually learned my lesson that convincing people to do things was not where I wanted to be. It took me a few tries to learn that lesson, but I now know never to accept a job where I have to do that. Change made, lesson learned.
How about the classic anguishing decision many moms make when they give birth? The decision of whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed. I had my first child at age 30, the age where I thought I could think for myself and make decisions based upon my own intuition and beliefs. Nope.
Right out the gate, breastfeeding did not go smoothly. I didn’t produce enough, and this kid was ravenous. The nurses nicknamed him Bryson the Dyson because he was constantly trying to nurse. I eventually had to have surgery a month after he was born (gall bladder removal- who knew this was so popular after giving birth??) and it made it even more difficult to nurse. I would nurse him every three hours, he would take 45 minutes to eat, it would take 15 minutes to get him to sleep, then I would pump for an hour, try to go back to sleep, then when I finally dozed off it was time to nurse again.
If you have never been sleep-deprived, you know why they use it as a form of torture. I went insane. The combination of fluctuating hormones, lack of sleep and the weight of the world in responsibility caused me to crash and burn. Eventually, I made a change and switched to formula after months of agony.
Along comes baby #2. A week in, breastfeeding wasn’t working out and she wasn’t gaining enough weight. I learned enough from baby #1 that formula doesn’t kill a kid but still felt that I was failing my daughter in some way. My lovely pediatrician at my baby’s 1-week checkup closed the door and asked me how breastfeeding was going. I tearfully recounted the 3-hour-nursing-pumping cycle that I was enduring. She asked me if I wanted to breastfeed. I wailed “Nooooo!” She said ok, that I was done. Pop on two sports bras, cut off the supply, and switch to formula. I felt zero guilt after that. I made a change. I learned from past experiences, consulted an expert, and made the damn change. And PS- my daughter is smart. Like, crazy smart. Like reading at a second or third grade level in Kindergarten smart. So no, formula didn’t take away her ability to be brilliant. The pediatrician assured me that. She was an expert and I believed her. She was right. And screw the insecure moms who tried to tell me otherwise.
I can think of dozens of other instances where I made a change and they all brought me to a place I wouldn’t currently be. And today, I love where I am. I am more peaceful than I have been in years, and I look forward to more change in my life. Now, I honor it. I invite it. I learn from it.
If you are looking to make change in your life here is the process I go through when a major decision needs to be made. Maybe it will help initiate change in yours or help you exercise that change muscle. Our minds crave things that are familiar, even if the familiar is wrong or harmful. Change is a muscle that needs to be used to grow strong.
Identify the discomfort or unease that you have. It might be a physical sensation, like a tightness in your chest. It might be a mental or emotional sensation, like a thought that keeps returning or repeating.
Connect the feeling to the situation. Make the connection- what is causing that discomfort? What situation or issue is making you feel this way?
List your options. What options are there to alleviate this discomfort? What changes can you make? List them ALL, even if they don’t seem viable. Read each one aloud and monitor your physical, emotional, and mental response to each. Does one make you absolutely panic? Why? Explore that. Is it the wrong decision, or just intimidating?
Consult an expert. If you are still unsure, consult an expert in the field. I don’t mean talk to your hairstylist. I mean find someone who has had extensive experience or education in this situation and can help give you the information that you need. Take their information and use it as weight for your decision, but know that you don’t have to take their advice if it doesn’t feel right. It might help you feel more confident in your decision to have an expert’s opinion, though.
Make the change. Very few things in life are permanent. Realize that if you make a change and the end result isn’t what you thought it would be, you can make another change. Even minor changes can have a major impact. Course correction. A 1-degree shift in direction can result in a completely different destination over time. Think about sailers. If they change their course by 1 degree they could end up in a completely different city or continent. Give your change time to reveal itself, then make another change if it stinks.
Cheers to creating a life that is true to you, and being courageous enough to make the changes that can get you there.