By Julie Benezet:
Change junkie that I am, I’d had my fill. Political chaos, bizarre weather patterns, Covid… Enough already! Then, right when I thought I’d reached my outer limit of chaos, came a personal reckoning that landed me on the winding road of an unexpected change, joining a throng of people on a similar journey.
The beginning of my journey. It began when my husband and I moved from Seattle to Southern Oregon in search of sun, theater and a quieter backdrop for our professional lives. The plan worked. We made friends, frequented new wineries and became habitual hikers.
Life changed with the arrival of wildfires. Every year they coated our valley with thicker and thicker smoke. Six months after Covid appeared, they made a quantum leap. The Almeda fire erupted at the edge of our city and roared north, wiping out 3000 structures within 24 hours. A year later, toxic smoke from regional forest fires drove us indoors without a break for seven weeks, go-box packed and parked by the front entry.
Being stuck inside with the threat of a forest fire outside our door was frightening. Nevertheless, with amount of time and energy we had devoted to making a home in the area, we struggled with what to do. Finally, after much mental thrashing, our daughter broke the logjam with the announcement of her plan to leave San Francisco and return to her hometown of Seattle. The answer to our question became obvious. More than anything else, we wanted to live near our daughter. That meant moving back to Seattle.
The personal reckoning with change. You might well ask, why would you stack moving, one of the most stressful life events, onto a pile of societal chaos that was already causing serious angst? Answer: We needed to honor what mattered most to us. In our case, it was proximity to family.
In an environment of crazy politics, extreme weather and Covid variants, change is touching everyone in a very personal way. The forced isolation of Covid allowed people to think, reconsider and make changes they hadn’t realized or admitted they had. All around us people have been leaving jobs, geographies, partners, . . . you name it. There also have been many uninvited changes: Loss of family members, social communities and a feeling of public safety.
Whether change comes by choice or circumstance, the result is the same. It won’t go away. Unless you face it, it will pull from inside and influence your behavior in ways that might not align with your core values. You could find yourself in such situations as working in an organization whose future no longer compels you, over-functioning for people who expect it and don’t appreciate you, or hanging out with a group who says things that make you cringe. If the shoe doesn’t fit, it’s hard to walk, much less move forward.
The journey of change. Once someone decides to embark upon the road to change, it is not a nothing to achieve it. We were lucky to be able to move, and thought that resettling into a familiar place near family and friends of many years would be easy.
It wasn’t. Change, good or bad, wanted or unwanted, expected or surprising, is hard. When you enter a new place or situation that you believe will be better, there is much to discover. What you see on the surface of your imagined future might be quite different from what is happening underneath, calling upon you to change your plan. That can be disorienting and discouraging.
When we reached our former hometown, we realized that it too had changed. Seattle was larger, more complex and challenged with urban problems that had increased in our absence. We had to work to avoid reactivity and widen our lens as we surveyed the new landscape. We also had to catch up with the lives of the people we knew. They had grown older, more mature, more or less healthy and more or less engaged in the flow of community life.
What didn’t change was the bonds of friendship. Our friends welcomed us back. That made the transition easier. We still had many building blocks to put in place. We reduced our living footprint by half, found replacements for our retired doctors, obtained library cards and, last, but not least, signed on with new hairdressers (vanity never dies). Then we calmed down. In the process, however, we recognized that we too had changed. Clarity about who you are and what matters most for where you are in life is essential. That was our biggest lesson.
Why am I telling you all this? Because thinking on our story led me to pick up the pen that has laid idle for over a year and return to writing about a topic near and dear to my heart: The opportunities and scariness of change. There is no escaping it, particularly in the world we now live. It touches every aspect of life.
I’d also like to introduce “Taking Chances, Creating Change,” my new website (https://juliebenezet.com). It assembles articles, interviews and tools from recent years about creating change learned from people, events and stories I’ve encountered along the way. The material is organized into thematic categories and focuses on the challenges faced by leaders, organizations and individuals. My goal is to offer a resource to support people’s journeys of change and, hopefully, provide a good read.
More will come as I continue to learn. After an extended period of quiet, I’m ready. It beats moving logistics. I promise not to pepper your inboxes with random musings, but will periodically send out a short newsletter.
Thank you for your inspiration and support over many years. I also would like to thank Kathy Moran of Web Development Artistry for her beautiful design work.
May you all achieve the changes you want in 2023!