Lots of us don’t like change, even as we wish for it.
‘Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.’,
– Fyodor Dostoyevsky
One of my sons has always struggled a bit with change, whether it is a new swim teacher, a switch in daily routines, or going to a new school. I think it is often linked to a feeling of having no control – when plans change and you can’t do anything about it, it can be very unsettling. No-one likes to feel out of control of the big things, and sometimes losing perceived control of the small things makes us think the big things are all changing too. Forced change is probably the hardest to deal with because we didn’t decide to do it. In this instance, the best way to cope with it is to focus on the positive things that can come from change. Find the silver linings.
Yesterday, a student emailed me to ask if she could change into my history class. It was a sweet and funny email and she said that she needed to change because my teaching was what had helped her to do well. It was very flattering, but what she’s really afraid of is that if she changes to a different teacher she might not do what she needs to do to pass well. This is unlikely to happen but this discussion happens every year with different students – and with different teachers. When we form a connection with someone and we attach our own achievements to them, we want to keep that going, not change to an unknown. The unknown is scary in its uncertainty. We worry that if we lose that tether to the person we think is responsible for our success we might not be successful. This is generally not the case. Certainly in this instance the student is capable of doing just as well (if not better) with a new teacher. There are some students I love but whom I think will actually thrive under someone else’s teaching. Change in this instance is positive – you get to see many different perspectives and styles of thinking.
Teaching is all about change. The curriculum changes, the course shifts, your classes sometimes change from what you were first timetabled, and the biggest change of all is that every year you get 120 new students to get to know, to help shape, and to motivate. Each student is unique and the way they respond to the content, and your teaching, is different from other students. The dynamic in a class also changes how you approach the material. This is why I never get bored even if I’m teaching the same content year after year. I might get stressed, but never bored! It has also taught me that despite the constant change, the basic system and structure and experience remains largely the same – safety and familiarity encircle a multitude of changes.
Change can be difficult to deal with if it feels like there are too many options, too many possible directions, and we don’t know which one to take. Like the train tracks above and the switching tracks – we worry we might make a change and hurtle down an unintended and unpleasant path. The thing to remember is that you can always change back. Sure, it might mean a bit of a detour, but the thing about detours is that you can still learn from them. You can enjoy the detour, hate it, wonder why on earth you followed the car in front as if it knew where it was going and it turns out you followed it home instead of to the detour route (ahem). But in the end, you can circle back to where you want to be and you might even have learned some stuff on the way.
Sometimes we fear change because we know it’s going to be hard. No-one really loves doing hard stuff, especially when things might already be tough. I say no-one but I’m sure there are some who do. I don’t understand those people. This is particularly the case when we are trying something new or making adjustments to our lifestyle. The thing to remember is that change is vital for things to be different. If we want that difference, that improvement, we need to do the change. When you fear change it’s a good idea to surround yourself with some cheerleaders who help keep you accountable while you do the hard stuff, or some people who will give you guidance and help you through the hard bits. We don’t always have to do the changes by ourselves.
We also fear change because change might bring negative consequences, it might bring failure, it might bring ridicule. Usually it doesn’t. But even if it does – failure is an important part of learning, of getting to that improvement or difference that you want. Society is not big on failure but everybody fails, that’s how we get better.
It’s a bit cliche but cliches work because they’re true – butterflies are the ultimate example of change. I like them especially because they don’t just wake up one morning switched from caterpillar to floating fluttering fanciness. They go into a chrysalis and WORK on changing. It’s an extraordinary process. And, even better, this is not their first change. Caterpillars go through 4-5 stages of shedding their skins and becoming larger and physically different before they enter the chrysalis stage. So they demonstrate not just significant change, and beneficial change, but staged change. They remind us that it’s okay to take small steps when we make changes, and small steps aren’t as scary as giant leaps across massive chasms. But one day, if we embrace change, learn from it, adapt, we might be able to fly.