Lesson 4: The Power of Free Will
The only person you can make change is you.
I once worked with a person who spent the greatest part of her life trying to change everyone around her. No one could do things the way she thought they should be done. When anyone tried to help her, they were greeted with all the reasons they couldn’t do it and she shoved them aside. It didn’t matter whether we were talking about her personal life or her professional life, if someone wanted to work with her or to help her, they had to change to meet her specifications and those specs were unattainable. I think we all have someone in our lives that is like this. They complain and complain that no one ever helps them and there is a reason for that. No one wants to be in the line of fire. No one wants to feel inadequate or unable.
“One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment."
Robert E. Quinn
I would like to suggest here that if you want other people to change, you should look at yourself first. Whether they are children or adults, you can never force someone to change. You can try, but you will fail. Children may attempt to do what you want, for a time, but there will come a point when you are no longer the center of their universe and pleasing you will not be a priority. They will become what they choose, regardless of what you think. If you have spent years trying to make them be what you want, they will just rebel and you won’t understand why they’re different. The change was never really about them, it was about you.
When you change yourself, when you change your behaviors, others around you will change theirs as well. This won’t happen overnight. They will test you to see if the changes you are making are permanent, if they’re for real, but in time, if you hold true to yourself and the changes you have made in yourself, they will want to change to be better, like you. Instead of changing to make you happy, they will change because you are happier, and they want to be happier too.
You will lead by example. In lesson two, we talked about my friend who told me that we always see in others what we don’t like in ourselves. Take a look at those things that bother you about your child or your spouse or your co-worker. Really look at them. What is it that really bothers you? Instead of thinking about what the other person should do to make it better, what can you do to change it? What do you need to change about yourself to make it different, to make it better? There is something that you need to do better than you are. What is it?
"Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change."
Karen Kaiser Clark, in her book Grow Deep Not Just Tall, says, “If April showers bring May flowers, they also bring the worms. Those wiggling, slithering creatures are the tillers of the soil. Perhaps to us not pretty, but their mothers claim they are….Not all that we face can be changed or accepted. But few fears are released…until we change them.” The task of looking inward, instead of outward to everyone else is not an easy one, but remember, what you see when you do this is what your children, your spouse, or your co-workers see whenever they look at you. It may not be pretty, it may surprise you, but it is well worth taking a look at. I assure you that you will find things there that you do like, that you’re proud of. Hang on to those! But keep looking into the darker places, the places that make you feel uncomfortable. You will be surprised what is hidden in there! We all have them, those places that we think are just better left alone, in the dark. The problem is, they don’t stay in the dark. They will always come out and they’ll do it when you least expect it.
I recently had this happen to me. I had some old family business that I thought was long over. I thought that I had cared for it and had moved beyond it. Then I moved closer to my family, closer than I have lived in years, and I was surprised one day to find that this old, familiar, not-so-great ‘friend’ had come back. I was allowing my old feelings and hurts to determine my current path. I have no idea what my family really thought or thinks, I only know my feelings about what I thought they were thinking. See the fallacy in this? First of all, it was all in my head, my own thoughts. I convinced myself, no one convinced me. No one even talked to me about it. It was a conversation I had all by myself. And I believed every word of it! Until a friend not so mildly reminded me of who I really was, and what I had spent years changing in myself. When I examined what she said, I was shocked to see the person in the mirror. It wasn’t the world around me that needed to change, it was me!
Ms. Clark says, “Growth never completes itself. Nor does love. Nor do we. In our reaching toward completeness we affirm our imperfection. Time pushes us to grow beyond momentary arrivals. Life presses toward greater meanings.” We are never fully grown. We are never perfect. If we think that we are, we will be sadly reminded of this fact over and over again. Life is about change. It’s about facing who we have been, who we are now, and who we want to be. It is about loving ourselves first, not in a selfish way, but in a way that accepts us and cherishes us for who we are and understands that who we are is not what we could be. We can be better. We will be better and when we are, the world will be better with us.