One recent winter, I brought my kids with me on a business trip. My daughter Cate, who was 3 at the time, was enjoying the warmth and comfort of her bath when room service rang to deliver dinner. She told me she wanted to eat; I explained she’d need to hop out of the tub and get dressed first. She began to sob uncontrollably and said “Mom, I’m too cold and the water is what is keeping me warm.”
I reiterated that as soon as she got out of the tub, I would dry her off and put her in warm clothes, and she would be warm and able to eat. She sobbed some more and said, “But Mom, I’m so hungry!” Once again, I pointed out how easy it would be to get out and get her food. She said, “Yeah, but if I get out of the tub, I’ll be really, really cold.”
Later, replaying that moment, it struck me: Cate’s behavior demonstrated an important phenomenon of both life and leadership:
The pain and discomfort of getting unstuck.
Change is inevitable. As individuals, we grow. Our goals and perspective evolve, our skills develop and the world around us transforms. To keep pace without stagnating, we have to allow our routines and roles to change, too.
But change involves a transition phase that can be uncomfortable or even quite painful. The temptation to avoid that phase by avoiding change altogether is powerful. Avoiding that phase is exactly how we get and stay stuck.
Cate’s bath, I realized, represented this conundrum perfectly.
In the tub her state was “warm and hungry.” Her desired state was “warm and full.” The only way she could get from her current state to her desired state was to temporarily be cold and hungry, a seemingly worse-off scenario.
As so many of us do, she was sitting in the comfort her present situation hungering for something more yet fearing the transition this required.
I talk more about this bath “aha” moment and what it represents more in my new book THE COURAGEOUS LEADER .
The gist is: suspended between our current situation and the situation we desire, we experience the pain of the transition like a trapeze artist swinging from one bar to the next. William Bridges, a best-selling author and expert in the field of change management, refers to this transition as the move from the ending of one thing through the neutral zone to the beginning of something new.
But for the transition to happen it all, we must find the courage to move past our fear and embrace it rather than fight it – which will only make our situation worse.
As Bridges has said, anticipating pain and discomfort as part of the transitional process is key.
Ultimately, with the help of a fluffy towel and a good dose of coaxing, Kate mustered the courage transition from cold and hungry to warm and full. Which was of course, the only viable option.
What about you? Have you found yourself stuck avoiding change? How have you coped with uncomfortable transitions when faced with them?