Choose To Live With Change

September 16, 2022

We all live with change. We know that change is part of life, and intuitively, we know that we have to keep changing. But how do we adapt to change when we feel shocked, paralyzed or fearful of the Unknown?  There’s no easy answer to that question because most people are unprepared for change… like my friend Harry.

Harry and his sisters were with their mother when the doctor delivered the news. The doctor said, “Helen, I’m afraid I’ve got bad news. You have terminal cancer.When Harry heard those words, it felt as if he’d been hit in gut. Harry asked, “Doctor, how long?” The doctor gave a vague answer. “Each case is different. There are many factors …” Harry asked more forcefully this time. “How long?” Harry wasn’t prepared for the terse answer. “Maybe three to six months.”

After the doctor left the hospital room, the mood changed dramatically. Everyone was in shock, unable to fully comprehend the news. They all began to whisper quietly to one another. Helen stared out the window. 

As night approached, Harry told his sisters that he was going to stay with his mother, sleeping in the chair beside her bed. The next night, one of the sisters stayed beside her mother. The third night, Harry decided he’d stay overnight again. 

In the early hours of the morning, Harry felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up to see the night nurse. She whispered, “Harry, could I talk to you outside?” Wondering what this was about, Harry followed her into the hallway. She said, “Harry, I’ve watched you and your family all week. And I think you have a decision to make.” Harry looked puzzled. She continued, “I think you need decide whether your mother is dying from cancer or living with cancer.”

Harry asked, “what do you mean?”  The nurse explained, “If your mother is dying from cancer, each day will feel like it did today as your mother gets progressively worse. But if your mother is living with cancer, you all will live much differently. You’ll make the most of each day. I think you have a decision to make.” Then she said turned and walked away.

Like Harry, each one of us is going to receive bad news. Whether it’s the hardest news we can imagine or a disruption at work or a crisis in our personal lives, we also have a decision to make about how we are going to live our lives when our world changes. Here’s what Harry did. 

The next morning when Harry’s sisters arrived, Harry told everyone what the night nurse had said. After a moment of silence, Harry’s mother sat up in bed. She put her fists on her hips and said with determination, “you know, I’m feeling pretty good today!  And I still have a lot of things I want to do with my life. For one, we need a family vacation! I want us to go to Banff for the weekend!” 

Even though Harry and his sisters were surprised by their mother’s reaction, they all agreed that their mother would “live with cancer.” They booked rooms at the Banff Springs Hotel and two weeks later they were in Banff. They had a wonderful time. Harry said it was the best medicine they could have had.  Now, they were living with hope and purpose, living with cancer. 

I asked Harry how long he had his mother with him after the Banff vacation. He smiled and said, “we had two and half wonderful years together.”

I don’t think life would have been the same for Harry, if his mother hadn’t decided to live with cancer.  Ultimately it comes down to a simple choice, a decision to face the fear, take control of our lives and embrace the future we want.  The decisions that we make will leave us feeling empowered in our lives rather than merely accepting the turn of events. 

So, it really is up to you. I think you have a decision to make. 

For more information on adapting to change, check out Mark DeVolder’s new book Perpetual Pivot: How the Best Leaders Adapt to Exponential Change. He provides valuable insights, answers and solutions about change, transition, leadership, engagement and teamwork.

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