We all know any life is a life of change! Transitions are a constant feature – welcome or otherwise – of our relationships, circumstances, home lives and work environment. Arguably, one of the most monumental transitions is the journey into parenthood.
Despite the wise words from everyone who has trodden the path before me, the NCT classes, and the wealth of literature on the topic, I still did not recognise the change coming for me. It is only now that I realise that if I had a better understanding of how to manage change and the internal emotional journey that I was likely to have in response to change, it could have gone a long way to making my transition a little smoother. So, I asked Executive Coach, Jessica Rogers, to explain how the Change Curve can help individuals recognise their emotional reactions to change, make sense of it, and manage change.
Sam: Jessica, tell us more about change and The Change Curve.
Jessica: Well, very briefly, The Change Curve depicts the stages of transition and shows that each step is transient and there is a point where individuals can move forward, wiser and more resilient.
Sam: I think the change to my identity was the most meaningful for me. My home, that once was a cavern of precious and very breakable trinkets, underwent a baby-proofing transformation. Any free space became occupied by baby paraphernalia for feeding, sleeping, playing, etc. I took these visual changes in my stride and found great comfort in the sense of preparedness and control that it gave me. What I did not know to expect was the shift in identity that comes with parenthood. The extreme to which parenting will change your sense of self is hard to grasp before you have been through it. How would the change curve apply to my experience?
Jessica: You talk about your identity and I hear that from many new parents. However, whatever the change is that you are experiencing, which can be different for everyone, you will typically go through the transition stages illustrated by the curve.
So, there is the first shock where you may be processing the change and may feel a sense of excitement and delight, this period may be short-lived as you move to a state of uncertainty and you may have several unanswered questions. In a work situation, you may feel like the change is out of your control. In life, the change may be something you have not expected and may pose challenges you have never had to deal with before.
Sam: I certainty find parenthood sometimes an all-consuming endeavour and by the time I come up for air, I sometimes feel like I have landed in a parallel universe. For example, I like many people had firm ideas on areas like my parenting style, how much leave I would take, what my career direction would look like over the coming years, and then suddenly, I felt at sea about all of it. Is that uncertainty typical?
Jessica: Definitely! As you navigate a period of uncertainty, you often hit what can feel like rock bottom, and although this may be hard, it also signifies a turning point as you find your way out from here. At work, solutions may start to appear as you seek help or answers to your questions and at home, you will have found new ways to adapt to your situation and tackle the challenges that have appeared.
Sam: Looking back now and understanding more about the change curve, I see the change journey that comes with parenthood as one of discovering your new equilibrium. It strikes me that many will experience the parental transition as a series of change curves, along which you may well travel backwards and forwards. The return to work is as much of a transition as the arrival of your new family member.
Jessica: Yes, that would resonate with many parents that I have coached. The Change Curve reflects our journey of adjustment to change. How successful you are at this very much depends on acknowledgement of that fact – that the change is inevitable and your ability to accept and adjust will define your experience of it.
Sam: It occurs to me that if someone has perfected a parenting routine throughout their leave where they are the sole and expert performer, it is challenging indeed to relinquish that role to someone else. It is also difficult to successfully maintain it on return to work without driving themselves to exhaustion. This outcome is particularly so for the perfectionists among us (like me!). So, to get practical, what are your top tips on how you can effectively navigate this period of meaningful change in your life?
Jessica: Well, I have ten tips that I hope readers will find helpful.
1. Embrace the change curve – Keep in mind that all transitions will go through various stages, the length of each will vary, but you will always move forward. Recognise where you are on the curve and consciously find what you need to move forward to the next stage.
2. Acknowledge the change – When you are going through a transition period, recognise and accept that it is happening and take control of your life. Think about what you can do in advance to help yourself cope with the transition. Are there adjustments you can make to the way you work or in your life to help you manage the transition more smoothly? Write down your options and decide how you want to go forward. Use the impending change as an opportunity to take complete charge of your thoughts, feelings and actions.
3. Be proactive and keep the lines of communication open – Proactively seek to find as much information as you can about the change that might be taking place. Don’t make assumptions. Speak to the leaders and managers in your team or HR, find those who may have more information than has been circulated. The more you know, the more informed decisions and action you can take.
4. Confront your feelings and ask for help – Don’t be a victim. Find ways to articulate how you are feeling and what lies beneath it and look for support. Find the people in your network, personal and professional, that you can speak to and who can help.
5. Face your fears – Ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen? Write this down along with how you could deal with it. Seeing it in black and white can help you get some perspective and diffuse some of the ‘stories’ you may have built up in your head.
6. Replace fear with opportunity – When you are in a state of fear, this often leads to negative thoughts and behaviours. Be mindful of when this is happening and consciously stop the negative thought patterns and move to a more positive mindset. What do you know to be true about your ability to handle the unknown and handle the challenge? What evidence can you draw on that illustrates your resilience in times of challenge? Use your knowledge and experience to embrace the change and help others to do the same. In a work setting, use this as an opportunity to become a ‘change agent’.
7. Be open and flexible – Allow yourself to be available to the opportunities that the change could present. As a ‘change agent’, adopt an attitude of excitement rather than dread. At work, allow this to be your opportunity to help shape what is to come.
8. Take one step at a time – Accept that any transition/change takes time, don’t try and rush the process, take one step at a time and use the curve to be mindful of where you are in the process and how this affects how you feel.
9. Focus on your self-care – To effectively manage any change, you need to be mentally, physically and emotionally strong, so look after your wellbeing. Get out in the fresh air, do regular exercise and make time to rest. Take time out to do the things that feed your joy.
10. Stay positive and focus on the bigger picture – Always keep in mind that although you may not be in complete control of the change, you control how you deal with it.
Sam: Thank you Jess!
There is no one-size-fits-all template for modern-day parenting, but parents need to be provided with the social support to enact the personal parenting strategies they believe best. The modern-day equivalent of the proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is the collective effort of parents, workplace, and community to enable the sort of balance that 21st-century working parents seek to reconcile their competing identities of Ideal Parent vs Ideal Employee. While this is an ongoing challenge for society, how this plays out in your parenting journey will be shaped by open dialogue with all those involved around you. In this way, you can predict that there will be peaks and troughs in your experience and ensure you have the proper support at the right time and keep perspective. Focus on the here and now but be mindful that this is merely a period within a lifetime.
(‘How to Get Better at Dealing with Change’, Nick Tasler, HBR September 2016 – https://hbr.org/2016/09/how-to-get-better-at-dealing-with-change)
(‘Executive Women and the Myth of Having It All’ Sylvia Ann Hewlett, HBR April 2002 – https://hbr.org/2002/04/executive-women-and-the-myth-of-having-it-all)