plus ça change, plus c’est la même choseJean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849 and a French proverb
a transition from one state to another
to become, or make something, different
The past few weeks, for me and those around me, have been all about change – some changes bigger than others, but all about transition from one place or condition to another.
Change isn’t always progress – change for its own sake, for example – but resistance to change has just the same potential for harm. As someone who commented on a recent post pointed out, attachment itself can be destructive. So we walk a balance between bending, adapting to change that’s outside our control, and making changes, however small, with the potential to make things better, or at least to teach us something. To grow.
I’ve already reflected in previous posts on the bigger changes, but there’ve been smaller changes too. None have been ‘for their own sake’ because life offers quite enough disruptions without adding to them unnecessarily. Generally they’ve arisen out of necessity (a problem experienced), experimentation (searching for solutions) or simply discomfort (a feeling that things just aren’t quite the way they should be).
Discomfort isn’t something to avoid, then, but something that should make us sit up (figuratively or physically) and listen. Perhaps, in fact, we should be actively looking for discomfort in life so that we can learn from it. I’m not talking about asceticism here, although for some that might be the answer, but seeking comfort and sticking only to the familiar is a recipe for stagnation. For staying still on a world that’s moving. The start of a backward journey or a downward spiral.
The only constant in life is changeattributed to Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher, 535-475BC
This week I met with a group of undergraduate students in events, tourism and hospitality – soon to be graduates. Students I’d seen make the change from school to university and who were now to see the next big change now they’ve finished. They were different of course, as I knew them in their first year, and as I see them now. After three years, or for some four, studying management in their chosen field, working alongside their studies, they’ve all gained a great deal of experience – of learning, yes, but of life, labour, and in no small part, leisure. We talked about the changes they’ve seen over their time at the university in themselves and their aspirations for the future. Some have changed their goals, changed their perceptions, some have been reinforced. All are much better prepared for the future, largely as a result of the uncertainties, discomforts, decisions and change they’ve faced. Intentionally or otherwise.
In a few months I’ll be setting out on the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. Although not the whole pilgrimage – the Camino Portugues is close to 400 miles – I fully expect taking the ‘spiritual’ coastal route in Galicia, 90 miles if it goes to plan, to offer its own share of discomfort. If it goes to plan. If it doesn’t go to plan, I expect more not less discomfort. Starting something you know will be a challenge means you’re opening yourself up to discomfort, but also to learning, and potentially to the satisfaction of a challenge met, a goal achieved.
Most of the challenges I’ve set myself in the past have had both physical and cultural aspects, and I can’t think of one I haven’t learned from. Sometimes that learning comes at a high price, or taken time for the learning to sink in, but it’s learning all the same. Always I’ve risen to the challenge, though not always to the top. They’ve forced me to make commitments, decisions, unplanned but informed by the intuition afforded by discomfort. By things not being the way they should be or could be.
The challenge of change can go beyond discomfort to fear, but beyond both in my experience has been satisfaction. Satisfaction not with the status quo, but with quite the opposite. With change. Change that allows you to become different.
And that’s no small change.
The day after I wrote this post I finished reading an inspiring book by Raynor Winn called The Salt Path. The book chronicles her, and her husband’s, experience of walking England’s 630 mile South Coast Coastal Path after a sequence of events outside their control led them to lose their home, sending them on an unforeseen, unplanned, life-changing adventure. Towards the end of the book they meet a young waitress and her friend, both from Poland, working abroad. Their conversation is so relevant to this post I had to add it as a postcript: