What Can You Change?

I am on the faculty of a school that will instruct park and recreation professionals on how to start, implement or augment environmental sustainability practices into their departments, agencies and hopefully their communities. Part of the curriculum will be a class on change management taught by moi. I’ve had many opportunities to both learn about the concept of change and to implement change in agencies. Did I do good? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But it took me a long time to figure out what it was that I could or could not change, and the answer was so simple that of course it alluded me for a long time. Hopefully I can make this road easier for others.

Bottom line, it comes down to one simple fact – the only thing you can change is yourself. We spend a lot of time learning about organizational change, creating the vision for change, creating systemic change, resistance to change – yada, yada, yada. The one thing we forget to mention is that none of it is within our ability to control. It all reverts back to what I said before – the only thing you have the ability to change is yourself.

A few years ago I attended a very powerful training session conducted by Ted Willey. I have attended many seminars in my life, but this one was transformational for me, probably the only one that ever was. Ted has written a book called “The Power of Choice”, and his training is based on one very simple concept: we are the product of the choices that we make, period! There is no blame, there is no fault, as human beings we simply choose. So, for example, you are not fat because McDonald does not put nutritional information on the food you buy, you are fat because of what you choose to put in your mouth. And if those choices include taking in more calories than expending, the end result is fat – period!   Or, you are not late because there was a horrible traffic jam and you got stuck in it. You are late because you failed to adequately prepare to get to where you needed to be when you needed to be there. It is the concept of 100% responsibility. We are response – able, not response – impaired. It is a pretty hard line way of thinking of things, but in the end, I find it to be true.

The world is filled with people who point the finger the other way – woe is me, my life is so bad because I married the wrong person or my life is so bad because I am stuck in this nowhere job. Horsefeathers! If your marriage isn’t working, you can choose to do what needs to be done to fix it, or get out of it. If you are stuck in a nowhere job, get a new one. Now, I am not saying that this will be easy, but you have the power to change your circumstance. It may not be overnight, and it may be very difficult, but the power lies within yourself.

So, in teaching change it occurred to me that we all think about change as good or bad. In the end, it is neither – it simply is. As humans we choose to put a value on change and that value differs depending on how a change affects us individually. A change may be great for some and horrific for others. We can see it playing out in Wisconsin right now. Changing collective bargaining rights is good for government – it will help balance the budget. But changing those rights is bad for union workers – it is the foundation of their power base and why they exist. The existence of government or the existence of unions. What should change and why? Remove the emotion and you see the simple fact: it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. If we accept that premiss related to change and take the stance that the only thing we truly can change is ourselves, we approach change management in a very different way. We take the emotion out of it and work to discover ways in which people will choose to change their behaviors, attitudes, beliefs and, (if you’re really good) values.

So that is the journey I will take as I put together this seminar. Should be interesting to see what I come up with.

2 thoughts on “What Can You Change?

  1. Thanks, Cindi. It is a very hard lesson that I have learned over many years. Unfortunately we live in a litigious society that looks to find blame whenever things do not go the way they were “supposed to”. I think this is going to be a fun training to put together. I will post more as I move along. Would love your feedback.



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