Changes

Continued from yesterday’s Fit or Adapt.

changes

Things change. The world, and our view of it. Some of us are more accepting of change than others, though it depends on the type of change as well as how much we’ve become invested in the status quo.

Once we are adults, the underlying core of who we are is pretty well fixed. It mostly forms in our early years, and then elements are added to it as we learn and grow through adulthood. I’m referring to the core of who we are, not so much our behaviors and ways we interact with the world. Those are informed by our core, but there are layers of conscious and subconscious actions, thoughts, beliefs, and memories in between.

But we can still change in ways that matter. It’s usually pretty slow. Triggered by our experiences and desires, or sometimes through shattering realizations. We usually don’t control it. It just happens to us, though one can do it consciously with great discipline.

Though we aren’t going to make major changes to who we fundamentally are, we sometimes have to adapt to differing circumstances. True adaptation requires often difficult transitions in how we perceive ourselves, which informs how we interact. This type of big change does occur with people sometimes, though it’s pretty rare once we’re adults.

While you may change in ways that make you fit into a situation better, you may at once be changing in ways that cause you to not fit as well into another. This may be by design, and could be a good thing. But it can also be disruptive, especially when you aren’t aware of it.

You change jobs, and move to a different city. After a time, the old place and people may not resonate with you nearly as much. You changed. They didn’t. Everyone is still fundamentally the same at the core, but the layers of things in between that were making it work before have now changed in your case (not theirs). You move on. They move on.

You get married, and have kids. The old relationships and sensibilities no longer work or make sense for you. You changed. Some change more than others through this transition. The ones who don’t get all the way there often struggle with the responsibility of a family.

You experienced things growing up (we all do) that caused you to build layers of boundaries and idiosyncrasies in how you process reality. You are programmed, and some of that programming is a function of you protecting yourself from negative events, feelings, and perceptions earlier in life.

These complicated layers are built on top of the core of who you are, but over time become indistinguishable from it. Until…sometimes…

It unravels. We get a new job, and a new place, but hate it. We long for the old relationships. The marriage changes. The kids grow up, and it’s discovered that a life devoted to that has now left a void. Or, we may find, through a series of events, that we added layers to ourselves that aren’t true to who we are (or want to be) at the core. Once we begin to grapple with all of that and see it more clearly, we begin to change in meaningful ways, even fundamental ones. I maintain that we are still fundamentally the same, but when enough of the extra junk gets stripped away or modified, it’s as if we have fundamentally changed.

I make no qualitative assessment of whether this is good or bad, a step forward or backwards. It simply is a thing that can happen, and may be a double-edged sword.

Suppose a person gets a job in which she is challenged in new ways that never so much as existed for her before, and is able to rise to those challenges, and feels a deep satisfaction relating to it. Self-esteem is at a new high. She wants more. Most of us have reached some new plateaus like this in life. They can bring about a lot of changes. It’s just that for most of us they usually happen when we’re relatively young, and still forming what our lives will be about. Anyway, she soon finds herself running with a different group of people, and is stimulated in ways unimaginable before. She begins to change in ways that go deep. The fundamental kind. Soon, the old life doesn’t satisfy the way it once did. It begins to seem flat and uninspiring. Well, that old life has a spouse and a family. What of them? They didn’t change, nor do anything wrong. Those relationships are now different, and there is probably nothing anyone can do about it.

Or suppose a person realizes through a series of emotionally trying events that his way of interacting with the world had been contrived, based on stuff built up from earlier events. Suddenly he begins to break down walls that were constructed as protection before. More vulnerable now, but also more sensitive to his surroundings. More affected by them. Ways of interacting that were comfortable before now seem hollow and devoid of meaning. Instead he begins to prefer, even needs, a different, perhaps more intimate way of interacting. The old people didn’t change. He did. But that doesn’t make his needs any less valid.

These types of big changes can be great (or not), but they can mess with the lives we have constructed for ourselves in the process. Some may be more or less profound than others, and thus the stress they can introduce varies, which also depends on how others react to it.

These changes aren’t easily avoided (assuming we’d even want to or think it a good idea) because we often don’t see them until we are in a new place looking back. By then it’s too late. We have a new reality now. We are different. Changed. Past tense. It has already happened. The stuff we actually observe as the changing is really just the fallout.

In many situations, especially where close friends, coworkers, family or spouses are involved, one will experience pressure not to change. They are there because they like (the old) you and are comfortable with the way things were. You feel the pressure to stay in it. In some cases these changes force us to grapple with our morality, the stuff we’ve been programmed with that seems unchangeably “right” or “wrong.” Others have put this on us in part so that we don’t approach life too frivolously, but as your awareness increases, it can become a cage. What we’ve previously concocted for ourselves starts to break down as we struggle with thoughts that we’re wrong, bad, evil, immoral, messed up, insane. It is possible we could be any of those things, so a good hard look is in order, but it’s also quite likely we have simply changed and nothing is really wrong, even though it may feel as such. Hopefully things that were barriers have been removed or modified. Change takes different forms, but in any of those it’s not at all easy, or sometimes even feasible to control. It happened, and now you have a new reality you have to work within. It also comes with a new space of possibilities.

What do you do?

  1. Sometimes we can undo it all, if we work hard enough. But usually what we’re really doing is adding another modifying layer on top of it. Life is additive. In time that layer can become pretty real to us, especially when we aren’t aware that’s what we’ve done, but we’re vulnerable to things coming along and stripping that contrived reality away.
  2. I say it’s usually best to take your lumps and move on from the old and into the new. It sucks sometimes. But it’s probably for the best in the long run. This is usually referred to as growth when looked at later.
  3. The option often chosen is to stick it out. Make it work. That’s the caged way. It can be pretty miserable sometimes, or not that noticeable. Think of the people you see who seem complacent in their lives. Some are great at compensating and seem really bubbly on the surface, but when you get closer the angst becomes palpable. Sometimes it can be manageable. It depends on your temperament and how much you are able to push yourself down in favor of avoiding the stress and consequences of the underlying changes. The biggest problem with this is it robs you of happiness. On some level you know it, but many of us are pretty good at glossing over it on the surface. Other things start to affect you in unpredictable ways. The tension may mount, which causes issues, or you may eventually become resigned to it, and even content, but there will always be some unrest in there. Or…it may bubble up enough periodically that you eventually realize you need to opt for #2, which could mean that you just wasted years of your life (and maybe that of others) or possibly passed opportunities by that no longer exist.

Each of these “solutions” kind of sucks in its own way, but #2 has the highest probability of getting you to the other end of the tunnel. The other two may look like tunnels, but aren’t. They are caves with a light in them instead. You can probably survive in there, but you’re never going to see the actual sun.

Change of this type happens to all of us at times in our lives. Usually we’re young enough that we don’t fear following through or just roll with the punches. But when we’re older, more set in our lives, and believe we have more to lose…

changes2flower

 

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