Change and the Search for Community: The Letdown Lean In Revisited

Written by Lyssa Menard

October 13, 2021

Newsflash: “Change Sucks,” says the founder of ‘Strategies for Change’

As a psychologist, business coach, and assistant professor, all of my work is focused on strategic change. I live, breathe, and sleep it. But I have a confession to make…

I hate change. Seriously, it is the worst. And, yeah, I get your confusion. I can hear you all the way over here saying, “But, Lyssa, that’s what you DO!” And I get it. But … 

I’ve spent my life studying change and teaching how best to navigate it, NOT because I’m great at it and transition with ease but, rather, because I’m terrible at it. Particularly, any change that threatens my personal connections or community foundation rattles me to the core. My brain freezes (the ‘fight or flight’ kind, not the icy ice-cream kind), which means that I can’t make decisions or even generate options. I require deep distractions. Suddenly, it’s the perfect time to learn about NFTs or practice crafting Wabi-Sabi ceramics.

Stress

Disruption in Real World Community

My long-ago move to Chicago serves as an example. It was entirely my choice. The ideal internship awaited. But I was leaving a circle of friends unlike any I’d previously known – a community with depth and range, that showed up for each other … always. The logistics – usually the hardest part of a cross-country move – were a piece of cake compared to the emotional rollercoaster. I was miserable, questioning my decision to leave daily if not hourly, and fearful of the impact of my departure. 

Months later, that community unravelled. I was told that I’d been the hub of the wheel, which only compounded my concerns about the impact of change moving forward. It wasn’t just my loss. My friends lost each other, too.

Change is scary for me. The reality is that I need to continuously work to release my grasp on what was in order to move into what is (and, eventually, what will be). 

I guess I’ve ratted myself out now. The truth has been told. But this is my ‘year of authenticity’, so I’m letting it all hang out.

Last week, I wrote about the letdown effect and the psychological smackdown that follows major life events. The personal story that I shared (about my dissertation defense) happened years ago, so it has no current charge. It was an easy write. 

Today’s story is unfolding as I type. Not so easy.

What’s Up?

I’m in the final throes of a cohort-based online writing course (CBC), aptly named Write of Passage, that has been unexpectedly exhilarating, productive, and communal. The process has reminded me how well I function given structure, guidance, and accountability. My assignments have stretched multiple skill sets without breaking me, which is the sweet spot for personal and professional growth.* And, most importantly, I’ve found my tribe online – a first for me after bunches of CBCs failed to produce. I am in my zone. 

So, what’s the problem? 

The course is ending next week and I’m engaging in ballistic, preemptive panic. See, the problem is what we in the mindfulness biz call ‘grasping’ – a decidedly uncool and unhelpful attempt to hold onto a cloud, even as it’s evaporating through your digits. 

I chatted with one of my mentors, Louie Bacaj, (more honestly, I whimpered with him) earlier today and he – with a completely straight face – assured me that everyone else would catch up with my premature doom and gloom. As always, he triggered an epiphany…and a smile. 

All my life, I’ve seen things coming down the pike before my peers. (This does not work for lottery tickets, in case you’re wondering.) My mind is inherently strategic, so I’m able to predict that a system will break before the fault lines are apparent.  Typically, if I vocalize my concerns, everyone dismisses my proclamation (or me). And then it happens. 

I knew that my California community would collapse when I left. That’s why I was dithering so violently. My friends lovingly assured me that no such thing could happen. Then I left and, while I – busy with internship – took my eye off the ball, internal conflicts broke long-held relationships apart.  

Leaning into Change: Do Online Tribes Survive?

C.S. Lewis wrote: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” 

Right now I’m just anticipating the letdown effect with full-on grief and loss, before the rest of my crew arrive.There are all kinds of friendships. But when you find a group of people who make you smarter and better through osmosis and dialogue – people who get you and allow you to get them – and the future with this tribe is unknown … well, that’s the kind of thing that’s hard for me to lean into.

If you realize how vital to your whole spirit — and being and character and mind and health — friendship actually is, you will take time for it… [But] for so many of us … we have to be in trouble before we remember what’s essential… It’s one of the lonelinesses of humans that you hold on desperately to things that make you miserable and … you only realize what you have when you’re almost about to lose it.

John O’Donohue

I’m one who knows what I have when I have it. But that still doesn’t mean I get to keep it. Life doesn’t work that way. 

So, once again, I’ve got to do the thing … the leaning in … the taking long walks and the sitting on zafu cushions … feeling the terror, the psychological smackdown, the simple and horrible not-knowing. I need to sit quietly with it all, hand on heart, loving myself through it, saying, as if my teacher, Tara Brach, was whispering in my ear, “I know, darling. I’m so sorry you’re hurting. I’ll be here with you through it all.” I send waves of self-compassion into my soul, riding on each nourishing breath. (And giggling at the new-agey absurdity of it all.) And then, I do it again.
The lesson here is that certain things are worth the potential grief of change and friendships are a fine example. For me, community – whether it lasts a week, a year, or a lifetime and whether it’s in ‘real life’ or online – is always a worthy investment. And, when change comes, allowing it, leaning into it, and accepting it are part of the journey to the next tribe.

A woman in harmony with her Spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.

Maya Angelou

That’s the woman I aspire to be. But in the meantime…

I hate change. And I do it again and again. Because change is how you grow, and learn, and blossom, and become. Change is where you find your meaning, your purpose. Change is how you meet your tribe.

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