Small yellow and green flowers growing out of a crack in the concrete

Adapting to Change


“Change is coming – what do we need to imagine as we prepare for it?” (p. 58, Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown)

One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the past two+ years of the pandemic is that I have to let go of the illusion of control and embrace change. In talking with parents, caregivers, and educators this past school year, so many of us struggled because the world went back to “business as usual” and functioning as though things were “normal” again, even though things were still so NOT normal. It felt as if the world, our systems and institutions, had not learned anything from the pandemic shutdown, and there was little time and space to put into practice new learnings and ways of being and doing things. This led to increased frustration, anger, and anxiety over the continual disruptions of change and a pervasive sense of powerlessness and hopelessness.

For myself, I realized that I have the privilege of choice, which I fully acknowledge is not true for everyone. I could be broken by the continual onslaught of change and my inability to control what was happening in my world, big and small. OR I could learn to expect and adapt to change and cultivate resilience in the face of uncertainty.

Of course, embracing change is much easier said than done, especially for someone like me who thrives on To Do lists and struggles with perfectionism and Type A productivity as an indicator of worthiness. I’d like to share some of the insights and questions that have supported me during this intense time of change over the past few years.

  • Resilience is a mindset and a skill that must be continually nurtured and cultivated. Resilience allows us to RESPOND to change instead of REACT from a place of fear or stress.

“From Starfish I have learned that if we keep our core intact, we can regenerate. We can fall apart, lose limbs, and re-grow them as long as we don’t let anyone threaten that central disc’s integrity…We have to nourish ourselves with the resources we are surrounded by, with our community assets if you will, and by doing so we help keep ecosystems [including our own] delicately balanced.” – JoLillian T. Zwerdling

Nature reminds me that healing is natural. My body, spirit, and mind want to heal and I need to create the space and time to do that.” -Andrea Quijada (Quotes from Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change and Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown)

  • Centering the WHY of what we are doing can ground us during change and challenge, even when what we are doing is tedious and mundane or is thwarted by structures and systems of oppression and inequality.
  • We must be intentional about what we put our energy toward. What can I control? How can I give up the illusion of control? We cannot control the outcome of any given situation. But we CAN control when and how we engage and the GOAL we are working towards.
  • We always have a choice. Sometimes the choice isn’t as easy as opting out of a stressful situation, but it can be about how we choose to learn from the situation, look for the opportunities that come from the challenges, and engage from a place of self-compassion and empathy towards others.“The adaptation is up to me.” (adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change and Changing Worlds)
  • We can look to nature as a resource and inspiration for adaptation. Just think of the proverbial flower that grows in the crack between concrete. Nature also provides powerful lessons around control and chaos.

“Nature has taught me about fluid adaptability. About not only weathering storms, but using howling winds to spread seeds wide, torrential rains to nurture roots so they can grow deeper and stronger. Nature has taught me that a storm can be used to clear out branches that are dying to let go of that which was keeping us from growing in new directions…(T)he only lasting truth is change. We will face social and political storms we could not even imagine. The question becomes not just how do we survive them, but how do we prepare so when we do suddenly find ourselves in the midst of an unexpected onslaught, we can capture the potential, the possibilities inherent in the chaos, and ride it like dawn skimming the horizon?
– Walidah Imarisha, co-editor of Octavia’s Brood (From Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change and Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown)

As you can see, I draw a lot of sustenance and hope from the thought leadership and work of adrienne maree brown as well as from Brené Brown. Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection offers 10 Guideposts that can help us better embrace and adapt to change:

  1. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting go of what people think
  2. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting go of perfectionism
  3. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting go of numbing and powerlessness
  4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark
  5. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting go of the need for certainty
  6. Cultivating Creativity: Letting go of comparison
  7. Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
  8. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle
  9. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
  10. Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting go of being cool and “always in control”

Elena Aguilar also offers an incredible guide for building resilience in educators to better adapt to change in her book, Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators.

As we enter a new school year, how can we better prepare for the inevitable small and big waves of change that will interrupt or thwart our expectations and best laid intentions and plans? Instead of bracing ourselves against change, let’s learn to better pivot and adapt so we can assume our power over our powerlessness and the resilience to continue to work toward equity and belonging in our classrooms, workplaces, and communities.

Segment from On the Pulse of Morning: The Inaugural Poem by Maya Angelou:

“Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.”

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