Managing Change: The Art of Letting Go

I was thinking this week about what it’s like to let go of life.  A morbid thought, but an appropriate one based on what is happening in my extended family right now.  My Uncle ended his battle this week with cancer, and he fought hard with both grace and dignity.  I heard about his fight to beat the odds from my Dad who is naturally devastated by the loss of his younger brother.   My Uncle Tony and his wife will be married fifty years in December, and my Dad said that Tony kept holding out hope that he could dance with his wife on that special day.  I believe he held his ground for a long time out of shear will and the love he had for his family.  He lived long past the time when his body said it was time to let go.  I can only imagine how hard it must have been for him to tell his wife and children goodbye.  My Dad told me how sometimes toward the end my uncle was quiet, seemingly lost in thought.  I heard from a hospice worker years ago, that during the process of leaving this world the dying travel back and forth, connecting and disconnecting, retreating from life as they prepare to leave the physical world.  It seems one has to let go a little bit at a time.  I can’t imagine the courage it takes to let go of your whole life, when I consider how fear can hold me captive of making comparatively small life changes.

We are hardwired to survive, and energetically that feels like hanging on tight, until we remember again and again that the next chapter in our story always involves learning to let go.  Managing change in our lives, means one has to turn the page and be willing to stand at the edge of uncertainty, taking a step on the path to “I don’t know exactly what this looks like” and trusting that you will figure it out one step at a time.  I think my Uncle made that choice this week, and even though a part of him wanted to stay with those he loved, eventually he could not deny that it was time to let go. My Dad said my uncle had commented that he wasn’t afraid to die, but the process of getting from here to there was what had him worried.  That sounds strangely familiar to what William Bridges says about managing change, “it isn’t the change that will do you in it’s the transitions.”

When being stuck in the status quo is more frightening or painful then the unknown promise of a new way of being, transformation is possible.  The alchemy of change can move us, from what was, to what will be, when we are willing to let go.

I was researching the topic of transformation last week, and came across the transtheoretical model of behavior change which is a psychological model developed by James Prochaska and his colleagues at University of Rhode Island.  Their work provides important insight into managing change effectively in one’s life. The tipping point, between our primary way of operating and our future way of operating, Prochaska calls the decisional balance.  Change happens when the advantages of changing outweigh the disadvantages.   I know that the process of dying seems like a radical example of making a decision to let go, but isn’t change really a radical process after all?

Don’t we have to die over and over again to evolve and transform into our future self?

It seems timely on this autumn day, to consider what each of us is willing to let go of as we prepare to evolve and transform into a stronger, wiser, version of ourselves.  As the trees slowly unburden themselves of their heavy loads, and let go bit-by-bit, they strip down naked, branches bare as arms opened wide, learning to fully let go as they reach toward the heavens and a bold promise for tomorrow. We can learn a lot from a tree about managing change.

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Deb Siverson is a seasoned executive coach, certified as a PCC through the International Coach Federation. If you want to schedule time to discuss how you or your organization can increase engagement by having a different conversation at work, contact us now.