What is one of the hardest things that any human being has to do? Change. To be more specific, do something different than they are used to doing or think differently about a topic that is important to them. It is just human nature that we become comfortable and “set in our ways,” so it is difficult to embrace something new. In fact, most of us avoid it at all costs.
What is so unfortunate about this quirk of human nature is that change is inevitable. If you are honest with yourself, the answer to the following question is clear: What is the one thing in life that remains constant? The answer? Change. Your favorite ballplayer gets traded, children grow up and move away, the factory closes, Mom or Dad gets a new job or loses an old one, corn prices increase while tobacco prices drop, one year there’s a drought while the next year the rain never seems to stop — I could go on and on with examples, but I hope you see the point. Change is constant. Having the ability to adapt to alterations in your life is a very valuable skill.
So why is change so hard? I believe there are three reasons. First, change oftentimes comes along with significant pain. Quitting your job might mean less income, or giving up the softball team might mean the loss of entertainment and competition that are important to you. Second, change can also create uncertainty for the future. Ending a relationship, for instance, could be the right thing to do but leave you wondering if you will ever find someone new. In my opinion, though, the biggest detractors to change are the potential consequences that result from taking the action. We have to weigh the benefits of making a change against the very real costs and make a determination as to what is in the best interest of everyone it affects.
Sometimes, we seek change for the wrong reasons. That’s all too common in my daily work (see the “Manager’s Viewpoint” on page 4 for an example). But more often than not, people tend to resist change even when it is good for them. Here’s an example from my own life:
As some of you have read about for many years, your local cooperative sponsors an annual essay contest that culminates in an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for rising high school seniors. The Washington Youth Tour is a nationwide program sponsored by electric cooperatives in almost every state, and Tennessee is proud to consistently bring the largest delegation of young people to this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I participate in the Youth Tour by coordinating visits between our members of Congress and the students. Each participant gets the opportunity to meet and hear from both of Tennessee’s senators as well as the representative specific to his or her hometown. It is gratifying to me to help make that opportunity possible, and I am especially thankful to our elected representatives who take time out of their busy schedules to meet with people who, by and large, aren’t yet old enough to vote.
A committee of employees from electric cooperatives across the state work all year long with a member of our staff, Todd Blocker, to plan this week-long trip. My efforts account for only about four hours of the trip. The logistics are complicated and require a huge amount of work to accomplish. When done right, no one really even notices the many steps involved in moving, feeding, teaching and entertaining a group of more than 180 people. Again this year, Todd and the committee put together an excellent plan, and all was “good to go” until about a week before.
That’s when I got introduced to change. Todd experienced an unfortunate health problem that kept him from being able to go on the trip. Someone had to fill in and assume his duties. As you can probably guess, I was the “volunteer” who was tasked with stepping in. To be honest, I was not excited. Leaving home for eight days and seven nights at the last minute was inconvenient, and I go to D.C. a lot in the course of my work. But did I really want to take responsibility for this large an undertaking on such short notice? This change came with a lot of uncertainty, and I was hesitant.
In the end, I’m really glad I had the opportunity. Not only was the trip a lot of fun, but it was delightful to participate in a meaningful way in the lives of the 132 high school students who were forever changed by this trip. I was able to strengthen relationships with my co-workers and colleagues, meet new friends I hope will remain a part of my life for many years to come and even learn a thing or two about Washington, D.C., that I didn’t know before.
I was resistant to change, even though good sense said it would be really good for me. And I was wrong for worrying about it. I learned a valuable lesson from the whole experience, summarized by an ancient Eastern quote given to me by a thoughtful person who was on the Youth Tour with me: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them — that only creates sorrow.”