Most of us these days carry around a mobile phone that packs a serious punch in terms of its computing and connectivity power. So did that mobile phone become a reality because way back when, people thought “you know what, smoke signals really are a great way to connect with other people”? Did the car you drive come into existence because riding a horse to work was the absolute pinnacle of transport? Let’s be honest, no.
Whilst neither of those examples are ones in which we moved straight from point A to point B, e.g. the smoke signal changed overnight to the mobile phone, they evolved through growth and the evolution of new technologies… through a process of change.
I think we’d all agree that the modern car is a whole lot more efficient for most of our needs than riding a horse to the supermarket would be. How effectively do you think you could transport the monthly food shop whilst balanced on the back of a horse, as opposed to with your shopping safely stowed in the back of the car? These examples might seem a little extreme and perhaps they are, but the core that underpinned the development of both them was indeed, change.
Interestingly when it comes to change within our day to day lives, particularly in the context of our work and our jobs, it can be easy to look at change negatively or something that will cause pain in some shape or form. No matter how big or small, the process of change has an impact on us and as such we often tend to resist and fight its occurrence. Rather than actively seeking ways to change and evolve things, such as how to optimise a job, a task, an interaction with a colleague or anything else, we do sometimes revert to the current status quo. Once we have developed a familiarity and an understanding of how something works, it becomes a lot harder to break that perception and look at doing things differently. You can of course understand why we resist it; things like fear of the unknown, loss of control, perception of increased workload and numerous other implications of something changing, are perfectly logical perspectives to take. However, you didn’t end up driving a car because you stuck with the belief your horse was better.
So when was the last time you decided to be a little disruptive in your work environment? When you tried to do something that you know is going to have an impact on your colleagues because you’ve behaved differently to what they’re used to from you? Maybe you wanted to change behaviour or mind-sets or maybe you just wanted to try and do things in a different way, trying to make the working day go a little differently to the norm. Perhaps you’ve come into work one day and thought, you know what, let’s see how I can really ruffle some feathers today. If you did, how long did that behaviour or action actually last for?
Is the reason that positive change doesn’t always stick occur because we weren’t really invested in that idea of change for the right reasons or due to the fact we were just comfortable in the situation we were in before? Most people have stayed in a job, a relationship or even a friendship longer than we should because it was easy…or just more comfortable than making a change to do something differently.
You’ll likely have read at some point in your life, or at least heard of parts of the famous work by the poet Robert Frost titled “The Road Not Taken” but just in case you don’t recall or haven’t seen before here’s a reminder….
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The typical perspective around this poem is that it describes one of 2 things. Firstly and more commonly (including in far too many articles and books on things like “becoming a better you…” or “creating the life you want..”) is that it’s discussing the subject of making the difficult choices in life and actively making decisions on things when there’s a “fork in the road”.
The other view point is that Frost is actually discussing the fact that no matter which road you take in life, they ultimately lead to the same place and that we rarely turn back on our decision to try another path. It could be viewed that he’s discussing the issues of self-perception and how we view our journey through life. Whilst that certainly doesn’t come close to explaining or doing justice to the content in his writing, how often can this sentiment be applied to the way in which we approach the opportunity to change something in our lives, whether at home or at work? How many times a day do we have the opportunity to take a slightly different path to the one we’d have taken the day before yet choose to avoid it. Or perhaps we do take the other path, but don’t truly commit to it and end up circling back to the same route we started from.
Many of us, myself included, are guilty of thinking that maybe we’ll take a different route on something, but because we are in fact not pushing ourselves to think of the “why” instead of the “how” we never truly make that change in the end. Because we often don’t truly commit to what we’re trying to achieve and the change we’re trying to impact, we in fact end up on exactly the same road shortly after. More often than not that choice you’ve made also comes with repercussions that make it testing to continue with and as such reverting to the situation before seems the easiest option. A New Year’s Resolution is a good example of this – at the start of a year we state openly that we’re going to do something, often because of the tradition itself only, yet because we don’t truly believe in it or because it’s not an easy thing to do we usually fail.
When you look back on these decisions or these untaken opportunities a little further down the road, how many times do you wish you’d stuck to that other choice or gone down a slightly different path? Perhaps it wasn’t even a major decision like career choice or the choice to relocate. Perhaps it something small like when you decided not to speak up in a meeting, or allowed yourself to spend too long gossiping and being distracted or maybe you just didn’t make the effort to network at that event.
The value of change really can be enormous and whilst not every change results in something for the better, it does have the potential to create something much, much better than the thing it was before. The only way though to truly benefit from change is to embrace it and accept it or at the very least open your perception to seeing the potential positive outcome it could result in, rather than the negatives and pain it can create. By starting or driving the change yourself, not only do you tend to put yourself in more control of the outcome but you can often be the larger beneficiary of it’s success.