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Change – It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint.

In my previous article I discussed the different ways in which Change can affect us – and whether it is welcomed or it is being endured has a great deal to do with that. We know Change is inevitable and constant, so our best strategy is to prepare ourselves, in body and mind, to run the marathon that it presents.

Whether you’re running with Change or away from it, it’s going to be a long haul. An SLA article from 2002, “Coping with Change in the Workplace,”[1] sets out a few basic strategies to make the constant transitioning a little easier.

Share Your Fears / Communicate: It’s OK to talk about how you are feeling and your worries. Cocooning, ie, closing yourself off from everyone and everything in hopes that the world will forget you, will only succeed further isolating you. Those who choose to not participate and adapt get left behind. Besides, there is a very good chance that if you are having doubts, others are also. Expressing them might even help your company’s management steer the transition more effectively.

Acknowledge that change is constant: Accept the fact that Change is now a constant in our work lives. Some will say it is even good for you. It forces you out of comfortable and predictable grooves, prevents that sense of stagnancy and may even inspire new goals. We easily spend half our life at work … it can only make us better as individuals if we can squeeze some satisfaction and fulfillment from it.

Avoid bitterness, grudges and blame: A fear of Change can manifest itself in inner turmoil; that hiss in our ear telling us how ill equipped and ill prepared we are for the future. Or perhaps we think we have been treated unfairly. It becomes easy then to blame “the boss” or “the system” for failing us. But that resentment only eats away at the person fostering it. Focusing on how we have been “wronged” takes precious time and energy away from actually dealing with the situation itself. Be aware of this type of unconscious thought behavior. Change your inner dialogue: tell the doubter inside, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”[2] You know how effective the negative voice can be, so why not make a conscious effort to be a good friend to your inner self, and be supportive.

Prepare for Change: Keep your skills current and be aware of trends in your environment or profession that could affect your career. Attend workshops and professional gatherings. If for no other reason, being in contact with your colleagues will inspire ideas and remind you of why you chose your particular path. Also it provides a chance for a break away from your daily routine. (see next point)

Take Breaks: Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, and sometimes all we can see are the knotholes in the bark. One of the best coping mechanisms is to take time away. Studies show even a short walk outside, away from immediate worries can help relieve anxiety and gives your brain a chance to relax as well. If possible, you should strive for at least a 12 hour break between work days. Remember the title of this article … it’s a marathon.

And finally, Take the Long View: Change is not the goal, it is the means to an end. Try to understand why your company is choosing to endure a period of flux, loss of productivity and the possible alienation of long time employees. Outside forces, ie, clients, technology, legislation, competition, are acting like gravity on the tectonic plate that is your department / industry. You might seem like a small cog in a huge machine, but you do control your reaction to what is going on around you. Just as a company is choosing to adapt to a changing environment to survive, so must the individuals within it.

On a more personal front, these are a few of the strategies that I try to incorporate into my life as a means to counterbalance the stresses that I encounter on a daily basis:

Take care of your body: Exercise regularly and get enough sleep. While many people use yoga to help relieve the symptoms of stress, as we learned at CALL[3] just recently, anything that causes you to breathe deeply from your diaphragm releases hormones that neutralize stress, so dancing, singing, walking, or running, anything you choose to do will help. And as for sleep hygiene, a listing of the benefits of getting enough sleep is enough for another article. Luckily many have been written, and if you still believe you function better on little or no sleep, just try getting 6-8 hours every night for a week, and then do your own “Before and After”. [4]

Strive for work/life balance: Remember: it’s just work! You can keep your work worries in proportion if you don’t define yourself solely by your profession. You are more than your resume. You are a person with many and varied talents, values and abilities. Your job uses just some of your skills, and not necessarily the most important ones. But you’ll never know until you find out what else you like to do.

Develop non-work related interests: Take time to explore interests and goals that are different from and unrelated to what you do at the office. Everything in life requires balance, including your life. Constant fixation on your professional responsibilities will make them appear outsized just by the lack of context. Give yourself context: focus outward on the people in your life, not inward on your worries. Reach out to family, friends and worthy organizations. Appreciate how much there is of value in the life that surrounds you. This will go a long way towards helping you cope with the stresses of change, if only because it puts it in perspective. When there is instability in one part of your life, it helps to focus on those things that are more permanent.

Clichés abound: change is constant, change is inevitable, the only thing that doesn’t change is change, yadda yadda yadda. Why do I revel in change?? Because I get excited by learning and testing and stretching beyond my comfort levels. Because it’s the catalyst that brings forth new ideas and products. It’s because I’m passionate about what I do, providing the best possible services to my clients. And change always forces me to have a plan, a strategy to keep going forward, ensuring we remain of value to our clients. Is change always productive? That depends upon where you set the goal posts. Anything that gets us closer to being more dynamic and effective as professionals has value. Even a negative result can be a lesson. William Blake said, “Without contraries there is no progression.” The whole of human existence moves forward because of the friction caused by the different polarities that exist in life. You can be an innovator, adopter, or laggard … that, and how you prepare in life, are the only things you over which you will have control.



[1] “Coping with change in the workplace.” Information Outlook, v6, no10, October 2002. link

[2] Stuart Smiley. Saturday Night Live, link

[4] “Staying Sharp: Sleeping your way to the top.” Time. Jan. 8, 2006. link

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Comments

  1. Melissa LaFlair

    Hi Joan,

    Many thanks for the excellent summary of factors that support change efforts. I have posted your piece on my LinkedIn profile.

    Kind regards,

    Melissa

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