Staying Loyal to the Process of Change, Not Just the Outcome

Something new is upon us,
And yet nothing is ever new….
The changes we dread most may contain our salvation.
— Barbara Kingsolver, Small Wonders

Oh Change! Sometimes it’s too fast. Sometimes it’s too slow. It seems we never feel like it’s right. It almost never fits the time frame we imagine or the time frame that feels comfortable. And it’s everywhere. Change is everywhere.

I have a friend who is in high school and people are just torturing him with questions about his future—what he wants to study, where he wants to go to college, what classes he’s taking next year, what he wants to major in, what job he wants in the future. I mean, isn’t it enough that he just got his driver’s permit this week? How much change is a person supposed to tolerate? And in the organizations I work in, there are endless conversations about what people need to do to change—how whole divisions can make change, how teams can make change, and often—how can I get this person to change, or can people change anyway?

And sometimes I can feel like I have been knocking on the same door of change for a very long time. I can feel both overwhelmed by change and stuck in change at the same time. I am reminded especially of this feeling here in a very, very cold March in New England. We are desperate for the change of winter to spring. We are all looking for some hopeful sign that we aren’t doomed to an eternal March. But this change has been glacial. On every possible level. Yes, some changes are more like a long, slow thaw. Here in New England after our record breaking winter of snow, there is change happening. The snow is receding. But it is like a slow motion film, a slow motion film of a massive, frozen flood receding. Like a glacier receding.

We want this change, this thaw, our spring. But we have to endure a lot to get it. As the snow recedes—we see the damage. Fences, walls, sidewalks, driveways, downspouts—cracked, torn, broken. Broken bits of all manner of things, and trash reveal themselves as the snow piles melt. So many plastic and metal bits along the side of the road that I half expect a whole car to reveal itself in the melting snow. It looks like a tidal wave hit our community, but it did it VERY SLOWLY.

And this is the truth about change—it comes with work. And it comes with loss. It comes with holding the damage, and it requires a certain patience and perseverance. I once read that “The quickest way for a tadpole to become a frog is to live loyally each moment as a tadpole.”

If the changes we dread contain our salvation—then the antidote is our ability to stay loyal to the process. I don’t know about you, but that tadpole-ish  feeling is the one I run from the most. Discussion about change in the abstract is great—but to really sit there in that awkward phase where you literally have to grow legs? Really? How do they do it—those tadpoles? How can you live loyally this metamorphosis?

Tadpole really would be the perfect mascot for growth—wouldn’t it? It fits so much better, really, than caterpillar and butterfly—a metaphor I really like, but never feel like “it” has happened—that moment when you are all beautiful and colorful and the awkwardness is gone.

To live loyally as a tadpole would be a radical act of kindness—to yourself through change. Because I think what trips us up the most isn’t the change –the thing we want to be different. It’s the process we have to go through to get there. We want Spring. We don’t want a slow, cold March. We want to have legs, we just dread the process of growing them. It’s so uncomfortable this period of growth. Yes we want to be able to leap on those legs. We long for it, but we ignore metamorphosis as a stage in it own right. With its own beauty. With its own gifts. With the salvation it brings.

© 2015 Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD