I do not adjust well to change. It unnerves me. Some see change as opportunity. I see change as a loss of control and of the familiar. What I have learned, however, is that it is actually the anticipation of change that is worse than the moment when an expected alteration becomes a reality. The build-up of wondering what the new normal will be like is so anxiety provoking as to induce temporary madness. Uncertainty as to the end result of a transitory state leads to helpless nights lying awake wondering what if? It leads to hours lost visualizing scenarios that may never come to pass and agonizing over worst case scenarios until we lose the ability to enjoy where we are, and forsake the possibility that life may actually be taking us to a better place.
I have not adapted well to the biggest transitions I have made in my life. Changing schools, jobs, and cities were all but emotionally crippling. I found myself paralyzed by the fear of the unknown future of which I could not conceive, only because I had not lived it yet.
The fear of change and its companion, uncertainty, gripped me the most fiercely during my transition from graduate school to full-time employee. The last month before I graduated from my master’s program I was a completely emotionally feeble maniac. I was searching for a job, but hadn’t found one yet, and until I knew where I was going to work, I could not know where I was going to live, and until I knew where I was going to live, I could not be certain of the future of my newly established relationship. My life and my happiness, as I saw it, hung completely in a state of purgatory. I envisioned every possible scenario I could conceive:
A job I loved in New York City and a successful long distance relationship.
A job I loathed in Detroit, Michigan and the emotional vacancy that comes with an epic breakup.
Eighteen months of unemployment and living at home.
I knew that I was on the brink of change, or rather that my life was changing, but I was completely unable to embrace change as opportunity. Instead I let feat suck me down the rabbit hole of entropy until I became a completely hysterical and exhausting shell of an educated graduate. How did I deal with the anxiety of change?
I cried in restaurants. I cried in my dorm room. I cried when I was alone, I cried when I was with family and friends. I cried at night, and I cried first thing in the morning. Most tragically, I cried at a prosaic Fresno’s restaurant.
Under the unflattering glow of red and green cactus-shaped neon lights I sat at a wobbly high top table, a plate of artificially red corn chips and microwaved queso “fresco” sitting unapologetically in front of me. I wailed and bemoaned the tragedy of my existence while other patrons seeking the simplicity of a Tex-Mex fusion experience cast bewildered glances at me. My boyfriend returned their glances with apologetic eyes, imploring me to try to hold it together until we could finish our burritos and retreat to the privacy of the car.
Didn’t he understand that I was being oppressed by a force of nature greater than myself? That every second that ticked by led me directly into the arms of a future I did not know and did not want? That we were being hurdled into a state of uncertainty? That we did not know what our future held? How could he possibly remain so calm? It was very likely that in only a month I would graduate and move away until I found in job who knows where, which would either dictate the success or destruction of our fragile union.
I insisted on monopolizing every minute with him that I could during that final month, but then sabotaged most of those minutes by crying and bewailing the cruelty of the universe. Looking back on that month, I was a hypersensitive maniac wrapped in anxiety and drowning in self-pity. What I can see now, that I was too self-absorbed to see then, was that the most tragic aspect of my self-induced chaos was the simple fact that my perspective was completely flawed.
I was not a victim. The universe was not out to get me. My world was not out of my control. No one had taken anything away from me, and no one was wringing my heart and making it bleed.
The enemy was not the world, the future, or the inevitability of change. There was no enemy. There was me, standing right where I stood the moment before, and I had decisions to make. It was true that no one had offered me a job yet, but I could control where I applied, and when I said yes. I didn’t really have to move to any city that I didn’t want to go to, and I didn’t have to prioritize my career over my relationship if that wasn’t what I wanted.
I couldn’t realize that in my desperation to hold on to where I was that I was single-handedly pushing everyone I cared about away from me. I was frustrating my family, depressing my friends, and making my boyfriend seriously question his commitment to a girl who would sob over enchiladas like a tragically ejected contestant on The Bachelor (“I just don’t understand…” sob…gulp…hiccup… “why meeee….?!”)
The consuming state of internal chaos that imprisoned me was created by my own fear of fear itself. I was so afraid that in the end I would not get what I wanted, that I forgot that the choices that would dictate my happiness were mine to make.
I find myself reflecting on this lesson still, especially when I see the neon glow of the Fresno’s restaurant that my boyfriend is still too shamed to take me back to (oh yes, we’re still together. My career and my relationship learned to survive in harmony, but that is a story and a lesson for another day). Whenever I hear someone complaining about some aspect of their life that causes them misery, like the town they live in, their job, or the way a family member treats them, I find myself wanting to grab them and shake them fiercely and shout “Then change! It’s in your control! It’s always been in your control!”
I put this belief into practice myself. When I find myself in a state where an aspect of my life is draining me and making me unhappy, I create a plan to make a change and take action.
Don’t get me wrong, I still cry in restaurants. I cry all over the place. I have learned that when stress has nowhere to go, it will eventually pour out in liquid form. More importantly, I have learned to cry, dry my eyes, and then roll-up my sleeves and get to work, because we never have to be victims. If change is constant, then we must be steadfast.
The future is what you make it, and change is nothing more than opportunity mistaken for uncertainty.