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Shedding Our Myths about Relentless Change

You’ve seen that anxious businessperson waiting for the elevator, eager to get home after a long day at work. He or she presses the button over and over again as if it will speed up the doors. Perhaps that person has been you (I know I’ve been there!). And who can blame us for thinking we can make that blasted elevator go faster, through nothing more than the power of frustration. Myth dispelled: frustration doesn’t have power (certainly not over an elevator). Reality revealed: it’s more exhausting than helpful.

In our work, what persistent myth exhausts us leaders the most? Recently an executive I’m coaching and I agreed that it’s this one: “Change will eventually come to an end.” Au contraire! Just like we can’t make the elevator speed up, change will not stop. Ever. In fact, most of us are leaders of — and participants in — change throughout multiple overlapping arenas of our lives. From work to home and at points in between, change is relentless.

Take our corneas, for instance. I was just reading about a successful surgery that returned sight to Mike May, who had been blind for 46 years. The first stage of his surgery was a transplant to replace his eyes’ non-functioning corneas. The limbal stem cells of the cornea are in constant renovation, which is important, because without this, the eye becomes “like a dirty windshield in a car without washer fluid.” This story reminded me that even as adults, many parts of our bodies are continually renewing.

Our skin is another living organ (our largest) which is always changing. Our molting may not be as dramatic as a snake sloughing off one whole layer at a time, but yesterday’s skin is not what you’re wearing today. The message? A refutation of these silly beliefs: “old dogs can’t learn new tricks,” “we’re getting older, not better,” or “I know what’s right for me — I don’t need to change.” Your body says phooey to that. You can’t help changing.

If we don’t find a way to embrace this continuous change, the effort to fight it (or even simply ride it out) exhausts us. Worse than that, we tend to project this silly notion of The End of Change onto our teams and organizations. We say things like: “We’ll call it success when these changes are finally done.” This contributes to their exhaustion, too.

So what can we do? First, we must shed the myth that change will someday end. Our bodies — skin, corneas, and our other renewing populations of cells — are a reminder that change is an inherent part of life. In truth, nothing happens without it: Life thrives on change. The trick is to align your belief with that experience. Be real with yourself.

Then you can ask, “What can I do to be calm, balanced, and resilient in the middle of change?” For a superb conversation with the teams you lead, change the “I” to “we” and ask the question again. Now that is a strategic question, providing energy and inspiration, instead of taking it away. That’s the kind of thinking that feels as fresh as new skin.