How We Handle Change: A Friday Chat

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson and Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Ester: So Nicole! How do you feel about / deal with change?

Nicole: Lists? Plans? Trusting that everything will be okay in the end? But seriously, mostly lists. How about you?

Ester: Avoidance and anxiety, a lot of the time. Though every once in awhile I fall into a pleasant Zen state wherein I just kind of feel like, “Eh, everything that feels familiar now was once strange. I’ve coped before, I can cope again.”

Lists don’t help as much as I’d like, because once I start making lists, they tend to get so unwieldy and long that they add to my stress more than they help contain it. I do somewhat better with those grids: you know, URGENT & IMPORTANT | URGENT & UNIMPORTANT | NOT URGENT BUT IMPT | NOT URGENT OR IMPT.

Then I can empty my brain onto the page but still focus mainly on one quadrant.

Nicole: That’s really interesting, because the part that makes me most anxious about change is no longer knowing what’s going to be the most important. For example: am I going to need to budget more time for following Billfold conversations on Medium? I do not know yet, because it hasn’t happened. That’s what makes me anxious about change.

Ester: In that case, though, at least you’ll know that you’ll probably have it figured out in a matter of days.

Nicole: Not necessarily, because although these kinds of things get set very early (the way you walk into a room and sit down in a certain seat and then, every day after that, it’s “your seat”) I don’t know yet what will be the most important part of these interactions. What’s the 20 percent that gets the 80 percent results, to borrow Pareto. I feel like that in freelancing all the time: if I pick this client, will it be a client that gets me 80 percent results, or will it be one of the clients that has a smaller return?

Ester: Speaking of clients, even though it’s a digression, I wanted to report that, even after having one very bad negotiating experience, I negotiated a different contract that came up. The same approach that didn’t work in Situation A worked perfectly in Situation B. In fact, the client offered more money than I would have asked for. I really appreciated commenters being generally reassuring and agreeing that one has to play the long game.

But yes, one of the hardest parts of change, I agree, is that you can’t know in advance the hierarchy of priorities. All you can trust, in a way, is your own resiliency and adaptability. After so many years of being a freelancer, ND, I at least have faith that you can bend in whatever direction the wind decides to blow.

Nicole: I am nearly infinitely flexible, thanks to my daily yoga practice, but I tried Swan Arms the other day and I couldn’t get through the video. (To those of you reading this that don’t know: Swan Arms is this viral exercise video that looks easy but is really, really hard.) That’s what change is like. You think, “Maybe I’ll be able to get through this,” but you never know. And then you get through it anyway, I suppose.

Ester: You never know? I mean, right, you never know 100% for sure, but if you’ve navigated other tricky terrain in your life, you can feel reasonably confident that you have a good chance of doing so again.

There was a great line on the Another Round podcast that I don’t want to butcher — something like, “Nothing fatal has happened to you yet.” Or, “You’ve made it through every day before today.” It was a little cheerier than that, dammit. Hm. The point was, and I loved it, because I’d never heard things expressed quite that way before: if you’re still alive, you’ve made it this far, and if you’ve made it this far, you can probably keep going.

Nicole: Oh, for sure. We are not dead yet! But it’s more like, “You never know if this situation will work out in the way in which you have emotionally attached yourself.” And let’s be honest: not all changes are great. Even if you are still alive, you might be living in circumstances you do not like at all.

Ester: How did we get into this situation where I’m the bright and cheery one and you keep reminding us that terrible things might still happen?

Nicole: Ha, I don’t know. In general I feel pretty cheerful about change. It’s like, “Well, so much of life is out of my control anyway, let’s welcome whatever comes my way!” and then the little fear parts of my brain are all, “And what if it is AWFUL.” But usually I tell those parts to be quiet.

Ester: I too am very familiar with the mean, fear-based parts of my brain, and sometimes they won’t be quiet. For me, the worst part about change, like starting a new job, is knowing that I’m going to make mistakes, and oh mercy do I hate to make mistakes. Especially in public.

Nicole: Yes, and I’m always, “If I make too many mistakes, they’ll kick me out.” Which is absolutely the worst part of starting a new job. That and navigating all of the new people whom you don’t yet know. Which ones are the nice ones? AAAAHHHHHHH.

Ester: Before starting any endeavor, I get very worked up about everything that could go wrong and everything I could do wrong, and then I try to remember the advice my older brother gave me when I was about to start my very first grown-up job: “Wear deodorant.” Like, everything else more or less will take care of itself. You will make mistakes and take responsibility for them. You will do some things well. You will figure out who are the undermine-y coworkers and who are the supportive ones. Almost the only thing you can control? Whether you stink from the armpits. Wear deodorant and otherwise let life happen.

Nicole: And sunscreen. Like the song. Always wear sunscreen.

Ester: See you all on Medium!

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