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The Simple Bridge to Managing Change with Less Chaos

I once stayed at a job two years past the moment I realized it was no longer right for me. Why? Known misery feels better than unknown potential.

It was safe. It was predictable. At least I knew the misery I was in.

Change is hard because change creates a period of uncertainty. Even worthy change is hard because we cannot predict everything about the change. That unpredictability feels chaotic. In the current state of things, there's a level of stable certainty, even if it's the certainty of misery.

Chaos letters

When change is prompted, and not necessarily by the change itself, but when something happens that indicates change is imminent, we drop into what's known as the valley of despair. Common phrases here are "what if..." and "yea, but...".

Valley of Despair is based off the Dunning–Kruger effect
Valley of Despair is based off the Dunning–Kruger effect

What's interesting is both expected and unexpected change create this chaotic experience where the uncertainty of what's next feels worse than the previously known misery.

Simply knowing that this feeling of chaos in the uncertainty is normal is the bridge you need to walk over the valley of despair. So often, chaos reverts us back to old habits or has us running with open arms back to the "comfort" of known misery. When those temptations come, remind yourself that this temporary chaos is normal and is short-lived if you choose to keep walking towards the future state.

Walking over the bridge doesn't mean all chaos is eliminated. There will still be uncertainty in what's up ahead, but taking the bridge means you choose intentional progress forward over a fear-based stalemate or a flag of surrender back to known misery.

When you walk over the Valley of Despair, you will likely step into a period of caution for you're still not completely certain what the future state feels like because you're not totally there yet. It's ok to be cautious in the unknown, but choose courage over comfort here.

Use courage to take action and trust that confidence will come with repetition and familiarity. As the future state starts to outperform the former state, confidence and competence will replace the chaos and caution.

Back to my miserable, yet certain job: It wasn’t all miserable. 

  • I had some great colleagues and clients

  • The work felt meaningful and important

  • I was making an impact in a few areas

But that’s the rose-colored glasses. The leaders gaslit me by:

  • dangling opportunities they never intended to give me

  • giving credit to others for my hard work and innovative ideas

  • telling me I was not a team player when I stood up for myself

My valley of despair was filled with fear. Fear of letting go of the limited goodness to trust that greatness was possible. When I finally dared to leave, it was both terrifying and exhilarating. Terrifying is a fear-based emotion and exhilarating is a joy-based emotion, which surprisingly create a very similar experience: restless sleep, racing mind, and an increased heart rate. I chose JOY and walked over the bridge.

Change is hard. No matter how clear we are in needing the change, all change comes with a bit of discomfort and chaos at first. Choose to be uncomfortable. Choose to let go of the misery, embrace the temporary chaos and make space for courage, confidence and competence!


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