When was the last time you changed? Do you remember the details of why and how you did it?
This is not a question about habits. I’m not talking about reading a new book, starting a new diet, or quitting alcohol.
I’m talking about transformation. Pure, unmitigated growth. A process so intense that you can’t recognize your past self afterwards, and you’re grateful for having become better. You feel more complete, closer to the “You” you want to be. Do you remember the last time you changed?
I help people remember what change feels like.
I detect those that need to change, and I build a mental “bridge” from where they are to where they can find the people, ideas, and opportunities to transform into better versions of themselves.
I do it because I truly believe that, if people can cross the gap in front of them, they can grow into more meaningful lives. However, I’m also aware that doubts, fears, and anxieties are what gaps are made of. That’s why bridges are important: so it’s safe to cross.
Since my last startup, I have talked to hundreds of people to see if they are the kind of people that need to change, and what kind of help they need to do it. This article is my attempt to share what I’ve learned about why and when some people choose change and why some avoid it. Hopefully it can help you figure out if it’s your time to change.
I’ve talked to people from all ages, professions, cultures, from 45-year old American electricians to 23-year old Indian engineers, and I see three things come up again and again…
Place, urgency, and gravity.
Place — Where are you?
“The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.” — Reid Hoffman
Take a moment and look around you. Look at your home, the place where you work, that place you go to unwind on the weekends. Look at your family, your friends, your colleagues. Look at your city, its culture, its economy.
Do you have interests and activities that you feel you can’t share with anyone around you? Do you feel understood or do you “filter” yourself and your inclinations to avoid rejection? Does each day energize you, or is each day driven by obligation more than motivation?
One of the hardest things to accept for those that need to change is that the problem may be their environment and not themselves. It’s hard to look at people or places we love and realize “we may have to part ways if I want to become a better person.”
In these situations, it’s easy to feel weak. If everyone and everything around you is out of sync with the parts of you that are trying to break free, it’s tempting to blame yourself and believe you’re unreasonable, or irresponsible, or whatever. Most people do whatever it takes to rationalize misaligned relationships and environments so long as they don’t have to face the fear of leaving their cocoon.
To make things even worse, most people expect their environment to adapt to themselves. They get angry or disappointed at those around them. Sometimes openly, sometimes they keep their frustrations inside. This leads them to depression, stress, apathy, and other miserable feelings because they feel powerless.
You can’t change how everyone else around you thinks and feels. If you’re getting too big for the box you’re in, you can’t break the box. You can only lead by example and move to a bigger box. If you are in a place that’s not conducive to your curiosity and your aspirations, it’s time to change.
It’s not your fault that your environment is holding you back. But it is your responsibility if you do nothing about it.
Urgency — How fast do you want to go?
“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” ― M. Scott Peck
Roughly, the world is divided in two groups of people.
The first group is the static majority. These are people that like the status quo of their lives. There’s no strategy behind what they eat, how they sleep, what they work on, or how they learn.
They don’t seek change because there’s no purpose. No purpose, no urgency. They live as if they are going to live again.
They see adaptation and improvements as the steps toward their goals. When something doesn’t work, they change it in order to achieve more, faster, because they know the clock is ticking.
When I was younger, people close to me would call me impatient, restless and inconsistent. I used to listen, but now I know they were wrong. For the urgent learner, consistency is not about following through with a plan, but about adapting to new input. Those with slow iteration cycles can’t keep up with the dynamic minority’s learning pace.
If you feel that the pace at which you want to grow is too intense for those around you, it’s usually time to change. Time to find people that can keep up with you, or better yet, challenge you to move even faster.
Gravity — What pulls you?
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” — E. E. Cummings
In every first conversation I have with people that ask my career guidance, I only have one goal: know if I’m talking with someone that gravitates toward growth or toward safety. I need to know if they worry about what they will leave behind, or if they crave the opportunities ahead.
I learned that when they talk about spending money as a loss, they see scarcity before abundance. When they talk about a job they can’t quit because of X or Y, they lack creativity and see problems before opportunities. When they ask about credentials, they worry about what others think.
I need to know this because enthusiasm doesn’t matter. I’ve seen many people acknowledge problems with their environment, and in a hurry to improve their lives, but because they fear the pain of growth, they stay where they are, doing things they always do. It’s all talk and no commitment.
Some people are just not programmed to embrace the uncertainty of change. These people only change when it happens to them, not because they want it. We are selective in our boot camps because we know that most people can’t stand the fear of growth.
I’ve also learned that you can’t stop someone that feels the pull toward growth. You can’t stop someone that is drawn to novelty, like meeting new people, learning new skills, seeing new places. You talk about uncertainty and they respond with excitement. You talk about problems and they show discipline. You expose fears and they find the courage.
The good news is that being ready to change does not require Ulyssean courage. I’ve seen that you only need a momentary spark to get started. A transformation is not an overnight process, but a gradual series of steps after saying “time to change.”
I can’t really diagnose what pulls you. This one is on you. What I know for sure is that if that spark of courage is alive within you, then you will be happy to change.
And after you become a better person, you’ll understand the power of Nelson Mandela’s words:
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”