Balancing Balance Part XI: When Changes Come – Staying Light on My Feet

We have spent a good bit of time in this series talking about how to choose and manage the various activities that make up our lives.  We have thought about how to recognize the ways we spend our time. We have discussed how our personal filters act as gatekeepers to let in worthwhile pursuits and keep out poor choices. We talked about how we can ask ourselves a series of questions to determine whether a particular choice is wise or foolish at a particular time in our lives.
When choices are within our power to make, all these skills serve us well, but what about when life sends those out-of-nowhere curveballs at us – those responsibilities thrust upon us without our say-so? It may be a child born with a disability, a move across the country or to the other side of the world, an injury, or a job loss. These events bring responsibilities that are sudden, massive, and, let’s be honest, often unwelcome. Yeah, you’re thinking, how do I send something like that through my personal filters? I’m so upset I don’t even want to think about it. I know. I feel the same way when it happens to me. And let’s just admit right up front that personal filters don’t help with a big new change in itself. They can help with other choices later, but the change is happening whether we want it or not. It can’t be filtered out.
So, what can we do? Most of the time we move, consciously or not, through a series of mental, emotional, and physical steps as we adjust to the change. We could call the steps tasks. In a way, they are similar to the familiar steps of moving through grief, which makes sense because big life changes often involve grief of some kind, if only for the comfortable life we had before the change arrived. We could label the tasks: Acknowledge, Assess, Accommodate, Acclimate, and Accept. Some people adjust to life changes relatively easily, some people struggle but get there eventually, and some people flounder. I don’t want to be a flounderer, so it helps me to think of how to work with inevitable changes instead of against them.
It may seem obvious, but it is important to really acknowledge a change when it arrives. Sometimes I try to keep my life exactly the same as it was before, but doing that will frustrate me again and again. Life is different now, be it temporarily or permanently, so I have to admit that before I can handle the change. If my husband loses his job, our whole family has to examine our spending. We may need to change many of our daily routines to allow Dad to search for a job and attend interviews. Even such basics as cooking meals will be affected. If I continue to insist on expensive shopping sprees and dinners out, I am going to damage myself and my family unnecessarily.
When change first happens, I often feel overwhelmed. I am just surviving – doing whatever is most urgent and often accomplishing that in the most inefficient way! One by one, all the other balls drop in my juggling act as I try to cope with the big new need – laundry isn’t getting done regularly, shopping and meal prep are haphazard, and I’m certainly not managing to make the most frugal and wise choices when I do shop and cook. That is completely natural, but eventually I must take a step back to get some perspective. I have to analyze my new responsibilities and understand what will be required of me on a day-in-and-day-out basis. If possible, I want to know approximately how long the needs will last. Are my new responsibilities schedulable or will I have to expect the unexpected? How much money, time, and stamina must be reserved for this responsibility? Honest assessment leads us to make necessary changes – what can be dropped, what must be altered, what can be deferred until a later time.
After I realize what is required of me, I start making room for those tasks and changes. I figure out how to make time for the new activities I have to do by jettisoning some pursuits that used to fit comfortably into my life and modifying others. I probably won’t do it perfectly at first, but I understand the necessity to keep at it. If one of my parents becomes ill and requires care in my home or theirs, the makeup of my days is going to be significantly different. Nearly everything may change – from when I can take a shower to how and where meals are served. With observation, thought, and maybe a good dose of trial and error, I can carve out new routines that meet everyone’s needs.
Getting used to big changes always takes time. Some of us are more flexible than others, but I daresay nobody lives through any of the examples above without noticing any impact. I need to give myself permission to gradually adjust while at the same time holding myself accountable to be really trying to accomplish it. Attitude is nearly everything here, and I don’t know about you, but for some changes I have to work pretty hard on mine!
This is what I am aiming for – true acceptance of my life as it is now. When people talk about living in the moment, this is part of what they mean. We get this one life – imperfect, containing some responsibilities and realities we would not have asked for – but it is what it is. The cool thing, the thing that too often goes unnoticed, is that the challenging parts are usually the ones that bring us the most growth and often even the most blessing if we work with what we are given with an aim toward acceptance. More about this idea another time, I think.
Please don’t anybody think I am suggesting that life’s big changes are reducible to a set of instructions or steps that, followed carefully, will render them easy or insignificant. Neither am I saying I have learned how to handle my own big changes with perfect grace. To the contrary, most of what I have written is the result of looking back at events in my life that I can see I didn’t handle as admirably as I’d have wished, as well as things I have been thinking about as I go through one or two changes right now.
When you look back at big challenges and changes in your life, what helped you the most on the road to acceptance?

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  1. Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    We’re living this out right now. Thanks for putting all of this down. It helps.

    • Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      I’m living it, too, so it was mostly for me, but it’s always striking to me how many people are going through challenges at any given time. God bless us both.

  2. Posted March 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Great post. I definitely have been guilty of not changing as needed for unexpected changes. Of trying to keep-going-like-before-and-I’ll-make-it-work-one-way-or-another. But like you said, it is really important to figure out how to accommodate and work around those changes that are out of our control. Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  • Your comment is the best part of this blog! Share what’s on your mind here.

  • In My Kitchen, In My Life is a place where women (and the odd male) can be encouraged, nudged, and occasionally kicked in the pants toward living their lives on a higher plane. Oh, and readers get plenty of chances to laugh at the author's foibles, which is always worth a click.

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