Change is Personal

I’ve become even more convinced that change, including positive change, is personal. I’ve been fortunate these last few months to be engaged leading the Change is personal fish jumping forbes.comstrategic planning process for an out-of-town higher education institution, coupled with additional teaching loads as adjunct faculty for two universities. Much of the work has called for adapting to new and different organizational cultures, perspectives, methodologies and technologies (including some technology idiosyncracies!) Increased work loads coupled with steep learning curves called for altering my personal schedule and routines, which of course impacted other arenas of life and work as priorities were rearranged. As luck would have it, my increased teaching responsibilities included teaching a graduate course in Change Management, affording me opportunities to reflect on my change journey the last few months. Let me share some of what I’ve learned and some observations:

  • The power of “3 Ps:” In my book and articles I’ve written about the importance of Purpose, Principles and Priorities in our lives and work. As destabilizing as some changes and challenging opportunities have been Change is personal compass the last few months, my “3 Ps” have been a centering force. First, decisions to take on new assignments were easier. The work and teaching assignments are aligned with my Purpose that I crafted a number of years ago; teaching is also aligned with my principles, especially to “invest in the next generation.” Not everything that I had planned could be accomplished in the time available, so having a sense of priorities and which could be moved farther down the list made time management easier. (I apologize if you’ve missed my monthly articles, but something had to give!) As Roy Disney put it: “It’s easier to make decisions when we know what our values are.”
  • It’s OK to feel “stupid” in the beginning. There are two problems with comfortable routines: they’re comfortable, and they’re routines. It’s true that “if we keep doing what we’re doing we’ll keep getting what we’re getting” (Henry Ford,) and that “even if we’re on the right track we’ll get run over if we just sit there.” (Will Rogers.) Unfortunately, along with doing new things and moving to different tracks is the truism: “no pain, no gain.” Actually, that’s fortunate; just as muscle pain accompanies better physical conditioning, pain often accompanies other forms of growth as well. If there’s not some discomfort and “pain,” we’re probably not learning or growing much.
  • Be open. If I’m being asked to teach a course, I must know it all, right? Of course not! I’d like to think that after a few dozen years I know something about strategic planning and change management, but I can honestly say that teaching also opens the doors to whole new opportunities for learning. I could feel myself stiffening some as a co-instructor and I exchanged different theories and favorite models for leading change; of course by engaging in dialog about our own perspectives in learners’ best interests, we both came away richer for the experience with more to offer our students. (I’ve heard that if untreated, the “stiffening” that sometimes accompanies exposure to new ideas can lead to a dangerous condition called “hardening of the categories.”)
  • Help each other. Learning new course material, grading rubrics and instructional technologies for two universities simultaneously while managing a business is challenging. Fortunately I was not too proud to ask for help, and have been doubly fortunate that administrators and experienced faculty graciously provide it. Reaching out for support in the course of challenging change, and offering it, helps immensely.
  • Take care of yourself. Once again on a recent flight we were reminded to “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” Likewise, we’reChange is personal oxygen mask of less use to others or a cause when fatigued, overly stressed, out of shape or not exercising self-care in other ways. We need to make room among our priorities to eat right, drink right, rest right, exercise right, play right, etc., especially during changing or stressful times. Fortunately for me, not long ago I learned about the Resilience Club from an associate, Nancy Maxfield Wilson of the MaxPerformace Team. They are doing great work providing resources for resiliency in life and at work; you can learn more and check out their next workshop at
  • Keep your eye on the horizon. We talked about minding our “3 Ps,” which can serve as our compass on a change journey; it’s also helpful to keep our eyes on the “horizon.” I’ve gotten bounced around pretty well sailing across Lake Superior, when especially at night it’s difficult to navigate by the boat’s compass. That’s when it’s helpful to stay focused on the bigger picture, or horizon ahead, on a clear night perhaps using stars in the rigging as guides. Likewise in life’s bumpy crossings it can be helpful to not be too fixated on short term challenges or disappointments, and instead adopt a broader perspective about all of it contributing to a larger purpose.
  • Checking our “wake” can be helpful too. A good friend once shared how a boat’s wake serves as a helpful reminder of how it’s important to reflect on progress toward a goal or overcoming challenges. In the course of a journey it can be reassuring to note the progress that we’ve made; it’s important to note and celebrate small victories and milestones, or waypoints. Observing our “wake” can also provide clues about the trueness of our course; are we travelling the path that we intended?


Change is personal wake

Most of us these days likely feel that we may be the subjects of that mixed blessing: “May you live in interesting times.” “Interesting” implies change and challenges; I hope that these reflections are useful for your journey.


If we don’t change, we won’t grow; if we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.

Gail Sheehy

Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.

Victor Hugo

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw

Al Watts has 30 years of experience as an independent consultant helping leaders and organizations succeed by aligning people, systems and strategy. He is particularly skilled helping clients define strategic direction, identifying barriers to achieving goals, and helping boards, executive teams and diverse stakeholder groups craft shared commitments for growth.

Leave a Reply

captcha *