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The Loss Inside of Change

Change - even good change - inevitably comes with loss.

At age 49, Jenna was excited to start her new life. After 22 years in a corporate position with a company she loved, she decided to go back to school to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams of running her own design firm. Her colleagues applauded her. Family supported her. Her friends envied and cheered her. Stacy quit her job and started graduate classes at her local university, happy.

And yet, something hurt. But how could it? This is what she wanted, what she was so lucky to be able to do. People admired her courage for taking such a big step. Friends said they wished they could do the same. Everything was lining up for Jenna to move toward fulfilling her dream. Yet, when a new acquaintance asked her "so what do you do?" Jenna was surprised to feel the sting of tears in her eyes.

Change - even change we long for - inevitably comes with loss. Loss of the familiar, of community, of an identity. There is no change without loss. Perhaps this is why most of us fear change, even positive change. We prefer to dance with the devil we know... Making room for that feeling of loss, recognizing and grieving it -- especially when the change at hand is desirable -- is important. It is also difficult to allow when expectations, both ours and others', are that we should only feel overjoyed about the things that are different.

A first-time mother who experiences post-partum depression often faces judgement for her feelings of sadness and loss. Shouldn't she be in a state of bliss with her new baby? An immigrant family that left behind persecution and danger for a better life in a new country may experience adjustment disorder marked by depression. Shouldn't they be grateful and happy that they have a better life now? Enter guilt, maybe even shame. Invalidating the feelings of loss that accompany positive change is hurtful. When things change - and they always do - or when we instigate change, we let go of something. We lose a part of ourselves, or our footing, or our confidence as we navigate newness. We naturally lean toward homeostasis; this, from the Greek words for "same" and "steady," refers to any process that living things use to actively maintain fairly stable conditions necessary for survival. In order to adjust well to our new conditions, we must make room for all our feelings. Jenna gained a new experience as a graduate student, budding entrepreneur, creative and independent businesswoman. But she also gave up her identity as a valued contributor to a company she identified with strongly. In that transition, she did not yet know how to answer "so what do you do?" or the implied question: "who are you?" provides unstable, wavering, inconstant and irresolute as synonyms for changeable. It also offers dynamic, growing, and developing. Change embodies all of this. We can embrace the excitement and delight of positive change, and also acknowledge and offer compassion for the loss inherent in change. This is necessary for us to embrace the differences we seek, without denying the pain that is part of letting go and moving on.

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