Men and communities in this world are often in the position of Arctic explorers
who are making great speed in a given direction, while the ice-floe beneath them
is making greater speed in the opposite direction – Naturalist and philosopher
John Burroughs (1837-1921)
If you type the words “be in control of your life”
into the Google search engine, you get 24,700,000 hits – and that’s pretty
ironic. Allowing for a number of sites that exhort you to let God or Jesus
direct your every act, that still leaves an awful lot of people and groups who
appear to believe you can stage-manage your life, when you patently can’t. Ask
the passengers on the Costa Concordia.
Yet in a sophisticated Western
world that has seen unprecedented man-developed life-style changes even over the
last decade or two – think cell phone invasion and the Internet – being “in
control” of one’s life has in many ways become the mark of the successful modern
man or woman. Consequently, the prospect of losing that control can seem
But suppose you never believed you had real control in the
first place? Would that, paradoxically, confer a new kind of courage to plough
ahead? Would it diminish the fear of change so many of us harbor? THESE THOUGHTS
were prompted by an email from a European friend who is about to make a dramatic
change in her life.
This friend, in her early sixties, has just retired
from her demanding job as a schoolteacher. She rents a lovely apartment, has
grown children and a variety of interests, and can now relax and enjoy them more
So what is she doing? She’s given up her apartment, put her
belongings in storage, and is arriving next month to begin a year-long sojourn
as a volunteer at a Jerusalem landmark. She has friends here, but, essentially,
is taking a step into the unknown, exchanging the familiar and comfortable for
the unknown and untried.
“I have been planning this year for a long
time,” she wrote “[but] even though I want and will come, I have had to endure
states of mind when I would feel like a small child who doesn’t want to go out
into the cold… “Here [in Europe] there is a beautiful and comfortable flat that
will no longer be my home and a nest for my children and friends, and [over]
there is Mount Zion with the abbey, and I do not have the slightest idea of how
it will all turn out, even though there is that lovely warm thought of friends a
few kilometers away from the Old City.”
She is honest in admitting that
while the thought of her friends here is warming, the notion of leaving her
“comfort zone” is giving her some chilling moments.
Still, she is
determined. And she is aware that she is not in full “control” of her
“You never know what is coming up the next moment [anywhere you
are],” she reflected in her email, “so why should I know?” What she wrote next
could be valuable for anyone contemplating a dive into untried waters: “I’ve
been working on an inner picture: an empty flat and two suitcases, plus
rucksack, standing on the floor, waiting for me to leave, and live, and move on
– which I am going to do!” In other words, when you are about to attempt
something momentous, hold a “dress rehearsal” in your mind – with real props, if
possible! “It is all symbolic,” she concluded, “and I feel close to all those
who dared do something similar.”
PSYCHOLOGISTS believe that fear of
change stems from the perception that we will lose control. But accepting that
our control is anyway limited, and that change is a fact of human existence –
even if we sit tight and never budge – can help corral that fear and stop it
from blocking our path to new experiences.
One useful suggestion I came
across is to substitute other terms for “change”: growth, renewal,
transformation or evolution – all of which incorporate the idea of change, but
feel more user-friendly.
In the context of daring to change, it’s worth
mentioning a seminar I took some years ago that focused on the topic of risk.
After asking participants what kind of eventualities they feared and collecting
an impressive range of calamities, the group leader drew a horizontal line on
the blackboard. He labeled one end “Total Risk,” and the other “Zero
“Think about it,” he said. “Both these extremes are
irrational. Life is never totally risky; nor is it totally
Marking an X somewhere mid-line, he pointed out that this was
a truer reflection of reality, and advised: “Some risk – with possible bad
outcome – is inevitable, but that risk shouldn’t be exaggerated."
you start thinking about all the terrible things that could happen when you step
outside your front door,” – or, one might say, when you’re afraid to venture
outside your comfort zone –“imagine this continuum with the ‘risk meter’
hovering in the middle, and get on with the business of living.”
GODIN, author, entrepreneur and “agent of change,” recognizes how hard it is for
people to change. For this reason, he recommends that we get into the habit of
making frequent small changes, then gradually moving on to bigger
Godin’s term for this is “zooming” – slowly stretching one’s
limits by adapting to new ideas, challenges and opportunities without triggering
that pesky change-avoidance reflex. He proposes these simple things:
dinner, eat a food you’ve never tasted. Then try another one the following
• On your way to work, listen to a CD from a musical genre that
you hate, or that’s new to you.
• Once a week, meet with someone from
outside your area of expertise. Go to a trade show on a topic in which you have
no interest whatsoever.
• Read a magazine you’ve never read
• Change the layout of your office.
Or, he says, just do
something for the first time. After a while, you will be much more likely to
look for other new things to do, and to view every change as an
ALL IMMIGRANTS to Israel throughout the decades have had to
cope with remaking their lives in a new and highly challenging environment.
There is no shortage of documented aliya stories – many of which have appeared
in The Jerusalem Post
– detailing the ways in which olim have dealt with this
daunting life change. Many of these stories inspire admiration, even awe at what
their subjects have achieved, often against great odds.
In contrast to
immigrants who left inhospitable or even dangerous environments, olim from the
West have generally abandoned zones of considerable material
Some did so at an advanced age, when life changes are
My husband, who married for the first time last year
at the age of 67 – having made aliya not long before – wasn’t much help when I
asked if he could explain how he had been able to make these enormous changes
after avoiding them all his life.
All he would answer was: “Change is
always difficult. But there are times when what you are doing seems so right
that you overcome the barriers that stood in the way before.”