This post explores how "not changing much" in the past three years proved that I did, indeed, take some huge risks.
“People don’t go to couples therapy because they want to change,” opined my social work professor. “They go because they want the other person to change.”
It’s so much easier to blow off making changes. Especially if you’re me.
This blog is my saga of leaving my bubble and finally venturing out. "There are two types of change: the change we choose and the change that chooses us," said TV personality Linda Ellerbee. I tend toward the second group. I’ve always dragged my feet, waiting to be pushed.
As a social worker for 30 years, I’m already one of the good guys, right? Why must I push myself? I’d rather rest on my laurels. Retire to a rocking chair on the porch. Leave well enough alone.
Jean and I have been friends and colleagues for 30 years. When she hired me as content editor for Leading Consciously, she was clear this would be a different relationship, and I don’t have the words to express how right she was. I have wanted to quit many times, as resistant as I am to pushing myself.
Recently Jean asked me what changes I’ve made over the past three years. “But I haven’t changed!” I protested. She was incredulous; I started writing to prove I was right. (Spoiler alert: she wasn’t wrong.) From there it became a blog post. Where do I start?
Again quoting Linda Ellerbee: "What I like most about change is that it's a synonym for hope. If you're taking a risk, what you are really saying is, I believe in tomorrow and I will be part of it." Also the reverse: if you believe in tomorrow, you will take a risk.
Change felt like a huge risk to me.
1. Fear of exposure. I have talked the talk for many years, holding myself to a standard of justice and acceptance while never exploring my inner self. After all, I’m a social worker. Valuing multiculturalism and antiracism is what we do. But still I was fearful: What if I say something racist? What if I’m really racist? I can’t speak up or have an uncomfortable conversation because people will know. I can’t put myself in situations where my inner secrets will show. (see blog #2, Behind the scenes: Coming to terms with White fragility)
Truth is, I’m not alone. Racism is deeply rooted, mine included, embedded in my community’s immigrant story. Like any bad infection it needs exposure to air. I imagine I’ve embarrassed myself more times than I know, and I’m still being told when I mess up.
I’m having a hard time admitting this publicly. I’m stunned by how little I knew when this self-examination process began, nor do I know why I was suddenly able to do it. But as they say, the truth will set you free. My friends are still talking to me.
2. Shame. At heart I know I’m a fraud, and if I don’t do everything perfectly, I’m worthless. If I don’t help clean up the local tornado damage, I’m a terrible person. If I break my diet, ditto.
This is family of origin stuff. Owning it, sharing it, I find so many feel the same way. But I don’t need my friends and coworkers to reassure me. My ego is not their job. My occasional meltdowns don’t need intervention. If, however, I try to hide from it, I can’t move forward. Turns out to be easier to think, “Okay, so I’m a fraud. Do it anyway.”
3. Fear of feedback. For me, all feedback has felt negative. If I’m not completely wonderful from the get-go, I’ve failed. When feedback requires more work, it must mean my previous effort was worthless. I should have gotten it right the first time. If my work was rejected, I was rejected. When Jean would say “let me give you some feedback,” I’d have a meltdown.
Surprise, surprise: a few days ago I asked for feedback. What I got was the honest, tough truth. And it was such a relief to receive it instead of wondering and worrying what someone is keeping from me. I’m grateful for the trust involved in telling me; now I can work on doing better.
Without my conscious awareness, I began to change. In spite of my fears, I began to understand how I was undermining myself, keeping me from becoming the person I wanted to be.
4. Difficulty with listening carefully. If you’re like me, you listen with a chorus in your head.
“I better get it right this time… What will I say if she asks this?... I need to figure out my answer… I’m not sure I really want to tackle this project….”
Listening to respond – instead of listening to understand – is a big trap for me. I explained it this way to a coworker: I’m told to take a photo of the oak tree outside. I go outside and see a maple, take a photo of the maple, and hand in a carefully researched paper on syrup. It’s a good paper; someday we might even use it. But it’s not what I was tasked to do.
So how does this change? To be honest, I’m a work in process. I need blinders on my laptop so I can concentrate better. (My husband bought me a rubber ducky. When it’s on my desk, he knows not to interrupt.) Stop, I say to myself. Where is my mind going? Am I listening? Do I really understand?
5. Not asking questions. Oh, I get it! I knew it! I’m good with this, no need to go any further. But do I really get it? How will I know unless I check by asking for details and confirmation? I was startled to realize that when I’m not fully listening, I’m not able to ask questions.
Being open to new information seems to be one of my challenges, and not just at work. Can I tell you how many times I make bad decisions because I’m tired of thinking? And besides, it’s good enough already, isn’t it? No it isn’t. If it’s possible to make it better, then it may be good enough for most people, but it’s not my best.
6. Hesitant to act, to take responsibility. What if I do the wrong thing?
Yoda says: “do or do not, there is no try.” Recently our Leading Consciously team has started a new process of taking ownership. No more consulting Jean for every comma. The blog is my responsibility. No one expects me to do it perfectly, by myself, every time, but the buck stops here. Scares the daylights out of me. I can do it.
7. Fear of the new. Have I mentioned I don’t like change? Have you read Who moved my cheese?1
A personal story: I rarely rearrange my furnishings or move things at home. I like them just the way they are. When my then-new husband moved in some years ago, he convinced me to paint over the dark brown paneling with a lighter color. My daughter commented it had been that way her whole life, and she feared if I agreed to change it, the time-space continuum would unravel and we would all disappear. P.S. It ended up looking way better.
8. Computer programs terrify me. What a perfect way to threaten my shaky sense of competence. Everyone in the world must be well versed in the language of technology except me. It’s like learning a new language, with simultaneous translation. In the last two years I’ve had to consider: ActiveCollab, ClickUp, Slack, Otter, Zoom, Loom, Pcloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, Medium, Coscheduler, Doodle, Kajabi, New Zenler, Zelle, PowerPoint, Mighty Networks….
Every time Jean says: try this new program, it’ll save us time… I cry. Maybe it will save time later; for now it means the struggle to learn something new. I want to put my feet up. Do it anyway.
9. Believing if my work isn’t any good, I’m not any good. I should have done… I should have known… I should have worked harder… I will never get it right.
That old imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head. (see blog #14: How to avoid the trap of imposter syndrome: What you need to know) When that self-sabotage starts in my head, I remind myself: My work is fine. It can always be better.
10. Feeling that nothing I do will make a difference. Why am I still trying? The world is a mess. Most of us are not in a position to make an appreciable dent. What difference can one person make?
I’m doing what I can, and it matters. The world needs us. Judaism teaches, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”2 Maybe I’ll move the needle. Maybe I can inspire someone to join with us. Maybe it will keep me from giving up. I just need to keep going.
What’s changed is that I’m now finally open to change. Two people get the credit for my new openness: the first is Jean Latting, much as she hates to be singled out. Her uncanny ability to intuit, teach, and support is legendary.
The second person? Me. I was taught not to toot my own horn, but I’m pleased with my progress thus far. All it took was three years of resistance to Jean (see blog #80, Personal journey: How to ride your emotions as you change for the better) and two years of butting heads with a therapist. I’m not suggesting you need either of those; what I’m suggesting is to make a commitment to make things better. I’m as surprised as anyone else that it’s working.
When I look over my list – what was needed to take these risks – is a feeling of safety. Working with our team, I can be totally honest and open. Imagine a workplace where I can confess my worst sins, only to be praised for my willingness to confess them. Followed by coworkers thanking me for saying what they were thinking. Followed by a leader who tweaks her approach to accommodate my needs.
I’m not there yet. I still have some anxiety around a new challenge. I can’t identify the exact trigger of my turnaround. What I know is that I’m at the point where I can write this blog post because of the right commitment and the right leader and the right support. I remind myself this is ongoing, like a diet: it isn’t ever done, but it does become habitual.
What about you?
Carole Marmell is the Leading Consciously content editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions to ask yourself
#EmbraceChange #ChangeAndHope #OvercomingResistance #TheBuckStopsHere
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