The Story of Our Lives: Suffering and Change

career, change, change freaks me out, changing jobs, everyone suffers, negative change, postive change, Self-preservation, suffering, the end of the story, the story of our lives

I didn’t start crying until I was on the road. This is how I do things, of course—I tough it out until I’m alone and then I allow myself a few minutes to fall apart. It wasn’t until I said my goodbyes, ran the errands I needed to finish before leaving town, and headed down the road towards home that I finally let go and cried.

Man, did I cry.

Yesterday was my last day at a job I’ve had for over three years. Rather unexpectedly, a few weeks ago, I realized I was going to voluntarily walk away from a job I love. Let’s not sugar coat it—the job was tough, there were portions of it I never liked, and sometimes the people (clients and coworkers) could be difficult. Oh well, that’s how even the best jobs play out. The positive far outweighed the negative. The job was still close to my heart. I loved what I did and I was good at it. Why leave, then? To be cheeky, someone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse (this is a crazy reference to insert because I haven’t even seen the movie). I was offered a great opportunity to use my degree and work toward advancing my future career. As my boss told me when I sat down with her to give my notice, there is a huge difference between pursuing a job and pursuing your career.

Change freaks me out. Even positive change causes my stress levels to rise to dangerous levels. There has been a ton of change in my life in the last two years already. Most of the change is good—weight loss, graduating, children, jobs offers.

As I considered why change freaks me out, it occurred to me that not all change freaks me out. I’m willing to bet many people operate the same way I do. When we are in a good place (or if not a good one, a stable one), we don’t want to step out of that good and/or stable place in case it turns out the grass isn’t greener on the other side. While the old saying that warns us about trading in our situation for another is a full of wisdom, it also does a lot to hold us back from changes that really need to happen in our lives.

The grass isn’t usually greener, but sometimes the grass is different. A good different. Sometimes the grass isn’t even grass, but sand or dirt or mud, and that’s okay too. Even as I say it though, I don’t feel any less freaked out. So the question becomes why would I (or anyone) allow myself to pass up an amazing opportunity in order to stay in the exact same place? While I didn’t pass up my opportunity, it did cross my mind. I know I’ve passed up opportunities in the past because I was resistant to change. I know friends, family, and (ex)co-workers who do the same on a regular basis.

Self-preservation.

We have this will to self-preserve that goes beyond fear or mere survival. Since we feel like we can never know how tough we are, we don’t want to do anything that would put us in a situation to find out. We don’t want to merely exist, but to thrive. At our core, we are always striving toward achievement, which may or may not be healthy when we operate this way 150% of the time, but it seems to be wired in to our being nonetheless.

This post is going to wrap up without a clear solution. There is no solution that I can propose. When I approach my feelings about change honestly, I see and understand my weakness. I know that I am resisting change to hold on to an existence that is stable, an existence that does not require me to be tough. This honest assessment doesn’t initiate an automatic shift inside, though. I am not suddenly brave and powerful and ready to spark change in each area of my life. Neither are my readers, probably, save for a special few.

Recently, I heard a man speak about stories. He explained how knowing the end of the story would allow us to behave differently within the story itself. He illustrated the point by telling a story about his sailing for the first time, being foolish about his choices because he didn’t know what he was doing, and learning those choices had scary consequences. In the thick of his first, inexperienced, wildly unsuccessful sailing adventure, he wasn’t certain he was going to survive. He acted out of self-preservation, making automatic decisions and silently acknowledging the fact that he may die. He was fearful, weak, vulnerable, and exposed. In the end, he survived the excursion (obviously, since he is telling the story). His point was this: had he known as the event unfolded that he was going to survive, he would have behaved far differently. Maybe the fearful, weak, and vulnerable sides of his person wouldn’t have been exposed. Perhaps he would have experienced the moment more and pushed away those internalized thoughts about dying. He did not know how the story would end, though.

It would be easy to respond to this story by saying, “See? We don’t know how the story of our change is going to end, so we should avoid it at all cost.” When I considered this story in light of my reflection on change, however, I found myself wondering something entirely different. If we resist change because we’re not sure how tough we are, it must be that we are attempting to avoid something specific. We are attempting to avoid suffering. Not to be overly dark, but we do know how the story of suffering in life ends—

Everyone suffers.

While we may experience an abundance of joy in our lives, suffering is also a guarantee. The amount or degree of suffering varies, but suffering is a part of being alive. Since we know that part of the story, we can choose to behave differently in our situations. Trust me, I know it all sounds great when we’re reading it off a screen, but the concept itself is powerful. I too will struggle to use it as a positive force in my own life, but again, the concept is powerful.

When I walked away from a job I love yesterday, the stress of the change was there because I am worried this change will bring suffering into my life. I don’t know that it will, though. Ignoring this opportunity and not making this change will not guarantee I never suffer again in my life. I will suffer again whether I pass up this amazing opportunity or not. So will you, readers.

If you’re worried about accepting a promotion at work because to fail may mean losing the job entirely, consider this: couldn’t you lose the job whether you take the promotion or not? If you’re worried about moving to a new state because it may weaken your family, consider this: can’t other forces weaken your family as well? If you’re worried to marry the person you love because you may lose them to divorce or death, consider this: won’t you lose them eventually if you don’t commit?

No matter how old we are at this moment, we will all suffer again. We will suffer in some way, small or large, before our story is over. Change is only one element of our story that can bring suffering, and avoiding it does not give us a free pass on the suffering of life. Perhaps, with a little bravery, and if we use this understanding to allow ourselves to more freely embrace change, our lives will be better. They may not. We know how the story works, though. Let’s start behaving as if we do.

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