Years ago, my wife and I were holidaying in Mexico. We were playing on a beautiful white sand beach with our daughter Colleen, who was about 4 years old at the time. In water up to our ankles, we chased each other in and out of the rushing surf, all the while trying to dodge the next oncoming wave. There was lots of giggling and squealing as our fun continued….suddenly the laughter stopped… a rogue wave had charged the beach and engulfed Colleen, sending her tumbling into the surf! Realizing the power of undertow that accompanied this unwelcome intruder, I frantically scanned the water around me for some sign of where she had disappeared to. Suddenly I caught a flash of her white blonde hair in the water that was rushing past my knees. I plunged my arm into the sea of foam and frantically grabbed for a handful of that beautiful hair. At the end of my arm was my darling little girl, coughing, sputtering and full of sand as the waters rushed away from her little body. I can’t begin to tell you how scared, relieved and emotional I was as I pulled her into my arms and gave her a big hug to stop the tears….both of ours!
This experience, while fleeting, left its mark and Colleen from then on was very cautious when entering the ocean surf. Her caution while very prudent, on some beaches, also proved to be limiter of family fun for Colleen. Her trepidation about entering the surf would often cause her to take a wave face on usually knocking her over and further reinforcing her fear of the water. She was enrolled in Red Cross swimming and did very well advancing through the levels. However, swimming in the pool was not swimming in the ocean and when confronted with the salt water, the good little swimmer turned cautious and the results were usually the same.
Sometime later while playing with her older cousin she was taught to dive under the oncoming waves only to surface on the other side unharmed. It didn’t take long before the laughter was once again heard as Colleen tread water beyond the waves and once again enjoyed the water she had always loved to play in.
I reflect on this story because today I watch so many organizations struggling through tremendous change. It seems that everyone you ask these days responds with “how crazy things are in their business” and how much change is constantly reshaping their personal lives, their jobs and the companies they work for.
Many of us have gone through the “change management” workshops where we hear things like Pre-Contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action and finally Maintenance or unfortunately in all too many cases, relapse. Sometimes it hits the mark and sometimes it doesn’t. I particularly like the “Stages of Change Model” which acknowledges that once we get through the Denial stage that change is actually coming, we begin to take steps to “Accept” it, then to “Experiment” with our new reality. Often we are not quite ready to fully “Engage” in the change but at least willing to give it a try. The model implies that you will “flip flop” between these three stages depending on what you like or don’t like that you experience on the other side. It’s a great model to take a look at if you aren’t familiar with it.
It’s a bit like Colleen’s story above;
• A past experience scares us regarding change and we live in fear of it
• We avoid it, even though we observe others who live through it and seem to enjoy it
• We get up the courage to try it and get knocked down, further reinforcing our fears
• Finally there is enough motivation to try again (swim with my cousin, stay with the organization)
• We learn some new skills to help us adapt to the unknown
• We get pushed back by factors around us but we are determined to push through
• We arrive at our new reality… it’s calmer here but we still have to work to stay afloat
• The obstacles are still coming like the waves, but from your new location they roll by you instead of knocking you over
• You look back as they crash against the shore…. and wonder why it took you so long to get here?
A simple analogy, yes, but when the fear of change keeps you stuck on the shore instead of being where you belong, remember it is far better to jump in and embrace the waves than it is to fight them and get knocked down in the process…..
“Come on in…..the water’s fine!”
If you have an experience that you would like to share regarding Change and embracing it, please leave a comment on my blog for others to learn from…