The Challenge of Change

“Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep. ‘Cause every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.” ~Kenny Rogers


It’s that time of the year when many of us pack up our belongings in cardboard boxes and move. To a new apartment or house, to a new city and maybe a new state. To be closer to this person or that job. To have roommates who don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink or to a town that’s more open-minded. Somewhere bigger, smaller, younger, older, cooler, quieter. Different. Anywhere but here!

When I was a girl, I loved this time of year. Summer was time to regroup, review, and reinvent. Who would I be the following school year? Studious? Sporty? Social butterfly? Whatever my choice, invariably it was different from the previous year. Different equaled better.

Even as an adult I find myself taking a personal inventory every summer and assessing what to change. This time of the year more than any other, I’ve started or ended relationships and left tired old jobs for shiny new ones. Yet I haven’t always felt that the change moved me in an important direction. Which makes me wonder whether my bias for action has occasionally misled me.

How often do we get fed up with a particular job, living situation, or relationship and think it would just be easier to start over again somewhere, or with someone, new? It’s hard to disprove the theory that the next best thing is just around the corner. But how do we know if that’s the right choice?

Maybe we’ve weighed the pros and cons and a move is the best choice. Maybe we’ve tried everything we could think of to make the situation better and the only remaining option is to leave. Maybe a change is in fact overdue. Or maybe starting over is just easier, but not necessarily better. Easy doesn’t mean it’s wrong but it does seem to require a bit more introspection.

Previously, I asked the question ‘How much is too much?’ I wondered how do we determine the right amount of something – whether alcohol, shopping, work, food, sex, video games, or Bravo TV. In the same vein, I wonder how do we know when it’s time to make a change and when it’s time to just sit tight?

Before I stopped drinking, I was driven to change my life through, well, change. A new job, some course of study, a new boyfriend, therapy, various nutritional and exercise fads (though I’ve successfully avoided Zumba thus far). Since I stopped drinking (and especially since I began meditating regularly about a year ago), I’ve become much more thoughtful about meaningful change, self-acceptance, and working with the subtleties.

What I’ve realized is that the answers aren’t as easy as different = better. Sometimes change – whether internal or external – is actually aggression towards the self. Sometimes the move – that gets us all wound up and stressed and seems like it’s the more difficult choice – is actually the easy way out. Staying can be the true challenge, the thing that allows you to go deeper, develop compassion for yourself and others, and grow. Maybe it’s working with a difficult relationship rather than leaving it behind or digging in at a difficult job rather than starting anew.

Not surprisingly, Sakyong Mipham expresses this much more eloquently than I when he discusses the confidence of equanimity:

Outrageousness can be smiling at the person sitting next to us on the subway, not making such fixed plans all the time [note to self], or realizing that our life—and the meaning of our life—is made not of how many things went right and wrong for us. Since others around us may live their lives in hope and fear, it takes courage to leap, and we can’t be idiotic about our leaping. For example, deciding to quit one’s job without knowing what’s going to happen is not necessarily outrageous. Knowing when it’s time to quit and doing it could be.

All of our stories end basically the same way. The way to feel OK about it is to be present as much as possible, to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, to take the risks that will help you grow, and know that sometimes the real risk is staying right where you are.

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