Change Happens: What to Do When Circumstances Shift Unexpectedly

change happens

Making plans and following them is important. We need to know where we are going and keep this destination in mind. The psychologist Fitzurgh Dodson echoed many other writers when he said, ‘Without goals and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.’

While this is certainly good advice, we also need to ensure we sail with the wind, not against it, and this requires a sensitivity to the current situation and how it is changing. Sometimes we need to take down the sails to avoid getting blown off course, but at other times, an unexpected wind can take us on wonderful new adventures, and bring success and fulfillment. Some of the most useful things have come about accidentally – penicillin, Viagra, X-rays, brandy, to name but a few. None of these things would have been developed if people had refused to follow a new and unanticipated direction. Indeed, creativity usually requires a willingness to be open to novelty and innovation.

Change is inevitable. Everyone knows this – winds change direction, circumstances shift unexpectedly. It’s a normal and predictable part of life. The nature of the changes we inevitably experience are less predictable, however. We know far less than we sometimes like to think. People are very, very bad at predicting the future, and things almost never work out the way we expect. Try as you might to imagine all the possible future scenarios, and the one that unfolds will not have occurred to you.

Because of this unpredictability, change can be frightening. But it is also one of the things that make life so exciting and interesting. If life is like a long walk in the countryside, detours can be the most fruitful and interesting parts of the journey.

Benefiting from change requires a certain state of mind, openness and a flexibility which can be characterized in several ways.

Be open minded to new experiences and changes of direction

Since we are so bad at predicting the future, and since we know that things can – and usually do – change easily and quickly, it is important to keep an open mind and be ready to experience new things. Who knows what the future will be like? At each new bend of the road a different perspective comes into view.

Before we turn the corner, we are often afraid – all kinds of frightening images can crowd into our head. And yet when we steal ourselves, turn the corner and face those fears, we usually find nothing substantial. Indeed, we often find treasure where we thought a monster was lurking.

Recognize that change is uncomfortable

We all know what it feels like to get out of bed on a cold winter’s morning. We’re comfortable and content dozing away under the covers. But we can’t learn and grow and experience all the richness life has to offer unless we get out of bed and go out into the cold. If you want to be stronger, you have to subject your muscle to stress – you have to go through a certain degree of effort – pain, even – in order that your muscles will respond and adapt. If you want to do well in an exam, you need to put yourself through the mental strain of working through problems and struggling with academic material.

Growth usually comes with some pain – this is natural and normal. But so long as we have the right attitude, the pain and the challenge can actually be invigorating and refreshing. I have recently stepped up my exercise programme and have been working a lot harder in the gym several times a week. It’s a struggle – by the end of each session, I’m exhausted. But it’s energizing and I can see and feel the results.

We’re all the same – growth hurts, but with the right attitude, the pain can, in a sense, feel good. And without the pain, how could we know the joy of what it is to have grown?

Don’t let your natural resistance to change get in the way

We all have a natural tendency to resist change. I am myself involved in the management of change, and if there’s one thing I can say about change, it’s that it is almost always difficult. People don’t like it, they feel uncomfortable about it and they complain about it. This resistance may be some kind of survival mechanism – when you are stable and static, you know that you are alive and OK, and change could be a threat to this survival.

But only by changing can we grow and develop. Someone wrote that the only unchanging state is death, and this implies that a life lived to the full is one of constant change – vibrant, growing, always ready for and even reaching out to new experiences, open to the transformations they can bring.

A famous Taoist analogy of the best way to approach life is to be like a bamboo stalk – supple and ready to bend low in the wind, taking on the storm by accommodating to it, never resisting.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

What’s around the next corner? When we move on, embrace change and face the fears that haunt us, we usually find that wonderful new experiences open up, and we are transformed. This is how we grow. This is how we learn. This is why we are here.

Photo by h.koppdelaney

8 thoughts on “Change Happens: What to Do When Circumstances Shift Unexpectedly”

  1. Change is a blessing that you should learn to enjoy.

    Be grateful for the gift of change. Without change, you would never be able to grow, learn new things, accomplish your goals, or look forward to anything different than what you’ve got. Even though you may resist change at times, you should learn to enjoy its possibilities.

    Even when change is forced upon you and brings challenges, it opens new doors of opportunity. Do realise that a change that seems devastating can actually propel you into a better life!

    Where would you be today if you had not lost that job, causing you to seek a better, more fulfilling path in life? How could you have the spouse you enjoy now if you had not left your old boyfriend/girlfriend behind?

    Change is one of the blessings that come with the power of choice. You can choose to leave things the way they are, or change them to something better.

    You can choose to waste your life fighting inevitable changes or take advantage of them and enjoy life. When life hands you lemons, choose to make lemonade!

    Change allows you to learn and grow. As you strive to achieve your goals, embrace the changes in your life that bring you ever closer to success. With each change, you’ll become more knowledgeable, stronger, and more confident that you can handle whatever life may bring.

    Know that today brings its share of changes. Choose to welcome them all and allow yourself to enjoy all opportunities that come your way.

    Self-Reflection Questions:

    1. What changes are you resisting in your life right now?
    2. How can you embrace these changes and use them to improve your life?
    3. Is there something you can change to move you closer to your goals?



  2. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for this guest post. It’s a timely one for me; the organization I work for is going through a lot of internal changes at the moment and my job role is changing. The past week has been incredibly busy and very often frustrating. Even with everything I know about how to manage change, I’m still finding that I have a lot of internal resistance to what is going on. Your words of wisdom are appreciated at this challenging time!


    1. @Peter Clemens, I have also experienced alot of change recently, and I know how difficult it can be. So long as we keep the right attitude, then when things settle down – as they inevitably will – we can look back and see the benefits of the change.

      Thanks for posting my article on your blog.


  3. Hey Mark,

    Change is part of life. And it can be uncomfortable, but I think if done right, it can actually be comfortable and fun. Of course, we don’t control a lot of the change, like s lot of the one that happens outside of us, in the context, in the world. All we can do is manage how we react to it.


  4. You make some excellent points in this article. Even if a current circumstance is undesirable, many people hold on to it because it is familiar. It is less scary than venturing into the unknown. The fear of leaving behind the security of what we know can be paralyzing. But it is helpful to focus on the possibilities of what’s on the other side, which may make it worth the unnerving feelings of resistance.

  5. Great Post Mark,

    I don’t know if having goals is really a necessity but more of an easy way to distract the mind and keep it busy, the endless pursuit of happiness through reaching ambitions which means going from one goal to another without ever reaching eternal happiness of living in the present moment but I agree with the change part,

    Life changes constantly, nothing is ever the same, if you walk passed a tree one day it won’t be the same as walking passed it the next, some leaves might have fallen off, others might have turned a bit yellower, so why shouldn’t those laws apply to us and our lives as well? it’s the fear of the unknown that keeps us afraid of change, if you embrace the idea of nothing is secure in life and you cant fully depend on anything thinking it will always be the same, then you will truly find joy =).

  6. Thanks for this excellent reminder Mark. As much as I like to think I welcome change, I still have that natural resistance that I need to fight through each time. I just got a new boss last week and will try to practice acceptance and blowing with the winds of change in this situation.

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