Almost every day, we can see cars going the wrong way down the street. To their drivers, the “Wrong Way” or “No Entry” signs mean little. These people are endangering the lives of the other drivers on the road, but they don’t stop there. They force the legal drivers to back up or otherwise reroute themselves, in order to accommodate their errors. If the law-abiding drivers resist, the wrong-way drivers often yell and scream and gesture such that those in the right feel guilty for not letting them by. You would think the wrong-way drivers would at least accept that they were at fault, and wouldn’t act so self-righteous and offended by the presence of the others. But the offenders rarely show that kind of humility.
At social gatherings, these traffic encounters are a popular topic of conversation, with everyone complaining about the traffic and the annoying drivers who don’t follow the rules. Miraculously, though, the offenders are never in the room. People talk as if they are always the victims of others’ carelessness, but never the perpetrators. No one ever says, “Yes, it is me, I am the one who endangers your life and ruins your days”. Who, then, are all these thoughtless strangers making illegal turns?
If driving like this is such a disturbance to all of us, and if we ultimately are the ones who are doing it, why don’t we change it? The answer is simple: We like it that way. We prefer chaos and struggle over respect and order. In our minds, we see order as a loss of our freedom, and we want to keep that freedom even if we have to pay a price for it with stress and unpleasantness.
The same is true for our careers. Throughout the course of our lives, we spend a great deal of time complaining about our coworkers, and our bosses, and the companies we work for. But actually doing something about it requires overcoming a very strong inertia, because the old ways are comfortable. We like things that are familiar and predictable. Unfortunately, when we hold on to our old habits, we stay stuck in the past, and as time goes on we become more and more resistant to change.
On the other hand, when we improve ourselves just a little bit every day, when we regularly shake things up a bit, we learn to welcome the winds of change. One reason why internationally-mobile executives are so in demand is they have learned how to work in many different cultures and with different kinds of people. They’ve learned that we don’t need to think of the winds of change as threatening. We can welcome them as an opportunity instead.
Remember that going through change involves a loss of control. It requires taking a leap of faith, and knowing how to take that leap is a learned skill. It’s a habit you can develop.
One way to develop that habit is to make change a regular part of your daily life. For example, there are probably plenty of people in your office whom you don’t know very well. Go sit with one of them during lunch. Sure, they might look at you funny at first, wondering why you are coming over to talk to them. But remember that they are feeling the same fear you are. When you sit down next to them, you are helping them get over that fear, too, and they will be grateful to you for it. Do the same thing at coffee breaks and at conferences. You’ll be amazed at how many new people you meet, and how appreciative they are that you helped them break through that same fear barrier.
People tend to follow the examples set by people near them, so you’ll find that the people you see every day start picking up the change habit, too. When your coworkers see you seeking out change and learning how to become more comfortable with it, they will follow your lead. Before you know it, those stuck-in-the-mud coworkers you’ve complained about at cocktail parties for years will be surprising you with their own courage and taste for adventure. You may never revolutionize the way your fellow drivers act on the road, but you can bring other kinds of change to your life and to the lives of those around you, simply by being the first one to take a small step.