Turn and Face the Strange

This post has been difficult to write. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and have scrapped at least three drafts. I’ve known I want to write about change, but I’ve sidelined the post because I wasn’t sure what specifically about change that I wanted to say. Months have passed since I first made the Evernote “write post about change”; weeks have passed since I started the first draft. In that time, so much has changed. Go figure.

(I’d like to note that this isn’t meant to be – and won’t be – an elegy for David Bowie. However, seeing as I was going to utilize “Changes” anyway, it’s only fitting to talk about the Starman himself, too, in light of his death.)

Change. There is no more fundamental aspect of life – yet we are terrified of it. Change is a hard pill to swallow. Every second that goes by, something is different than the moment just before, than the moment following. These seconds add up to minutes, minutes to hours, and so on, and we wake up one day to realize that life is unrecognizable from what it used to be. It’s unrecognizable from what we thought it would be. Each life – yours, mine – is one big constant change. Scary as it is, Pink Floyd summed it up perfectly: “The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older / Shorter of breath and one day closer to death”

Looking back at 2015, much has changed. I’ve had good friends leave New York. They moved to New Zealand, relocating to the other side of the world for a few years, undertaking a three-continent adventure en route. All through the summer, we had periodic group outings in a long lead-up to the goodbye – itself a wonderful all-night event full of emotion. I could feel the change happening, slowly then in a rush. It reaffirms that wonderful people move in and out of our lives, and that it’s worth the effort to keep up with those we truly care about.

Another change was moving boroughs, from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Switched zip codes, switched apartments, switched roommates. It was the right move, but the change was scary. I had questions and concerns, even though I felt good about the move in my gut. Every change we make, as well as every change that is foisted upon us, raises concerns. The vast majority of things are out of our control; the best we can do is look at the information in front of us and make the best decision. Things tend to sort out.

On the work front, my job changed continually (something I thoroughly enjoy). We began building out a product and engineering presence in New York, going from a product team of 1 (me) to 13 between January ‘15 and January ‘16. We changed floors two times, desks four times, and OKRs a couple times, too. People have left the company and people have joined the company. A few years ago, this would have scared me; I would have gone to get coffee with coworkers to bemoan the changes. Now, I know turnover is natural and inevitable, and in fact it can often be good for everyone. Change, if not ostensibly positive, is at least different, and that state of different-ness challenges us to grow.

Still, change is scary. It’s strange. It’s new. It’s the unknown coming to sit in front of your face.

Why are we often so afraid of change? Increasingly, I see this as a control issue. We fear what we cannot, or feel we cannot, control. The world turns, things happen, states of comfort and understanding are broken and shaken. This lack of control causes us to feel that we don’t understand, and we often fear what we don’t understand. It’s a base human instinct to which even the most evolved of us are susceptible. How to overcome the fear? Change our approach to change and improve our ability to deal with it.

Sometimes you just have to suck it up and turn and face the strange. How do you do this? Accept and Adapt.

Accept that change is inevitable, that it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not. Accept that when you’re riding high, the circumstances behind your elation will change. You’re going to have your bubble burst. Accept that nothing is static, so when you feel in command of your domain, it’s only an illusion. You may be doing well at any given moment, but a moment is only that, and the next moment will be different. (Potentially better, better, worse, or the same, but always different.)

Then Adapt. After you’ve accepted that change is constant – that things may have changed between the time you started reading this and the time you finished reading this – you must adapt to this understanding. Learn how to be flexible, nimble, to make decisions given the reality in front of you. Adapt to the new environment in order to not be left in the dust. (Humans have survived for a long time by being adaptable, whether we consciously tried to adapt or not. It’s the height of consciousness to adapt at will, and that’s something we should strive for.)

Now, what about David Bowie?

The man was constantly evolving. When he started out he was clean cut, late ‘60s mod, then morphed into Ziggy Stardust, then Aladdin Sane, then back to himself in ’90s style. He adapted and changed with each decade, loyal to no single haircut, no single facial hair style, no single musical sound. Bowie sang, played, acted, hosted, appeared in places you never expected. He consistently tried new things, exploring himself, the world, and his place in it. As Sarah Larson wrote in the New Yorker, Bowie “was finding himself, trying everything out.” He lived in permanent beta, to use the zeitgeisty nomenclature. And most importantly, he seemed to be afraid of nothing. He accepted the changes and never failed to adapt. If nothing else, Bowie is a testament to how successful a person can be by embracing change.

How do you approach and navigate change? What are your thoughts on David Bowie’s death and legacy? Tweet at me and let me know!

(Note: A big thank-you to a couple early readers who provide early feedback on my writing. These posts wouldn’t be the same without you.)

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