“Change always comes bearing gifts.”
– Price Pritchett
As you begin to read this article, think for a minute of all the changes that have occurred to you over the course of your lifetime, from childhood to the present. You might recall small positive changes, like changing a hairstyle, or huge changes, like taking a job in another state. You might also recall some terribly sad changes, like losing a loved one, losing a job, or having a child grow up and move away from home. Without question, the trajectory of your life has included many peaks and valleys, some welcomed, some not as much. However you view these fluctuations, one thing that all of us can count on in this life is that change does and will happen to each of us, despite our best efforts at times to keep change at bay.
Some of the changes in our lives are positive, while some we may greet with resistance and anger. For example, we may very much want to end a bad relationship, but not want to be laid off from a job that we love. We want to hold on to all of the changes that give us pleasure, and avoid all of the ones that make us uncomfortable. We often hear people say, “Change is hard!” But why is that true? Why is change, any change, often so difficult for us to bear?
Buddhist psychology has some insight into this dilemma. It talks about how suffering exists when we cling to our experiences, and try to avoid the inevitable – the inevitable being that things are always in flux. While some central aspects of ourselves remain the same, we are not the same people we were fifteen or twenty years ago. We have only to read the newspaper or watch the news to see how the world has drastically changed around us as well. Yet, if we gently allow ourselves to hold the idea that “change always comes bearing gifts,” we may actually begin to feel excitement and a sense of renewal when change does in fact happen (which we know it will!).
A personal example, reflecting a positive change, helps illustrate this point. This past year was one of vast changes for me. I had decided, after much deliberation, to make a rather significant career move and become solely self-employed. I had many discussions with those close to me about making this transition, and on many levels I felt that it was the right decision for me at this point in my life and career. It was difficult, however, to think of leaving the people and place that had been my home for many years, and there were many aspects of my job that I knew I would greatly miss. I felt safe, secure, and solid in a certain professional identity. Despite this, I ultimately made the decision to shift my work life, and while doing so came to know the gifts that this change allowed – more flexibility in my schedule, more time to work on creative writing (a long-time passion), a renewed zest for working in my field. I had to release my old identity, shift into a new way of being, and allow new experiences to come into my life. Now, as the months have passed, I have grown more and more secure in the knowledge that my decision was ultimately the right one.
Of course the gifts are less easily recognizable when the change is not one for which we have planned. I have grappled with that many times in my own life. Finding the gifts can be a constructive challenge, and the New Year is a good time to think about looking at things with a fresh perspective. This can be positive not only for us as adults, but if we have children helping them to embrace change can also be beneficial as they too, face many of life’s challenges. As the New Year begins, challenge yourself to look for the gifts in the changes you make, or the changes that occur out of your control, and see what happens. The points below may help you along:
- Change is a law of the universe: Change happens to everyone, all of the time. Recall the changes that you thought about at the beginning of this article. Some might have been very difficult for you, others less so. Now think about how your life has moved on from those experiences to this moment. What you thought was difficult has now passed and become part of you.
- Remember you are not alone: We all suffer losses, have plans change, become disappointed. When my father died I took great comfort in thinking about all of the other people I knew who shared similar losses, as well as those I did not know. It helped me realize that the entire human race is in this lifelong change dance together, no exceptions.
- Your children can benefit from your experience: Help your children develop a language for change. Let’s say you are moving to another state and your children will have to change schools. This type of transition can be difficult for most children, but there are ways to help them weather the storm. For example, if they are sad, help them deal with their sadder feelings, then ask them, “Name three good things that can happen by going to a new school.” Help them brainstorm if they have a difficult time coming up with anything. Share what will be positive changes for you in the move. Be the power of example.
- You may have to dig for the gifts, but they are there: A former of client of mine once recounted how devastated he felt when he was laid off from a very well-paying job. His wife also worked outside of the home, so while he thought that they would survive, he certainly had financial concerns. Knowing that he might be unemployed for a while, he told me how he had tried to make the best of his situation. While initially he was resistant to the idea, he found that he loved being home for his children, which he would not have had the opportunity to do if he had not lost his job. When I asked him how he recalled that period of his life in retrospect, he was very clear on what the “gift” had been – with tears in his eyes he told me it had been the happiest time of his entire life.
So look for the gifts in the changes you encounter in the coming year – you never know how life can surprise you.
Donna DiCello, Psy.D.
Donna H. DiCello, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist with 30 years of clinical experience working with individuals, couples and families. She maintains a private practice in New Haven and Wallingford, CT and is also Assistant Clinical Professor at the Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry. Her forthcoming book, written with Lorraine Mangione, Ph.D., is titled Daughters, Dads, and the Path through Grief: Tales from Italian America. Her clinical interests include grief and bereavement, particularly from a Buddhist perspective; the creative handling of life transitions; Italian American mental health issues; and the psychodynamics of everyday life. Learn more about Dr. DiCello at: www.donnadicellopsyd.com