Spoken by The Tribe: Resistance to Change.
Since I have become a member of the Tribe, I have frequently found myself pondering the subject of ‘resistance’. Resistance is something I have felt rise up in my chest like a fury, time and time again, unbidden, unwanted and seemingly unmanageable. Those feelings of resistance have been particularly acute in the presence of the work the Tribe has done with Charly Cox. At the risk of sounding like a contestant on the X Factor, at this point in my ‘journey’ there is something colossally confrontational about being asked what my ‘Why?’ and my ‘Big Agenda’ are. I understand that the confrontation is not necessarily contained in the questions, rather in my inability to come up with what feels like worthy answers. I am an adult, right, so how come I can’t answer these seemingly simple questions? I’ve decided to dedicate some time looking at resistance, how it limits one’s capacity to change, and hopefully discover some ways of overcoming it.
As I contemplate the word ‘resistance’, an image comes flooding back to me of being in a double physics class as a 16 or 17 year old student puzzling through some equations, attempting to work out using the Ohm scale what the resistance of a material would be if an electrical current was passed through it. At this distance I have no idea why I was studying physics. I remember I was told that if I was going to be a doctor or have a career in the sciences, then I would need two science subjects under my belt. Physics was therefore an essential component of my success equation. I did not have an aptitude for physics. In short, it was a struggle. This fact did not seem as important as the fact that I believed I should study physics. Intelligent people made those kinds of choices. I wanted to be intelligent and so I followed suit without really interrogating the outcome. Did I actually want to be a doctor or a scientist? Did my natural skills and aptitudes or my heartfelt passions and desires point me in that direction? I never even considered these questions and blindly followed the prevailing thinking around ‘wise subject choices’.
If someone had stepped in to this picture and interrogated me about studying physics, I would have vigorously defended my actions. I would have been too challenged and outraged to contemplate that the basis on which I had made this choice was fallible. I would have resisted all attempts to consider a counterpoint, since to do so would have involved a kind of insubordination and belief in my own agency that was unimaginable for me at that time. I mean, who would give me the power to define success on my own terms? Who was I to challenge the prevailing wisdom of ‘great subject choices’?
I suppose this story demonstrates just how difficult it is to challenge the assumptions that underpin the decisions we all take about the direction of our lives. And once you have committed to a particular course of action, just how difficult it can be to contemplate change. The nature of the work we have undertaken with the Tribe has involved surrendering to questions like ‘what is it that makes me, me?‘ and ‘what gifts do I have to offer the world?‘ I think it is fair to say that it has been the most challenging aspect of the course to date, because it involves the absolutely terrifying realisation that much of what I have done in my career has not matched my heart’s desire.
Opening up to this work has felt, at times, like opening up Pandora’s box. I see that I have dedicated large portions of my precious lifetime to working in environments that didn’t suit me, pursuing things that didn’t make me happy, seeking money and promotions that didn’t really matter. And it is the nature of resistance to kick and scream and protest and fight every minuscule approach to that realisation. I understand that if the outcome of this interrogation is so much pain and fury, it seems easier to stay hemmed in to the wrong job, working against my natural aptitudes in favour of someone else’s definition of success. Who among us likes staring in to the abyss of lost ideals, denied talents and thwarted dreams? For me, at least, it has required epic amounts of courage to look in to that abyss and accept exactly what is looking back at me. It has been absolutely gut wrenching and heartbreaking.
I recently travelled to Sri Lanka where I was privileged to witness the extraordinary devotion of the Buddhist people to the practice of their faith. One of the central tenets of Buddhism is that attachment creates suffering. I have come to appreciate that the resistance I feel to changing my career is an attachment to an idea of the kind of person that I should be and an attachment to the kind of work I should be doing. This attachment has caused me much suffering. I have made myself work in environments where I just didn’t thrive or fit in. The reasons why ‘my face just didn’t fit’ seem less important now than the fact that I relentlessly pushed myself to compete in an arena where I could never win and one which would never bestow on me the elusive elixir of fulfilment. Compassion is a quality Buddha also talks about. I realise now that I showed no compassion for myself as I sought to squash myself in to a corporate box that had been perfectly designed for someone else, someone who definitely wasn’t me!
My resistance to accepting that I should be looking to pursue a career in a different kind of work environment pales when I consider the manner in which I have been resistant to my own personality for such a long time. In the course of this work with the Tribe, I have realised that I have also been at war with my own nature. For years I thought ‘if only I was a bit less X, then I would excel in this work environment’ and ‘If only I was more like Y, then I would get promoted’. In essence, if I could be more like someone else then I would get the promotion, recognition and professional fulfilment I deserved. I have also spent lots of time being angry that my skill set wasn’t one that would earn me a million pounds a year as an investment banker or a management consultant. Rather than think about changing the corporate box I was inhabiting, I thought that I should just lose a talent or a characteristic or perhaps even a limb and then it would all be fine.
Of course, the only way to deal with resistance is to give in and give in gracefully. Fighting to the death with my own reality is a battle that I will lose. Moving away from resistance allows me to move in to the flow of life. In the course of writing this I have grown to appreciate that the precise opposite to resistance is vulnerability, particularly in the way that Brené Brown elucidates it in her TED talk and in the precise way that Danielle discusses in her previous Escape essay. I want to be one of those whole-hearted people, deeply connected to the world around me and deeply connected to myself and to what I can offer the world.
So this work with the Tribe has opened my Pandora’s box. But the box doesn’t just yield negative fruit. Once conflict, heartbreak and fury have left the building, the small voice of hope is still present. And hope shows me the possibility of both change and redemption. When I now consider my resistance to change and defining success on my own terms, I realise that I am no longer struggling with a theoretical problem in a physics book. I am contemplating the delicate thread of my own life that is quivering and straining under the electric shock of both realisation and acceptance. It is time for me to solve the riddle using a different kind of Om scale, perhaps one that involves both compassion and vulnerability.
This is a guest post by Sinéad, a member from of our April Escape Tribe. Sinéad is seeking to escape from a sales career in real estate.
Doing something different with your life and career is hard… but you don’t have to do it alone. If you need help with your Escape and if you are ready to re-take control over your life, join our Tribe.
“No one can tell you what to do with your life and there is no “one-size-fits-all” escape that will lead you to happiness. What does work, however, is exposure to new ideas, likeminded people and a safe environment for you to figure out what it is you really want.”
– Rob Symington, Escape the City co-founder.