Client: “I’ve had a really, really crap week—I’ve been crying almost constantly and I’m exhausted.”
Me: “Congratulations! Woohoo! Good job!”
At first glance, this probably seems deeply unsympathetic—someone’s been going through a tough time and I’m cheering them on, smiling and laughing.
But I meant it when I congratulated this talented business woman. She’d been working on some challenging things and made a decision to implement some big changes. I see the tears and exhaustion as a sign of things shifting, of her choosing to let go of old ways of being. With change always comes loss, so I was delighted that she’d started the grieving process. She was embracing change, experiencing discomfort, expressing it through crying and getting on with it. Brilliant!
Not everyone is so in touch with their emotions, or so able to express and process them so readily.
But no matter how we get through periods of transition, our ability to embrace the process—with its tears, anger, embarrassment, awkwardness, confrontation or whatever—is an indication of how quickly we can put the change behind us and get on with the ‘new normal’.
I believe my client was crying because the changes she was making threatened her identity, both in terms of how others see her and, more importantly, how she sees herself.
If we’re always seen as someone who’s on hand to help, constantly available and an absolute treasure, acting in a way that’s contrary to this will surprise (and possibly upset) the people around us. Equally, if we’re usually quiet, reserved and seemingly ‘standoffish’, to suddenly approach people with a warm smile, outstretched hand and an engaging anecdote, can feel like an impossible stretch.
Acting out of character, or attempting a new normal can be challenging for everyone—not least the person who’s making the change.
- Notice if you’re putting off making a big change or trying something new because to do otherwise would make you feel self-conscious about acting out of character.
- Consider what you fear might happen if you make the change. Get clear on all the things you’d lose—and consider if any of these losses threaten your identity.
- Imagine an outcome of this change that is for ‘the highest good of all’. Hold that positive outcome in your mind as you go through all the possible challenges you might encounter along the way. E.g. Your team members might be very unhappy in the short-term as they realise you’re not going to bale them out this time. In the long-term they’ll learn more and grow more, knowing they can step up, achieve success for themselves and take responsibility.
If, ultimately your personal resources (time, energy, creativity and enthusiasm) are sustained better and your team is developing, isn’t it worth a bit of short-term discomfort (tears, even)?
(This goes for personal relationships too—isn’t it worth getting the kids to help out more? Won’t it make them better people in the long run and mean you have more energy for quality family time? Dare I mention the Christmas word, here? Consider doing this exercise, envisaging a great—not perfect!—Christmas for everyone.)