The Ripple Effects of Change

Have you ever worked with a client and seen clearly the changes that would allow them to become more successful only to meet resistance when you outlined an action plan? I know that it has happened to me many times, and it has often been the source for contemplation on the nature of change and why it seems to be so difficult.Helping people to claim their talents has been the focus of most of my professional life. In most cases I work with adults, so more often than not the process of claiming talents involves some degree of real change. By real change I mean the kind that requires a shift of focus, attitude, and behavior not just scenery. These types of changes can be extraordinarily life altering, and as a coach it is easy to forget just how much upheaval the changes you are catalyzing can cause, not just for your client, but also on everyone around them. A recent event in my own life poignantly drove home this point for me. It gave me renewed appreciation for the difficulty involved in change and a greater understanding of why we, as coaches, face such resistance to it from our clients.I have three children, two sons and a daughter. All three were homeschooled. All are now in their twenties, 29, 25, and 22. My daughter, the youngest of the three, marches to a different drummer and always has. Being the youngest she has always battled with the feeling that she needed to catch up. Her closest brother in age pointed out that she caught up and passed both him and his brother long ago.When she was about to turn 18 she announced to me and my wife that as soon as she did she was going to go to travel around Europe on her own. When I noted that she was waiting until she was 18 because I could not then legally stop her, she affirmed my insight. That trip lasted four months. About a year and a half ago she announced that she was setting off to discover what she wanted to do in life. We live in Texas. She now lives in Philadelphia and has no plans for moving back.On each of these occasions she sat and talked through her plans with her mother and me, took our concerns into consideration, and allowed us to help her make connections with people we knew, etc. On each occasion I told her I was proud of her, admired her adventurous spirit, and her good sense in how she managed herself. I have always been impressed with her intelligence and have told her so.About two months ago she announced to us that she was going to Africa for six weeks. We were not overly thrilled with the idea because of the number of immunizations she would have to have, and we were confused because she had always ruled out Africa as a place she wanted to visit. When we began our usual “discussion” regarding her plans, raised our objections, and questioned her decision it quickly became clear that it was a fiat accompli and that our input was not being solicited and not wanted. Emotions ran hot and for several weeks interactions with her and many members of the family were tense and challenging.I was reflecting after one reasonably calm conversation that I had with her and it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. I was also the youngest of three children, and I could distinctly remember, at about the same age that my daughter is now, struggling to get my parents, brother, and sister to take me seriously and to acknowledge that I had grown up and was no longer “the baby”. I realized that despite my praise, acknowledgement, etc. I was still interacting with my daughter as “my baby”, as though she was a child who needed my approval and permission. The tension between my daughter and the rest of the family was due to the fact that she had changed, and we had not adjusted to that change.

When people make real changes in their lives those around them are forced to respond to that change. Responses to change can take many different forms, but the most common is resistance. Making changes in our lives is difficult enough when we are the ones who initiate it. When it is initiated by someone else it upsets our routine, disrupts the order in our lives, and challenges our view of “the way things are”.

Living through the changes that my daughter initiated did all of these things to our family. In this case, for the better all the way around. We have all gained a new respect for her determination and her capabilities. Our view of her has shifted from child to young adult (an inevitable shift that has been hard for me with all of my children, but especially so with my daughter).

There is nothing like a real life experience to drive home a point. When we as coaches ask our clients to make changes in their lives, it is important to remember that what we ask will not just have an impact on them, but also on all of those with whom they have important relationships. It can be a daunting and powerful request.

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