Finding Relevancy In a Changing World – Feeling Comfortable with the Discomfort of Change

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In a world changing daily, how do you stay relevant in your work? Begin feeling comfortable with the discomfort of change! Read more about how you can. Third in a series.

Finding Relevancy in a Changing World. | Photo by  
Glenn Goh on Scopio

In the Introduction of the book I published earlier this year, Tales of a Displaced Worker, I tried to capture the feelings of receiving devastating news. We were told, via email on Friday afternoon, that the college was going to close in 6 weeks. In the Introduction, I wrote, “My stomach dropped and I wasn’t sure what I was reading. How could the college have gotten to this point, when only weeks prior to the announcement we had been told how healthy the institution was? But in that moment the floor fell out from beneath my feet and I was entirely uncertain about my professional future. Of course I was concerned for the students, but I knew they would be fine. Their resiliency is always underrated, having dealt with other college-wide crises with aplomb and nerve. I, however, was not seeing an easy path to a great future.”

Since receiving this news and spending the last two years trying to move forward, I have learned a couple of lessons. Previously, I wrote about staying authentic and vulnerable in my work and leaning into my fear. I have also learned that we don’t always get to control the change the comes into our life.

Since completing my masters in higher education administration, I had spent the better part of two decades chasing jobs around the country. With only four or five weeks notice, I knew how to pack up my life and head out for new adventures. I wasn’t afraid of walking into the unknown, when it was my choice.

And then change that wasn’t my choice completely threw me off track.

Fear and Vulnerability: A Recap

This series chronicles part of my journey to staying relevant after the college where I worked closed. In my previous two posts, I wrote about how to tap into your authentic self and how to share your vulnerable side.

In the first post, I shared how authenticity and vulnerability help us connect with others and stay in the moment, rather than the past. When I began to share my feelings and stay in the moment, I found it easier to relate to others and find relevancy.

Leaning into my fears has taken more deliberate reflection. The fear that we can’t operate outside of ‘normal’ is a natural reaction to the radical changes we’re all experiencing. Trying to create normalcy within the face of this uncertainty is also a natural reaction.

But there are ways to harness these feelings of fear – especially about the unknown – that will help us grow. My fear shows up often – like the problem I have finding relevance in a changing higher education world that I am no longer working within. But I am no longer scared taking risks and trying something. Because the fear wins when I do nothing.

Can We Ever Prepare for Unplanned Change?

The sudden announcement about COVID-19 and its impact on stay-at-home orders brought back all the feelings I had when the college announced its closure. Even if I felt comfortable being vulnerable and leaned into my fears, sudden change would impact all of my habits. I had worked daily to create a new work life apart from any department or institution. Kept myself busy working on a new manuscript for a second book. I had a daily life outside my home, knowing that working from home was a distinct challenge for me.

Can you ever feel ready for unplanned changes?

And much like the sudden college closure announcement, I found myself unprepared, again, for what was going to be next. Unlike the big, profound changes I was accustomed to making earlier in my career, these unplanned changes throw me for a loop. Especially when the changes just forced me back, both literally and figuratively, to the summer of 2018 when I spent nearly every day in my house wondering when I would ‘return to normal’ so to speak.

But unlike that summer spent indoors, by choice, I bounced back. It hasn’t been without a flood of emotions. And it has forced me to relook at my immediate and long-term goals. But I am ready to move forward, again, with purpose and clarity.

The one major lesson I learned in the last two years is that I have the resiliency to overcome these big, unplanned changes. In this post I’ll share some of the ways I have learned to feel comfortable in the discomfort of change.

Feeling Comfortable with the Discomfort of Change

Moving around for work every five years trained me to create pattern quickly. Make friends both at work and away from work. Develop a pattern for your day. Check-in with others, so you work was layered with theirs. When I could control my work-life, I felt I had a great deal of control.

Because for me, that is what I was craving. Feeling like I was in control of my work and my impact on others. Even when I would change roles, I worked quickly to create new patterns that looked and sounded familiar. Even when they weren’t, they were close enough.

Sometimes, I would say this to myself, believing I had control.

Perhaps that is why sudden change confused me. I’ve since realized that I didn’t have a set of habits that happened outside of hierarchical work environments. How do I concentrate on tasks outside of a traditional semester calendar? Measure learning that is distant or remote, when I’m accustomed to in-person learning? Create goals that only I can see and experience, rather than leave to a supervisor to judge?

What I learned during the last two years is that the change wasn’t my biggest fear. I learned I wasn’t ready to hold myself accountable to my own work and goals. I am still not afraid of the change that recently happened. However, I was afraid of how to hold myself accountable to the change in my goals and holding myself accountable throughout all of these sudden changes. I’m learning to be comfortable with the discomfort of change and work to address what is causing me discomfort.

Why Feeling Uncomfortable Is Natural

Sujan Patel, in Forbes magazine, believes that feeling uncomfortable is the key to success. “While it may not feel like it in the moment, a little bit of discomfort goes a long way in terms of personal development.  Sure, no one likes feeling uncomfortable, but it’s a big part of improving your performance, creativity and learning in the long run. Think about the times in your life when you’ve driven the same route repeatedly: after a certain number of trips, you start tuning out most of it. Have you ever had a trip to the office where you barely remember what happened after you got in the car?”

I admit that I have likely romanticized, in my head, the office life I used to enjoy. As part of the coping strategy of dealing with the job-loss grief I felt, it was easy to feel stuck. Because I just missed the job I used to have. But I was used to switching up jobs frequently. Why was this change any different?

After sitting in my feelings for some time during 2018, I realized something. I had no idea how to moderate my own work. Sure, I had practiced self-directed work in my previous role. But all of the work had been pre-approved by my supervisors. I had led my own department for over a year. But eventually my role was subsumed by a larger department and my role diminished to a coordinator again. In 2018, I found myself in charge of myself, and myself alone. That was a change I was completely unprepared to manage.

But I had to. More than once in the last two years. And I believe in the following strategies to help anyone learn how to move through change and find relevancy in their work again.

Steps To Become Comfortable With Change

We can’t always plan for the unexpected. Even with the best crisis management skills, there might be things that happen that push us out of what we know. Like a global pandemic with only weeks ability to shift to a new way to teach. But we can learn ways to embrace our reaction to change and use it to help us better adapt.

Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable and Embracing Change – An Exercise

Bob Rosen Ph.D., in Psychology Today, recommends the following steps to develop a better relationship with change. Rosen believes that “to be effective at navigating change, we must first accept that uncertainty is the reality of the day and we must possess the confidence and personal power to navigate through the change. When you have a high sense of personal power, you believe that you can shape your outcomes, and this gives you confidence and courage to shape change and your outcomes.” He suggests the four steps outlined below:

Step One: When experiencing feelings of discomfort, don’t run away from them. Instead, embrace whatever comes up and acknowledge that it is a natural human reaction.

Step Two: Become aware of what you are telling yourself (thinking) and notice the story you’re are telling yourself about the situation. Ask yourself: Is it true? How do you know?

Step Three: Reframe discomfort as a positive source for growth and get curious in the face of the unknown.

Step Four: When you feel uncomfortable with uncertainty, access your personal Accelerators like courage, connection, and compassion, and manage your Hijackers like being too controlling, too competitive, or pleasing. 

When I Learned to Embrace Change

April 6 will always be a challenging day for me. It was the day the college announced its closure. For a long time, I used to measure time since I last worked full-time. After a year of job-searching, I was done with seeing myself as someone who used to do something. I didn’t want that legacy to be the one that I used to define the work I was going to do in the future.

From the Facebook page of Joseph Rios

“I have felt ambivalent about remarking on the Ida closure announcement. I’ve spent the last year thinking about it almost daily and today just felt like the end of that.

“I was watching Tom Hanks in Castaway and saw the ending in such a different way. He got his wish to be found and reunited with his girlfriend, and it didn’t bring him the closure he thought it would. And it clicked, that I have spent the last year trying to find closure and thinking that the college closing was the start of something rather than the end of something, and whatever was going to happen was going to bring me the happiness and satisfaction I wanted. I know that friends and colleagues try to frame the closure as the start of something instead of the end, as a way to keep hope alive.

“And for me that hasn’t worked. All I think about is how if something was supposed to start, why didn’t it start sooner? Why so much time and effort to start something? It’s honestly been emotionally exhausting to stay situated in a history in which many of my peers have moved on to new jobs and adventures and I’m still waiting for something to happen.

“So instead I need to treat that era as done and over. The start that was supposed to have started but never started is ended. I’ll remember it but otherwise in the future it will be unremarkable. I’m at the same crossroads as Tom Hanks character is standing at in the end of the movie.”


Using Discomfort as a Gauge for Success

Once I began to reframe the college closure as the end of something. I found my own closure. Everything I worked on from that point on would be my own success. My own failures. And the changes were finally something I caused, which made me both comforted and terrified.

I had to remind myself, recently, that feeling discomfort was part of the process for growing. When all of my recent plans fell through, because of the stay-at-home order, I felt the same sense of loss from 2018. There were a bunch of other emotions, but resentment was a key feeling.

When I began to explore my feelings, I realized that my feelings were very similiar to my feels of loss and resentment in 2018.

It took me a minute – well, a few weeks actually – before I could name what I felt. I felt a loss of control and relevancy. Who was I to continue my work, based on a previous world that may not exist again? But when I read Jaylyn’s Twitter post from a week ago, I realized that I had more expertise than anyone I knew. That feeling of discomfort was a key reminder to check in with myself. Brianna Weist, in 16 Uncomfortable Feelings That Actually Indicate You’re On The Right Path, reminded me that keeping track of these uncomfortable feelings are key to new understandings. Below are the ones that particularly resonated with me during hte current reality:

Feeling “lost,” or directionless. 

Feeling lost is actually a sign you’re becoming more present in your life – you’re living less within the narratives and ideas that you premeditated, and more in the moment at hand. Until you’re used to this, it will feel as though you’re off track (you aren’t).

Feeling like the dreams you had for your life are collapsing. 

What you do not realize at this moment is that it is making way for a reality better than you could have thought of, one that’s more aligned with who you are, not who you thought you would be.

Realizing you are the only person responsible for your life, and your happiness. 

This kind of emotional autonomy is terrifying, because it means that if you mess up, it’s all on you. At the same time, realizing it is the only way to be truly free. The risk is worth the reward on this one, always.

Some of you may read through her list and see other feelings that better resonate for you. That’s a good thing! Track your emotions and do something to alleviate your discomfort. Moving forward, on your terms, is the best way to mitigate any unplanned change.

Finding Relevancy Now and in the Future

The goal of this blog series was to help people find a sense of relevancy in their work and skills during times of uncertain change. Finding your voice through authenticity and vulnerability, leaning into your fears and being comfortable with the discomfort of change were key lessons I had to learn over the last two years. I am only now understanding how to harness my strengths to deal with the unknown.

I can’t romanticize the experiences of dealing with loss and grief of our a life before. They were and are painful. But I have finally been able to find power in staying present. Learning to name my fears and help others overcome theirs. Being ready for change by welcoming it and all it has to offer me.

In many ways, my work is more relevant than ever. I used to only see myself as someone who used to work somewhere. Then I switched to calling myself a business owner who was trying on different hats, to see which fit best. My job really never changed – I am an educator. I have something to teach others and the venue I choose to do it can change over and over. I can do it alone, I can work on teams. But finally, I feel comfortable with who I am in all of this change. My relevancy will remain as long as I stay present and focused on using my strengths to improve the world.

The best advice to stay relevant through changing times is to stay focused and in the moment, using your strengths to improve the world.

Want to Explore This Topic Further?

I can only hope you find your relevancy in a changing world. If you want to continue the conversation, reach out to me. I have worked with entry-level and mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them reconsider their strengths and ways to learn new skills. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you as you develop this new skill.

Schedule an introductory meeting so we can discuss a plan that works best for you.

About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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