As a change doula, a lot of what I do is help folks to reframe their relationship to change. While this gets a lot more complex and exciting when applied to a specific situation, I’d love to share with you 10 things to normalize about change in general—these are principles I’m personally always working to more deeply embody, and they’re critical for resisting capitalist culture and accepting your own rhythms and cycles.
These principles are especially helpful to come back to if you’re trying to be less change- or risk-averse, or if you find yourself struggling with shame and feelings of failure in your life.
Want to dig into the specifics a little further? We go into detail, with some exercises you can apply to your own life, in (Un)productive, so check it out 😉
My Top 10 Principles to Embrace Change
- The fact of novelty is its own challenge! Doing something new isn’t just about learning a skill or practicing a behavior. You also need extra time to process emotions like doubt, frustration, and anxiety as you stumble into doing something you’re not good at or used to. While these feelings are rarely fun, you can normalize and make space for them if you’re not in a hurry to reach the first milestone.
- Nothing in life is truly static. Perceived stability is comfortable, but it’s also a bit of an illusion. Try sitting or standing perfectly still as you read these words. Got it? Nice and still? Great. Now is your heart still beating? Are your lungs still expanding and contracting? This may sound a little trite, but the fact is that life is dynamic and always in motion. If we’re not moving, then we’re dead! The harder we try to cling to the status quo, the more life has a way of shaking things up. Expecting change is a much more sustainable strategy. Know that you will constantly need to adapt to many moving parts in life, but that doesn’t have to feel hard. Life is a constant apprenticeship to change, as you practice adaptation and intentional response (as opposed to automatic reaction.)
- Nothing ever actually happens in a straight line. Many of our cultural myths rely on the idea of straight-line, step-by-step, consistent progress. We envision a goal and expect to progress steadily towards it. If we don’t meet our expected daily, weekly, or monthly progress, or if we go backwards or off to one side, we label ourselves “behind.” We often doubt our ability to reach the goal if we slip and slide on the way there, and scramble to “make up territory” or “get back on course” to outrun our fear of underperformance. Instead, consider getting curious about (and expecting) the detours. What am I learning here? Is my body asking me to slow down? Did I discover new information that changes my plan? Do I need to rethink my goal? Natural movement happens in a spiral, not a straight line. Our goal is like a beacon of light shining 360 degrees, allowing us to chart our course and meander as we need. I know what I’m heading towards, but I don’t necessarily know where I’ll end up or what route I’ll take to get there, and that’s okay.
- You can’t eliminate uncertainty. Many planning methodologies encourage you to get closer and closer to full certainty by accounting for risk, using a decision-making matrix, brain dumping all the possible steps… but in reality, you can do all of these things and still not know what next week will bring. (Global pandemic, anyone?) When we try to eliminate uncertainty, just like when we try to move in a straight line or not move at all, we’re acting against nature. We’re going to feel the friction and upset when the natural order inevitably does its thing. You might blame yourself or others, feel defeated, or panic when something unexpected comes up and you can’t execute your plan—and then you might label the whole effort “failed.” Personally, I’d rather give myself a lot of space in my plans for surprises, rather than spend all my time trying to predict the future.
- Some things are out of your control: and that’s great! A close corollary to #4 is that not only can you not predict the future, you also can’t run the entire show. Personally, I find this quite a relief, even if it’s sometimes hard to accept! If I’m responsible for everything, and uncertainty is a fact of life, I take on an inevitable burden. But if I accept that I need to rely on others for my plans to happen, and leave some of it up to fate, I don’t need to heap blame on myself when unexpected challenges arise. And there might be unexpected opportunities! I can’t imagine every future possibility, and sometimes the universe will surprise me with something sublime or just bizarre. Whether you believe in a higher power, the synchronicity of the universe, or just coincidence, when you make space for possibility you notice more potential paths and destinations.
- Loosening your grip is key. A bit of surrender is mandatory to really embrace and embody change. This relaxing into the flow of things, into the unknown, is incredibly hard. Once you’ve accepted that change is going to happen, that it will be unexpected and out of your control, you need to allow it to happen. This is a constant practice. It’s not about a single project plan or relationship, but rather your entire life. We’re constantly engaging with change, whether it’s having a task take twice as long, getting tired two hours before we normally do, or having an unexpected request in our day. But when you let yourself flow with what does and doesn’t go to plan, it’s a lot easier to sustain that engagement gracefully. Notice where you’re telling yourself stories of how things should be, and see if you can release a little. And don’t forget to build in reflection and rest as part of all your processes, to resource that flow and help it feel easeful.
- Measurable results are not a feeling (SMART goals are some capitalist bullshit). Now it’s time for every anti-productivity expert’s favorite rant! Yep, I have a beef with SMART goals. I’m tempted to do the hip thing and come up with my own goal framework, but I’d be too tempted by something like…. NIPUMT goals. (Nah, I Prefer Using My Intuition, Thanks!) And NIPUMT is hard to say. …jokes aside, I do set intentions (meaning, unlike goals, there’s no fail state). But I just can’t do SMART. Most of those letters stand for cough capitalist bullshit (I’ll do a whole post on this, maybe!) But most importantly, having measurable (often quantitative) results doesn’t tell you how you feel about your goal or about the results. I’ve noticed a lot of these new frameworks incorporating joy into goal-setting, which I whole-heartedly support! I think it’s also important to consider how you feel as you pursue a goal, and whether your effort towards it is sustainable. I really emphasize both with clients, as we aren’t often taught to consider these factors in our planning.
- It’s about the journey, not the outcome. It’s a truism, but for a reason. Capitalist culture over-emphasizes those quantitative results. These measures don’t ask: did I get there sustainably? In integrity? Did I enjoy the journey? Did I learn something in the process? What relationships did I build along the way? (By the way? Relationships, not money, are your best investment to be secure in a constantly changing world. Pass it on!) Ask yourself these questions. Enjoy and learn as you go. Rest as you go. Let yourself experience your life, not just focus on how many boxes left to tick.
- No one else can tell you how it’s going to go. It’s natural to want to learn from experts and hear from people who’ve walked the path you’re about to. I struggle with this one myself—I always want to research the path ahead thoroughly, whether it’s an actual hiking trail or the steps of a successful course launch. But it’s easy to get swayed by advice and forget that no one has walked this exact path. We all have our own path. There are similarities, sure, but each of us leaves footprints in different sediment, through different terrain, and with different sized shoes. So if you feel intuitively called to a particular direction, if it feels right and lights you up, it’s okay if it doesn’t match up to what others think you should do. (Assuming, of course, we’re not talking about a direction that will cause major harm!)
- There will always be more to learn. You’re never going to be satisfied, but you’re not supposed to be. The lessons you’re learning now have more layers. You’re going to keep making mistakes. You’re going to keep going along zigzaggy spiral paths through life. You might think “oh shit, I’ve got a grasp on this trauma!” today and a month later you’ve uncover something new and unexpected. (And again the next year. And ten years after that.) But you also might think you’ve experienced the most beauty possible today, and a month later the world just happens to surprise you.
How I Embrace Change in Real Life
I just went through this entire cycle in launching my new course, (Un)productive. It was my first online course launch outside of a host institution and my first real “launch” in my business, which was a huge stress on its own.
But I knew to expect my timeline to evolve, so I didn’t consider it a “backslide” when I felt a need to pause work on the course in May and June. I rolled with it when I loosening my grip led to unexpected clarity around my work as a change doula overall, and I trusted my intuition.
My initial plan had been to launch before Mercury retrograde, but in retrospect I was cutting it real close! More importantly, the course wasn’t ready to be born in late April. I needed to be in the journey a bit more. I needed to go through another eclipse cycle, and re-record a whole section on capacity, one of my favorite topics to teach, so that it felt fucking good. I don’t care how many copies I sell of an underbaked course! So it felt really right to release with the Leo New Moon instead.
This course also goes against a lot of advice. I centered neurodivergent folks in course design and marketing plans, not to mention how I’ve structured my entire business model to meet my neuroemergent, anti-capitalist dreams!
I’ve received advice that just doesn’t fit my footprints, and that’s okay.
I also know there will be more to learn. This course is not my last word on productivity culture, supportive systems to serve neurodivergent and multi-passionate people, or tarot lessons for designing our lives. But it is my current word, based on my last 15 or so years of learning, and that’s worth sharing!
If part of your “more to learn” includes unlearning capitalist mindsets around planning, prioritization, and organization and finding a re-frame that’ll actually serve you in your real life, then check it out: