It’s my 47th birthday. I had “me” plans to go for a quiet trail run, get a pedicure, attend a movie theatre all by myself. Then my daughter woke up with a burning fever. Change of plans.
Change. That sums up my 47 years on this earth. I changed homes and cities seven times before I’d finished high school, seven more times since then. I changed careers in my 30s. I changed one failing marriage for a marriage that works. I changed small things like my hair colour. And I changed big things like my beliefs about God and Faith…although, those changes were minor in the greater scheme of what really matters: love and compassion, and leaving this world better than you find it regardless of what the next life holds.
We all know what it’s like to change plans, sometimes by choice, most times by circumstance. Anyone who has done an ultra race knows that change is inevitable and often a challenge. So, how do we handle change well? Below are some tips for navigating change that will not only make it more manageable, but will also make who you are better for how well you handle it:
When Life Throws You a Curve Ball
Do the opposite of what you’re feeling.
What does that even mean? Well, if you’re an introvert, you’ll want to turtle. If you’re an extrovert, you’ll want to express. Do the opposite. Why? Because managing change well means being intentional, not reactive. Don’t do what you’ve always done. Do what works. Hiding from change doesn’t work. Verbally vomiting doesn’t work either. Avoid doing what you feel like doing and think about what you need to do.
Embrace what you can’t control.
When plans change, our tendency is to fight them – either by withdrawing (passive resistance) or by confronting (active resistance). Fighting change is like trying to stop the tide from turning. Change is inevitable and often necessary. Change can also be good: it means new opportunities, new chances, new growth. When plans change, look at them and say – “Good can come from this.” Accept that, believe it. Embrace it. How we feel about change makes it so.
Feel, without giving the feelings control.
We are designed to feel, so give yourself permission to feel all the things, with a caveat: You can feel without being controlled by the feelings. I have crewed for a lot of athletes who were in the pain cave. I’ve been there too. When there’s suffering – physically, mentally, emotionally – some believe that they can’t help lashing out or losing it. They’re hurting, they can’t think straight! I’ve witnessed just as many accept what’s happening to them and never change how they behave. They’re feeling the pain without letting the pain control them. A rare few who have learned the power of mental strength actually show humour and kindness while in a place of great suffering. Change is the same, because most change involves suffering to varying degrees. No change – even good change – is easy. Be okay with how it makes you feel, knowing that you still decide what you do with those feelings.
Find good support.
This sounds cliche but it’s a little more complicated than you think, and most people navigating change don’t do this well. Generally, we reach out to those who will tell us what we want to hear. This is a tactical error, making you feel temporary relief without improving your situation in any way. An ultra runner recently commented that they observed more DNFs in a tough race if a racer had no crew than with a crew. In her assessment, the ability of someone outside the athlete to tell them that they were fine and needed to keep going was often the impetus to continue on and ultimately finish. That’s good support. When you’re working through change and it’s ugly, you need someone to get you through it, period. Good support is tough love in action, ready to say the things you might not want to hear, that will help you manœuvre through change with grace and dignity. They will call you out when you act badly. They will not let you get into a pity party. They’re good support.
It has taken me many years of living and taking risks, trying new things, running, injuring, making friends, losing friends, experiencing triumphs, facing setbacks… 47 years … to learn that if I had applied the four above strategies sooner than later, the changes would have still happened, the circumstances would have been the same, but I would have enjoyed the journey more. Now, the minute I see change on the horizon and I feel my stomach clench, I pause. I think. I am still until I am certain of the next step, no matter how uncertain the future. I have learned the positive power of change. Plans change. Be a positive participant. It’s your story.
(Cover Photo: James Bai Photography)