Finding Beauty in Change: A Lesson from Lao Tzu
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. –Lao Tzu
Life, whether we realize it or not, is a series of transitions. We were born and had to learn to crawl and walk, to talk and read. We grow up, passing through school onto careers and relationships. For some, we raise children. As we grow older and head toward retirement all this change and dramatic transition, can start to feel harder. Experiencing a loss, leaving a job, downsizing, adjusting to changing health, children growing up, the end of a marriage. These major life transitions, some of which we cannot control, are challenging for even the heartiest of people. We try to create order in our lives and we try to plan, but there are some things you just can’t anticipate.
Transitions, even the good ones, come with a myriad of emotions: happy, excited, anxious, scared, confused etc. Making big changes always comes with trepidation, it’s natural, as we are both creatures of habit and also imagination. The challenge, for everyone, is developing a healthy approach to change in life. We can’t stop life from happening, but we can learn to roll with the waves and learn what we have control over and accept what we don’t. Change is not always inherently bad, oftentimes it is good, it moves us forward and rouses us from our complacency. Without the upsets of life, we may settle in too snugly and stay put in one place all our lives, never growing, never learning. Studies have even shown that not having enough change in routine can be detrimental to cognitive growth. Change forces us to adapt, it forces our brains to grow new neural pathways.[i]
Finding the Positives in Change
Some major life changes we make ourselves and others are made for us. Both types come with benefits and negatives: you may have to downsize for financial reasons, but in doing so find you enjoy living more simply and having more money to use as you please. Your health may become unreliable, but in dealing with that you realize what an amazing and helpful support system you have in your life. Had you not truly needed them, you may never have appreciated how lucky you are. A child moves far away, but now you have an opportunity to travel and possibly a reason to relocate. You’ve found love again after a hard divorce and a fear of being alone. Life is messy and complicated, often a series of highs and lows.
Adapting to Change
How you cope with the transitions in your life makes all the difference. If a change is unwanted, it’s alright, if not recommended, to take the time to grieve for what you’ve lost. Expressing the emotions, either by talking to those close to you, journaling, or seeking a therapist. It’s good to have the space to grieve and vent so you can move on to something better.[ii] Once you’ve passed the anger and grief stages, try to take small positive steps changing things in your life that you are able: rewrite a resume, go for a jog, do something kind for yourself. The next step is to find new opportunities, because of this new life change. Have to move? Look for amenities that your old place could never have offered. Explore a new career option or go back to school. Take a trip someplace you’ve always wanted to go. Remember the old saying: when one door closes and another opens.
You’ve also a lifetime of contacts and friends, seek counsel and advice. Seek out your financial experts to help adapt your long-term plans. Savor the good things you still have when transitioning in life, find touchstones in the people you care about, the memories you’ve kept, your values and the person you’ve grown to be.[iii] Your life has been a series of changes, it can be helpful to remind yourself of past challenges and how you overcame and benefited from them. Adapting to change and loss can be difficult for everyone, but often more so for older people who are experiencing a lot of loss. Seeking the support of a social networks of friends and family can be invaluable during trying times.[iv]
Learning From the Past
Nothing, even change, lasts forever. Our life is a series of moments, some big and some small. Recognizing that your entire life has been adapting to change and transition and reflecting on past situations may help you through a challenging time. Practicing mindfulness and taking stock of all the things that you still have can help shift your perspective to the positive. Learning from past experiences and making proactive changes, like updating your will, redoing a resume, getting a health screening or consulting a financial advisor can stave off future surprises. A big change is never going to be easy, but by taking stock and stepping back from the situation, you can hopefully get over the hard parts and back to the enjoyable parts sooner.
Contributing author Illuminated Advisors
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