I’m realizing these days that I what I say about myself and how I actually react are frequently two very different things. The area in which I see this the most is change. If I were interviewed about my reaction to change, I would say that I like it, that it’s good for me, and that I look for opportunities to change when I can. If a friend were standing nearby to hear said interview, they might very well be inclined to raise an eyebrow at my response. In truth, they might see me as the last person who enjoys change. In fact, in addition to my grand, expansive comments about enjoying change, I have also been known to say, “I need things to stay exactly as they are.”
But of course life is not very interesting if it doesn’t change. We need to do new things, think different ideas, discover other ways of doing what we do. I know all of this, and somewhere in me I live with that idea in mind. It’s just that when it is presented to me by some external force—or another human being—I balk. That is almost always my first reaction. The gap between where I think I am about being brave and adventurous, and where I actually am, is like the Grand Canyon.
The most recent example of my not-very-courageous self being put to the test is when Jodi and I finally decided that it was time for her to retire from her job and go back to being a freelance designer. She had felt stifled, frustrated, taken for granted, and underappreciated for at least a year. She wasn’t getting to do her best work and she was spending most evenings trying to calm down after days spent trying to hold on to herself in the midst of all of this. We did the math and we decided it would be much better for her to pull the plug. Intellectually, I knew this was the right choice and I was so happy when we both came to that idea at the same time.
The gap between where I think I am about being brave and adventurous, and where I actually am, is like the
The whole next day, when she was giving notice and letting her friends and family know, I was really proud of myself because I kept feeling good about it, no matter what. My fear of change was nowhere on the horizon. I was very unaccustomed to this freedom I felt, but I just accepted it and continued to pat myself on the back. That night, when I heard her telling someone on the phone about the decision, I had to check in with myself to see if I was still fine. I was, but the edges were beginning to fray. I was getting nervous—not about anything in particular, but really just about how things were going to be different. Any change really does change everything, in good ways and even scary ways. What if Jodi focuses on art and creativity and I become very boring to her because all I talk about is some dumb work project?
Recently I read one of those memes that at first just seems annoying. “You can’t have change,” it said, “without changing.” Duh! But then, a few days later, it started to sink in. I really do want change in my life. I certainly want my partner to be able to do everything she needs to do in her life to feel inspired and engaged—just like she wants for me. So, if I want change, I need to embrace the actual changes themselves. The first night I spent in the first house I ever bought, I felt so anxious about all the differences that I seriously considered calling my old apartment landlord to see if I could move back in.
Jodi is happily retired now and we’re delighted at the way the whole thing worked out, but I know myself well enough to know that another situation will occur like this in the near future. Some opportunity will present itself to me or one of my loved ones that will be impossible to ignore. I will want to do whatever it is that’s sitting there in front of me inviting me in. Part of me will be scared, though, of having to learn something new, follow a new path, or watch the sunrise from a different location. What I need to remember, though, is that the scared girl in me will also adjust and grow and be oh, so grateful for having taken the plunge. That's what change lets us do.