Sunday, December 1, 2013

Nostalgia - The Enemy of Change

I have a confession to make. I was one of those who tuned in to the last fifteen minutes of a breakfast radio show that had graced our airwaves for 10 years on Friday morning. Why? Part curiosity, part nostalgia. In the lead up during the week, the media promised a ratings bonanza. There were outpourings of love, tears, and plenty of thanks for the memories.

And that's when it hit me. The desire to wind the clock back, to reminisce, to relive our youth  or other special episodic eras can fill an arena when Bon Jovi or Leonard Cohen or the Rolling Stones come to town. Yes there will be a sprinkling of young people in the audience who recognise genius when they see it but mostly it will be the parents themselves, wanting to reconnect with yesteryear.

This is the major hurdle for change agents at work. We can have change thrust upon us, even well-conceived change, represented in clear and consistent ways but the change still represents a loss - even if it's a loss in the old way of doing things. In essence the person who remains in change "resistance" is stuck and their orientation is mired in the past. What's even more tricky is that we are capable of romanticising the past; re-inventing it in our minds so that it morphs into something so much more attractive than perhaps it ever really was. We harness clich├ęs like "if it ain't broke" and sit around the water cooler, longing for "the good old days" in our faded, shrunk and misshapen Rolling Stones concert t-shirts purchased for an arm and a leg at the MCG in 1995.

What is safe but futile is to live our lives in yesterday, the era we can only remember, even distort, no longer shape or control. Tal Ben Shahar says pointedly in "Happier" that ignoring The Now with endless striving for The Future makes us nothing more than a rat racer. Living in the now and never plucking up courage to strive for the future because there is no guarantee of success, makes us nothing more than a hedonist. But the combination of pleasure (being present in the here and now) and purpose (finding meaning in intentional striving and growth) is the road to true happiness.

As we reminisce about the year that was, let's acknowledge we are shaped by our past. But let's resolve not to be imprisoned by our past. The choice to walk through the door of change from Resistance to Exploration is exactly that - a choice. And that's why we'll go wild for Abba at a Bjorn Again concert but I won’t turn up to work tomorrow in an outfit Agnetha would have worn.