How to Survive Change... You Didn't Ask for: Bounce Back, Find Calm in Chaos, and Reinvent Yourself (My 3 Takeaways)

On Friday, March 8th, I took the day off from work for some much-needed “me” time. The day before had brought a heavy dose of unwelcome change into my life. After catching the “Captain Marvel” movie in the morning, I decided to do what I always do when I feel overwhelmed: I stopped by the nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore.

My agenda for this particular trip was crystal clear. My favorite event in all of sports was rapidly approaching, and it was time to pick up a couple of NFL Draft preview magazines to begin my preparation for the three days of the NFL draft in late April.

As I passed through the foyer, one of the “bargain priced” books grabbed my attention, despite its fairly direct and unremarkable appearance. I made my way to the magazines and picked out the same two NFL Draft preview publications I buy every year, and completed my purchase at the register. Again I passed through the foyer, this time lingering just long enough to look up the book and its reviews on my phone. The reviews were decent enough, but I opted to continue on my way.

By the time I got to my car, I decided to take a third look at the book, which seemed to be the “right book” at the “right time” given the news I had received the previous day, and I headed back to the register with “How to survive change… you didn’t ask for” in hand.

One of ancient philosopher Heraclitus’ most famous quotes is, “There is nothing permanent except change,” and I can’t imagine my life has been any different than most people’s lives in that sense. What most of us lack, however, is a process for not only surviving that change, but thriving through-maybe even because of-that change.

The book revolves around author M.J. Ryan’s AdaptAbility process, which involves, “Accept the Change,” “Expand Your Options,” “Take Action,” and “Strengthen AdaptAbility,” at which point the cycle begins anew after one has become a “Change Master.” At the core of the process is the L.I.V.E. acronym, a constellation for locating one’s sense of purpose.

L - What do I Love to do?

I - What are my Inner talents?

V - What are my Values? What really matters to me?

E - What Environments bring out the best in me?

The book is filled with 54 individual strategies for becoming a Change Master, with those strategies divided into the four steps of Ryan’s AdaptAbility process. Whether the changes in your life are welcome or unwelcome, this book is easily digestible and filled with practical, easy-to-implement insights.

Here are my three biggest takeaways.

Takeaway #1: Your Future is Built on a Bedrock that is Unchanging

One of the qualities of any living system is its ability to adapt to change without losing its basic integrity. In other words, whatever change occurs with that organism, there is an enduring and essential quality of the organism that always remains. What we do changes. Where we are changes. Who we are, however, does not change. Therefore, our own clarity and sense of who we are becomes the bedrock on which we can build ourselves up in any circumstance.

When the winds of change blow all around us, we are able to anchor ourselves and build up from the bedrock on which we L.I.V.E. because those four elements endure.

Takeaway #2: Kill Your Little Darlings

This section was based on a quote attributed to William Faulkner, who supposedly said that writers needed to “kill their little darlings.” Those writers, like us, had come reluctant to let go of the things we love in order to make room for even better things. In the words of Joseph Campbell, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”

Ryan argues that not only does “killing our little darlings” allow us to survive change, but it positions us to thrive during times of change. “We all have beliefs we hold on to,” Ryan says, “When things around us are changing, rather than clutching our opinions like a security blanket, we need to hold them up to the light and examine them closely and critically.” This openness to critiques and questions also opens the possibility of innovation and transformation. Ryan underscores this with an example of President John F. Kennedy, who reflected on and learned from the catastrophic Bay of Pigs operation in 1961, using those lessons to skillfully navigate the Cuban missile crisis the following year.

Takeaway #3: Make Deposits into Your Hope Account, but Remember Hope is not a Plan

These two sections closely follow some of the thoughts shared in my April 22nd Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org. I was-and continue to be-struck by the phrase, "the experience of fear and great joy is often a sign that I am moving towards my heart’s desire." The first of the two sections begins with an anecdote from the Ancient Greeks, when Pandora opened the box and numerous troubles were released into the world. The part of the story I had not heard before happened next. A tiny fairy also fluttered out and said, “Yes, it is true that you have unleashed all manner of afflictions upon the world, but you have also let me out. I am Hope and will always be there to bring hope to humans, whenever they are in trouble.”

As Albus Dumbledore said in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

The light of hope, however, is not an idle wish. It is a sincere and urgent call to action. Ryan quotes psychologist Shane Lopez, author of “When Hope Happens,” who says, “(Hope) forms when goal thinking (I want to go from here to there) combines with pathway thinking (I know many ways to get from here to there) and agency thinking (I think I can get from here to there.” In other words, hope can be found where our goals, our opportunities, and our determination meet.

But we mustn’t stop there. Ryan cautions us against goals that lack specific, measurable action, such as, “look for a new job” or “lose weight.” She challenges us to create Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound goals, which build a bridge between hope and reality.