Is change hard?

Many roads crisscrossing in a disorienting way, with road signs pointing all over There are many reasons why change feels hard.

The unknown is scary

We’ve all seen (and probably experienced) how easy it is to stay in uncomfortable – and even painful and dangerous – situations because they’re known and familiar. As poet and author Anais Nin famously said,

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

In order to change, we must acknowledge the anxiety and fear and explore options for mitigating what we perceive to be the risks. We cannot just ignore the emotional impact of change, even when we wish we could, or think we should. It’s not a matter of “willpower” or “engagement” or “motivation” – and I put those words in quotation marks* because in this instance, they’re simply irrelevant to what’s really going on. Humans are not wired to embrace uncertainty, and change is inherently uncertain.

And then there’s the question of identity

We have many layers of identity, often unconscious.

In order to change, we must actively understand both the current identity (which is holding us in place as the person or organization we are now), and the new identity (the ways in which we will be different after the change).

We may consciously want the change we’re seeking to make – we may want it very deeply – but without understanding the commitments we have to the current identity, that current identity will hold us back.

This is true on a group level as well as a personal level. Organizations have identities, departments and teams within organizations have identities, and if we as leaders of change don’t recognize this, acknowledge it, and help our teams understand that what’s important about those identities will be carried forward – that’s one of the reasons why organizations struggle to be successful in their strategic change initiatives.

And then there’s grief

All change involves grief, because all change requires us to leave something behind. If we don’t consciously acknowledge this grief and allow space for it, we will, again, be held back from progress in the change we’re attempting to create.

To lead change – whether for our own personal life, or as leaders within an organization – we must understand more than the tasks or steps that will create the change; we must also understand, navigate, and lead ourselves and our teams through the emotions of change. Merely understanding the tasks is change management – a necessary, but not sufficient, skillset.

So yes, some aspects of change are hard

But mostly change is uncomfortable. It’s vulnerable. It brings up a lot of emotional content that’s challenging, especially in a work environment.

Change isn't hard - it's uncomfortable, vulnerable, and emotionally challenging. Being a change leader means having the skills and tools to navigate All That and succeed.Click To Tweet

The sooner we accept that we’re humans, that humans have emotions, and that those emotions aren’t going away – the sooner we’ll start being more successful and less stressed in leading change.

* Fun fact: those unnecessary quotation marks are called “scare quotes” because they’re intended to draw attention and create doubt.