Change is a fact of life but knowing that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to deal with. As leaders we are required not just to cope with change, but to lead others through it, actively seeking out the opportunity rather than focusing on the challenge that change presents. The worst kind of change comes unexpectedly or is thrust upon us but, ultimately, we have two choices: resist or accept and adapt.

Last week I saw a musical called The Little Big Things which really hit home with its message of how to accept and adapt to change and it’s prompted me to ask myself some probing questions.

Firstly, here’s a quick synopsis of the plot (a true story):

“An avid sportsman and academy player with a premiership rugby club, Henry Fraser’s life changed forever when in 2009 he had a diving accident. From that moment he had a new life to live as a tetraplegic and new circumstances to accept and adapt to. Henry’s defiance and determination to prosper against devastating odds led to him wheeling himself out of hospital a whole year earlier than predicted. Today he is a successful artist, inspirational speaker and best-selling author.”

Levels of acceptance

The show is incredibly moving (as you’d expect) but also made me think very deeply about how we react to change and the different levels of acceptance that are open to us. When faced with negative change it’s almost inevitable that we will have moments of resistance. “It’s not fair”, “I liked things better before” are typical reactions we hear in the workplace when an organisation or team is going through change. In such a scenario, we can stay in our job and choose to accept it, or we can seek out another role to avoid the change (and in doing so, try to take back control of the change).

If we stay and accept the change, we can do so begrudgingly, superficially and everyone around us will know it. We’ll become a ‘quiet quitter’, going through the motions and never fully committed to our new situation. The sad reality of this shallow level of acceptance is that it’s us who suffers the most, dragged down by our own negativity and disgruntlement.

The next level of acceptance involves trying hard to embrace the change, making the most of the opportunity it brings but, at moments of weakness, indulging in fond reminiscence of how things used to be. I think this is the level most of us are at when we try to accept and adapt to change.

But what I saw on stage in Henry Fraser’s life was something remarkable, a level of acceptance that went way beyond this. He has reached a point of saying that if he could live his life again, he wouldn’t change anything. He has embraced his change so fundamentally and completely that he wants nothing more than what he now has and is. Wow.

Questions to ask

I came away from the show asking myself a series of questions:

  • How would I feel about something so life-changing happening to me?
  • Would I look at it through the eyes of my past life (before the change), or my new life?
  • Would I choose to live in the past or in the present? After all, there really is only one choice!
  • What would it take for me to be able to look back and not want to change anything that happened?

As Henry has shown through his life since the accident, acceptance has led to more than just adaptation. It has opened up a whole new world of possibility and experience, the development of new skills, new relationships and incredible fulfilment.

When we’re faced with having to accept and adapt to change, it’s worth considering these questions and challenging ourselves and those around us to make the choice. Will we look through the lens of the past or the future? Henry and his family have done it. Can we?

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