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What children can teach us about change

What children can teach us about change

by Moyra Mackie on July 3, 2016

Yesterday was a big day for our family.  My twenty-year old son moved into a flat.  With his girlfriend.

He’s studying Economics and Finance at university and his third year is a placement in industry.  Tomorrow he starts work in the Finance department of an international car manufacturer, whilst his girlfriend looks for work in a new town, knowing no-one.  They’ve yet to get a broadband connection or work out which utility companies they want to use or even where they will shop for groceries.

That’s a lot of change

Yet, as we spent the day unloading boxes I noticed how easily all of this seemed to sit with them.  This is when I was reminded of the work of Dr William Bridges who makes a key distinction between change and transition:

Change vs Transition

These two twenty year olds had already made that psychological transition, before they’d even packed a box, let alone unpacked it.

Our youth is full of involuntary change

Every year at school we get a new teacher.  Even if we live in the same neighbourhood throughout our childhood, we change schools once or twice as we get older.  Siblings arrive, our parents decide to move house.  This change is unavoidable.  We can’t choose to keep the same teacher or stay at junior school or remain an only child.

When we’re young we view change as inevitable

Forgive me if I’m stating the obvious, but contrast this to what happens when we “grow up”.  We enter organisations and suddenly we want the choice to change, we want to be consulted, we want to be given a “big why”.  Organisations spend an awful lot of their time trying to meet this need to understand the external change, when I agree with Bridges that organisations are change heavy and transition light.

As we get older we view change as a choice

We want to assert our autonomy and we feel we have more to lose.  Most of my one to one coaching involves working with clients who either need to drive change or come to terms with change in an organisation.  I also coach a considerable number of people who wish to make a career change.

As we get older we want the change without the transition

Bridges again:

 “To cross over the line into the transition, you need to ask yourself what inner relinquishments you’ll need to make because of the change. What needs will you have to find other ways to get met? Because of your change, what parts of yourself are now out of date?”

As our perceived ability to pick and choose which changes we want to accept increases, many of us are reluctant to accept that change involves letting go.  These are just some of the examples I hear quite regularly in my coaching practice:

“I want a job with more meaning but I still want to earn X amount and have job security.”

“I want my staff to be more engaged at work but I don’t have time for feedback and coaching.”

“I want to focus more but I need to keep checking my emails throughout the day.”

“I know I need to delegate more, but my staff need my help or won’t do it the way I would do it.”

Successful change means working on ourselves

The hard truth is that we won’t get the new things that we want without taking a risk that we might lose some of the things we don’t want to change.

Change involves risk and vulnerability and letting go.  The biggest thing we have to let go is our attachment to doing things the way we have always done them, or thinking about situations in the way we have always thought about them.

Letting go is the pre-requisite for personal growth

When my son was a few weeks old, and I was right in the middle of that intense period of total love and extreme sleep deprivation that is new motherhood, my husband said something about my son that I have never forgotten:

“He’s never going to need us as much as he needs us now.  Our job is really one of letting go.”

My excitement and pride in my son’s new life is hopefully a sign that I’m doing OK with this letting go thing.  I’m sure my son also feels a bit vulnerable and anxious as he gets his new suit and ties out today.  But he’s already looking forward, not counting or mourning what he has just left.

I think us “grown ups” have a lot to (re) learn.


Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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