Sunday, January 30, 2011

Change and Life Stages

Change and Life Stages.
I guess my interest is that of a personal level. As I went out to research why I was feeling demotivated lately, or why I felt my career was not on the right track……only to find that what I was experiencing was not really too uncommon. In fact it was so common that it was published.  So while this is a slight sigh of relief of knowing everything can be considered ‘O.K.’ – there is the concept that ‘O.K.’ simply means nothing is abnormal. As it’s normal to be this confused about things. With the scary addition that it may get worse before it gets better. No doubt a cocktail of destruction that may test the resilience I spoke of earlier.
So let’s step back a few moments and see how I have got to these conclusions.
Recently I was asked what a book about my life would be called. My reaction was to call it “Life and Scars”. This was not a figurative title; I literally mean healed flesh wounds and birthmarks.  As I have found recently that I can track the scars in my body to a life I have lived, that is at complete parallels to my life I tell most people.  Motorbike wounds, surgeries, accidents with knives, workplace accidents, bite marks….. All completely parallel as my life as a husband, engineer, student and son. I only realised this when I talked to others about visible scars they had. It’s funny as many people often talk about not being sensitive to people hidden injuries, and hidden disabilities – often we don’t even ask people about the obvious things (such as scars) that are right in front of us.  Often the story to the scar is more important that the stories will actually tell about their life.
But I was wrong. Because “Life and Scars” is in fact Book II of my life, it is the story of now. I already have a Book I – I had just forgotten about it. Years ago I had a journal, through a very different time in my life. 

The journal was aptly named “The angel, the devil and a motorbike”.  And I have kept it this long as re-reading it, it was the story of me becoming a man. It has the stories of me leaving home, starting university, working, passionate love and massive depression and frustrating.  At the time I was experiencing great highs and lows. Often the highs were attributed to people around me (“angels”), the lows were my own downward spiral of defeat and depression (my own devil) and the motorbike was something that seemed to separately me completely from the world for a short period.
Sheehy (1976) names this period “Pulling up Roots”, and states that “fear haunts us that we are really kids who cannot take care of ourselves” (Sheehy, 1976, p37). I guess this holds true as many of my moments recorded here were put there so I could put my fears  could be put to rest a little. 

Looking back at what I had in that journal, it seems like a whole lifetime ago. I guess it was. Back then; I had not graduated, I was not married, my wife was not yet a citizen, I did not have a nephew…..and I was nowhere near ready to be a father.
Dealing with New Zealand Immigration smashed whatever rose tinted glasses I was wearing for my homeland and shone a truly ugly light on what I thought was the best country in the world. If you want to talk to anyone in New Zealand about how corrupt it is, I highly recommend you talk to someone whom has to immigrate here. Their insights may open your eyes.
I was working full time, and studying engineering full time – simply to pay bills. It seems insane to me now, but I was taking ‘No Dose’ to stay away, and only sleeping 2-3 hours a night.
The highs were usually the love I had for my (now) wife, and friends.  Or even achieving goals I thought were unapproachable (quitting drugs and smoking).
I seemed to keep ticking along, every day revealing the devils and angels for the day, down on paper as if to seal their fate or to create an epitaph to them.  As things were changing in my life, while I could not see it then – the reflection is quite humbling.
This develops into what Sheehy calls “The Trying Twenties” (Sheehy, 1976, p39). In this stage, we start to ask questions about our purpose. To quote myself I was asking questions such as “Where is my course (direction) taking me?” and “Is there is light at the end?”. I did not talk up the situation at all, nor did I talk up my abilities. However you can’t help but notice that while most I spoke of was doom and gloom. There was something I had faith in, there was some kind of purpose to the whole lot.
I was just unsure as that purpose was changing. I was moving from one stage of life into another.
And so, 10 years on……I am right back here, and the purpose is changing again. Once again I seem to almost be flying a little blind, hoping that everything I am doing now will pay off in 10 years like the last lot did. The ironic thing here is, even though I now understand Fisher’s (2009) model of change and what stages I may be going through.  It is only something you can really reflect on later. You can’t simply say “Now I am happy, so next to come is fear”. Although I have a feeling if you did try and do this – a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy would occur, rather than a correct diagnosis.

And so I am into the second book of my life, “Life and Scars” is all about me living in the period Sheehy calls “Catch-30” (p41). Here I get to experience life being changed again by my own choices – Sheehy (1976) warns that I may go out to destroy the career I have created over the last 10 years, I guess that is why I am doing the MBA. Engineering does not cut it anymore for me.
I am out to reform my own life again.

Elrod and Tippett summarise all the change curves of various different authors in their article “The death valley of change” (Elrod & Tippett, 2002). Stating how they all must have a drop in enthusiasm/productivity – and how this death valley requires a leap of faith, that not only will things get worse before they get better.  But when they get better it may not be to a higher level.
Only difference this time around is that the angel and devil are both me, the motorbike barely gets time and I now have the scars to show I have done this all before.

Sheehy, G,. (1976). Passages.
                New York, Bantam Books
Elrod, P.D., & Tippett, D.D. (2002). The “death valley” of change.
                Journal of Organizational Change Management
Fisher, J,. (2009) Process of Personal Change