DOABLE CHANGE Introduction



Doable Change: Making Incremental, Achievable Difference in Your Career and Life

“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” Randy Komisar

"You must first be who you are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want." Margaret Young

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Time for Change

Cheryl was an apartment manager at a large apartment complex. She loved the interaction with the residents. Providing a good home for a large number of people satisfied her. Being responsive to tenants’ needs, and getting to know their families, made her feel like part of a community. She had a good-paying job and was well-regarded by the families she helped serve. She felt fulfilled in most ways.

Over time, Cheryl began to become less enthusiastic about her job. New management led to a change in the type of work she did. She said “My job was less about the people and more about technology and reporting. I hated that I was getting away from what I really liked to do. Even though I was very good at the role, I no longer enjoyed it.” A nagging feeling of doubt crept into her life.

On January 1, Cheryl took down the calendar from the previous year. As she did so, she asked herself three questions:

1. Did I make any new friends this year?

2. Did I learn anything new this year?

3. Did I visit any location where I had not gone before?

When she could not answer “yes” to any of those questions, that became Cheryl’s impetus for Doable Change. She knew it was time to do something different, to add to her life. As is so often the case with change, she had many more questions than answers. What to do differently? Where to start? What’s next? How do I go about figuring it out? She was uncertain of a lot of things, but the need to change was not one of them. She promised herself that day to be doing something very different within three years. She began her journey with that one simple step: a goal state for the future.

Change and each of us

Change is everywhere. “The trees are beginning to change color.” “We need to change the way we operate if we want our customers to keep coming back”. “The company needs to redo its website.” “I want to change my outlook on what I can accomplish.” It is all around us. Unavoidable. Constant. Persistent. Frightening.

We hear about people who make large changes in their life. The person who lost 150 pounds, dedicated themselves to running, and is now a marathon runner. J.K. Rowling, who in her mid-20s was a single mother, practically homeless, and decided to leave an unfulfilling marriage. Three years later, she published Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone and was on her way to writing some of the most popular fiction in history.

Sometimes change seems so easy. It just happens. For “them”, the chosen few. The “lucky ones.” The more gifted people.

Why is change so hard for most of us?

A lot of what makes change difficult has to do with how our mind works. In many ways, we are not programmed for change. It goes against what we are comfortable with. It represents a deviation from the normal way we interact with the rest of our world.

At another level, change puts a spotlight on us when we might not want it. Think about someone who changes their hair color, adds tattoos, or quits their job. We look at them in a different light, not always a positive one. The person who made the change may “like” it, but might also be nervous about other’s perceptions. It is natural to be self-conscious in times of change.

We have an odd relationship with change. While we often admire it, equally as often we abhor it. The politician who changes his position on an issue is vilified. If a player chooses to leave our favorite team, we call them a traitor and an ungrateful person. If we are asked to change the way we dress at work or school we feel like our rights to “be our self” are being trampled. Think of the repercussions when the local coffee shop decides to stop offering our favorite drink anymore.

Change is “the act or instance of making or becoming different.” Some synonyms for change sound positive – innovation, switch, modification. Some sound scary – transformation, revolution, or transition. Some sound downright negative – reversal or revision.

Depending on our mindset, each of those synonyms might come into play.

Change “is like a knife that either serves us or cuts us as we grasp it by the blade or the handle." Change is like that knife when it is tossed into the air to us, spinning handle over blade. We are not sure whether we will grab the handle or the blade. We expect pain, grasping the blade. It does not occur to us that it may be comfortable, like grabbing the handle.

At times, change can be good, especially when it is the “other person” who is doing the change. We love it when we witness our children learn something new, graduate from school, or find a loving partner. When our neighbor changes the landscaping on her house, we revel in how nice the house looks. When a long-suffering friend finally finds that new job that suits them, we celebrate with them.

Change is complicated.

It’s pretty hard to keep up without changing

The typewriter repairman could probably talk about change and why we need to embrace it. Indeed, so could anyone who worked for the now-defunct Blockbuster or Sears. Simply continuing to do what we did before is not a recipe for success. Staying in the same place only means the world will pass us by. That’s the unfortunate reality of life.

Survival requires change. Moving away from where we are is a requisite for moving forward. Why does that movement often feel like it is always uphill? And why do we understand we need to change, but put it off until “tomorrow” or “when it is more convenient”? As Narayana Murthy said “growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.”

Most of us have some part of our life that we want to be better. For Cheryl, she could not exactly pinpoint the required change, but she knew she needed it. For all of us, we want a better life for ourselves and the ones we care about. Often that requires making adjustments in some important aspect of our life: what we do, where we work, who we associate with, or how we go about our day-to-day existence. We are in a place we need to get away from.

This book is about helping us move away from where we do not belong now.

How about trying “Doable Change”?

Like so many other concepts, change looks different to each of us. This book will provide a common ground that we can all start from on our unique journey. It will ask us to start looking at change as “doable”.

Doable means “within one’s powers.” Doable indicates we are capable of achieving the thing we set out to do. There are some great synonyms to doable: feasible, conceivable, achievable, and viable. The word “doable” has a positivity to it.

That is why this book is about Doable Change. It is to inspire us to think of making change within the sphere of our own potential.

I define Doable Change as “making an incremental, achievable difference in your career and life.”

“Incremental” is the idea of making small steps, additions working towards a future that may be ill-defined at the start, but helps us recognize most change is not a giant leap. As Lao Tzu is attributed to have said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." While we may not want to go a thousand miles, the thought of taking a single step is a great idea. Too often, we think we need to have it “all figured out” before we start. Just get started.

The gradual or phased approach inherent in incremental means we recognize that we need to take it slow. Even J.K. Rowling did not have it all figured out at the start. She didn’t write the first Harry Potter book in a week. Much as we build muscle by using the amount of weight we can handle, not the weight an NFL football player could lift, we start with what is reasonable.

“Achievable”. Some change is feasible. Some is not. Focusing on something that is just beyond our reach, but not too far out, helps sustain us. Doable does not mean “guaranteed”. It also does not mean “easy”. What it does mean is we are setting out to achieve something that is probable and practical. We have the odds in our favor.

By understanding how we can increase our odds (or decrease the factors that can set us up for failure), we gain momentum. We give ourself a chance at success or fulfillment. Sometimes we have to get around that loud voice in our head that says we can’t do it. We fool it into thinking we agree by stretching ourselves a little bit at a time.

Tony struggled in high school. His parents were divorced, so he lived with his grandma. He had a lot of anger issues. He did not understand the need for all of the classes he had to take and the tests required to graduate. While he was capable of doing the work, his attitude let him down. Despite getting a lot of help and encouragement from teachers, administration, and mentors, he ended up not completing all of the requirements for graduation on time.

He had tears in his eyes as all of his friends got to walk across the stage to get their diplomas, cheers from family and friends ringing out. The rest of them were moving on to the next phase of their lives. He had to complete a few requirements over the summer to get his diploma.

In the meantime, he secured a job working third shift in a local manufacturing plant. He was doing hands-on work with people who were older than him. He had to show up to work on time and do the jobs required of him on time.

Tony decided to stick with it.

He found he loved hands-on work. The people he worked with, while different than him, were encouraging. He flourished. Within six months, he had received two promotions. He discovered he really was a student: earning certifications in forklift operation, crane operation, and computer numeric control (CNC). Soon thereafter, he was promoted to salesperson, meeting customers and promoting his company’s solutions.

Tony’s next step was moving into an apartment on his own. The responsibility for paying his own bills, cooking his meals, and keeping an apartment were the next steps in his personal growth. All were within his means, but each task felt so distant from that night when he did not get to graduate on time.

“Career and Life”. Most of us spend much of our adult life at work (paid or not). If we can make a change that creates a career that is more fulfilling, we will be impacting a large part of our existence. In today’s world, it is nearly impossible to separate career and life. If we are unhappy at work, it probably shows up with family and friends. Similarly, if we don’t have great relationships in our life, we might use work as a crutch to avoid addressing that part of our life that desperately needs our attention.

The scope of this book is not intended to tell what parts of life to fix. It does provide some thinking points to see a way forward.

How this book is structured

Change is a small, step-by-small-step process most of the time. Few (if any) people make giant leaps. This book is structured to help us think about change as Doable Change. It deliberately looks at change makers who are like us. “Ordinary” people making “ordinary” (or depending on our perspective, we might consider to be “extraordinary”) changes. Every day, people around us are striving, pushing, and toiling to make change. Many are our inspiration, if we would only take the time to learn from them.

Chapter one addresses a few myths, misconceptions, and dogma about Doable Change. What do we think certain concepts are true? What do we know is true? How might we look at Doable Change in a different light?

Chapter two points out that Doable Change is not a straight line. As much as we would like a prescription for change, life is too complicated to allow change to be simple much of the time. We will ponder the barriers that are in front of us and how we might struggle with them. Like pioneers of the Old West, knowing that the journey may be tough, but not knowing enough to stop us from attempting steels us for the hard times and the setbacks.

Chapter three points out some of the biases we carry around with us. Our minds are wonderful things, capable of so much. Unfortunately, our thoughts can be muted by evolutionary thinking rooted in our past and shortcuts our mind uses. We use these shortcuts to save time and energy. They serve us well. Until they don’t. We will review a few ideas to build awareness around traps we fall into.

Chapters five, six, and seven explore different concepts for thinking about change and how we might best accomplish Doable Change. Chapter five explores the “adjacent possible”, the idea of seeking change that is closest to where we are today. Chapter six provides perspective on “flow”, how we can best align our skills, challenges, and motivations to have the most potential for success for us. Chapter seven asks us to rethink how we go about defining success, in order that we might see it in a new light.

The seventh chapter provides a roadmap. It introduces some visual cues that might sound familiar to what we do today. Tools are provided to help guide us on the journey.

Chapter eight wraps it all up and provides a call for action.

Get fate on our side

In his book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, W. H. Murray writes a positive idea for undertaking change:

“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitively commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events from the decision, raising in one’s favor, all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now’”.

The idea that taking action, even just starting to plan or doing some thinking about our interests, might open up a wealth of new avenues is welcoming. If we are stuck, or unsure, why not just get started? Sometimes fortune does smile on those who try something.

The author of the book The Legend of Bagger Vance, Steven Pressfield writes of the way our willingness to “begin it now” is rewarded in mysterious ways.

“To my amazement, the book (The Legend of Bagger Vance) succeeded critically and commercially better than anything I’d ever done, and others since have been lucky, too. Why? My best guess is this: I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods.”

The act of trying opens new vistas. The simple act of writing our thoughts down begins a shift in the way our subconscious works. We train our brain to begin looking for what we want. As Dan Sullivan noted, “Your eyes can only see what your brain is looking for.”

Let’s start opening our eyes!