Resistance and Change – A Personal Experience

This is a more personal post than I usually write. My friend Becky Robinson of LeaderTalk  suggested I write about a recent experience; she was insightful to do so since I found that it has great relevancy to the struggle all leaders have with taking risks and questioning their beliefs in order to learn new skills. A recent learning experience of my own was humbling, frightening and difficult. I am just now, a few weeks later, able to begin to make some sense of it.

The experience

Recently I spent three days in an Integral Coaching workshop meant for experienced coaches.  I am an experienced coach who attended with a subconscious (and arrogant) belief that I already knew enough about how to effectively coach my clients. That belief was thoroughly trashed by noon the first day. It was a painful, yet ultimately welcome experience.

The biggest challenge I experienced was that of letting go of my own resistance to accepting that I had something to learn. I was, after all, “experienced”. The resistance was grounded in my own (incorrect) KNOWING that my way was right.

As I was learning new theories and practicing new skills, I struggled. My mind wrestled with what (I thought) I knew to be true and my body tensed (I actually felt the experience as a muscle cramping – my body’s way of resisting, I suppose!). I was discovering that I didn’t know it all.

Several weeks later, I realize that “knowing it all”  is not an option here. The skills I learned will benefit my clients.  I now must put them into action.

I’m reminding myself to have patience. I suspect that the learning wouldn’t have triggered the reactions I’ve had if there wasn’t something useful for me there. I’m slowly finding ways to use the new skills with clients, and I’m having some success with it in small steps.

The lessons

What are the lessons that I’ve had about the experience that are relevant to you as a leader?

Be open to the new learning. The way to develop and grow is to let go of what you think you know and be open to what is new. It is hard to recognize (and accept) when you are holding on to certainty. When you find yourself struggling with it, let it go.

Be patient and kind with yourself. Change is hard. It doesn’t often come in a moment or even as a three day workshop. Allow what you are learning to simmer. Realize when you are being tough on yourself about taking in new skills. Let the experience of resisting be a part of the learning experience; reflect on it.

Personal change is hard. Sometimes the beliefs that keep us from learning are very sticky – it takes a lot openness and self-kindness to become unstuck and turn some of the new things you are learning into action. Hang in there.

Participating in this workshop was one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had – and one of the best. Sometimes good things come to us in the struggle.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

16 comments on “Resistance and Change – A Personal Experience

  1. Hi Mary Jo,

    I’m glad Becky encouraged you to share this story because I’m sure all of us can relate to some point in our lives thinking that we had reached the pinnacle of knowledge/experience for our niche and that there was nothing left to be learned or discovered.

    While it may on the surface be an arrogant presumption, I think the arrogance comes after we’ve allowed ourselves to become comfortable with this notion. And that the real motivator behind it is more a desire to find a place that’s steady and unchanging, predictable and safe.

    Of course as we all know, such places are nothing more than transitional pit-stops between what we know and what we have yet to learn. Unfortunately, it’s the hardest lesson to learn and probably why we keep having to relearn it.

    Kudos to you, Mary Jo, for sharing something so personal and offering a glimpse into one of the challenges you recently faced.

  2. Hi Tanveer, the two most humbling parts of all of this were: 1. I had a blind spot that prevented me from seeing my own hubris, and 2. I coach my own clients on all of this stuff. Yes, I know the saying “those that can’t do, teach”, but I’ve tried my best to live my life in a way that could be an example for my clients. I love your metaphor about the pit stop, and take it to heart. Thanks for that.

  3. Thank you so much for this! It is encouraging to see a brave & admirable soul modeling the tough process of deep change. Loved your advice: be kind & gentle to yourself, and patient. Thanks again for sharing your story.

  4. Hi David – I think the experience I had was different in that I had a perception that I was and “expert” that was blown to smithereens. When I’ve taken college classes, I’ve always attended with the stance of being a learner who knew little of the content. Your thoughts on this?

    Thank you Robin. Very kind of you.

  5. Thank you for sharing your experience. I think the hardest part about change is definitely accepting that you need change and knowing you can change. I know that one of the things that I fear about change is failure, especially when I have to open myself up to learn something new. There are always the questions of why do I have to learn this, do I really need this, and what if I can’t learn this. I find comfort in knowing that change does help my growth.

  6. Jennifer, thank you for the point about the fear of failure. It is certainly significant when change comes. I believe I may have had some fear of failure in this particular situation.

  7. Mary Jo,
    I too am a coach and one of the things I love about what I do is how much I learn about myself in the process of coaching others and growing in my profession. It is humbling, indeed. We, as coaches, always need to remember that we aren’t supposed to know everything, have all the answers and be perfect. It’s what gives our clients permission to be human. While I hear you feeling humbled, I hope you are also acknowledging and celebrating all that you do know and are very good at and all of the wonderful contributions you have made to clients up to now. Don’t dismiss all of that. Just celebrate the opportunity to make a bigger impact going forward! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. Mary Jo- It’s true, people get comfortable doing things a certain way. They like the comfort of feeling like they are an expert at what they do- that expert feeling comes from that repetition. Doing things a certain way for so long that it no longer takes effort. It can then be uncomfortable to have to change the way you do things. But it is certainly a growth experience for those that embrace change.

  9. Hi Mary,

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience. I am a strong believer that everything or every process can be improved and we have to change our self to accommodate the improvement. That believe make me to take classes even after several years of graduation. In the State of Nevada we, Professional Engineers, have to have 30 professional development hours of learning to renew our licenses every two years.

    I can’t disagree with you anymore that when we go for teaching/coaching we learn a lot from the students or participants. Several years ago one of my professors told us that he rates each of his class at the end of the semester. Though the average GPA of the class is one criteria for the rating, the other criteria are: number of times students find errors in the course materials, number of his mistakes corrected in the class, number of students argued with him on subject matters with a back-up for their ideology, and the number of procedures recommended by students that improved laboratory procedures.

    I have seen the resistance to change in several aspects of the life namely, resistance to change the work place/job responsibility, resistance to move to different house, and resistance to move to different geographic area even though that get some advantages.

  10. Mary,

    I intent to say that I fully agree with you in my previous reply on teaching and learning in the class room. It seems I messed up with the words.

  11. Thanks for the story. It is great that you feel free to write about it. I can relate to this story. Life is a learning experience and how much we learn correlates with how much we are willing to learn or accept. Change is hard for us all, but accepting the fact that we need to learn and change our beliefs can be hard. In order to learn one must listen. We are afraid that we will hear something that we don’t like or disagree with and we reject any kind of view even before it is heard. Anything new brings insecurity and we are not ready to take that risk. It is a tradeoff, the more risk one takes the more it will learn. If you accept the fact that constant learning and change is needed you will be motivated to learn and change. I feel the same good things come in a struggle; nothing is easy as it may seem.

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