Years ago I worked for a consulting firm that had a very toxic culture. We’re talking Chernobyl on top of Love Canal toxic. Amid crisis meetings and staff subcommittees, the executive team came up with the idea to create baseball caps with the slogan “Change Is Cool.” They were a flop. And nothing at the firm changed. Because change isn’t cool. Change is hard. Change is scary.
Yet sometimes change is necessary. In the case of my own current quest for a more satisfying career, the need to change is critical.
In times when I’ve felt stuck and frustrated by life, I’ve used the Tracy Chapman song Change to light a fire under me. The simple yet powerful song doesn’t inspire with dreamy visions. It challenges, almost taunts. Over and over she presents circumstances and asks what would it take for you to change? “How bad, how good does it need to get? How many losses? How much regret?”
January is the season of change. And before Groundhog Day, most people’s efforts to make life changes, even simple ones, have gone down in flames. Because change is scary. Change is hard. It’s easier to fall back on the same old, same old. But falling back doesn’t lead to happiness or success.
The changes I’m embarking on now have been a long time coming. I’ve made some fits and starts, taken tentative steps down different paths. For whatever reason – timing, approach, direction – things didn’t pan out. These falls may be bruising and frustrating, but they never break me. I remain undaunted. Because in those moments I keep returning to an elegant Japanese proverb: “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” The life I want is out there. I’ll keep getting up to make it a reality.
And this time, I’m not falling down.
Once when I lived in San Francisco, I was looking at strawberries at Whole Foods. Tracy Chapman came up next to me and started looking too. I was too star struck, and respectful of her privacy, to say hello. Her first album was like a soundtrack to the last year of my 20s in Boston... right before I took a risk on a major life change. It was the best thing I ever did.
If through some weird twist of fate I happen to bump into Tracy again in a produce aisle, I won’t be shy this time. I’ll thank her for the tough, no-nonsense talk infused with her honeyed-alto voice in that song and tell her, “Yes, I would change. I’m changing now. And I ain’t stopping.”