Buttons Come and Buttons Go

I think the autumn season may have finally arrived here in the Ozarks. At least, anyway, it’s cool enough to mow the lawn without passing out and to order a hot maple & vanilla latte. It comes at a good time because Fall is my start of hibernation – as if the last two years haven’t been, I suppose.

Fall in the Ozarks typically starts with a bit of rain and a threat or two of a tornado. It isn’t uncommon for us to go with ten days of dreary and cool weather. Some people hate it; It signals the end of outdoor activities, but this is when I am in my most peaceful state. I like the cooler weather – sans any snow – and I feel less guilty snuggling in with a good book when the weather is rainy.

Last week I wrote about how much can change over the course of a year. I think I’ll keep with that theme again today if you don’t mind. I’ve got my cup of coffee ready, so why don’t you join me? Go on. Grab a drink. Settle in.

I recently announced I was resigning from my current position “to pursue another opportunity.” Job changes are always tricky for me – even when the next opportunity is exciting, pays more, or allows me to do what I know I’m good at doing. My sense of loyalty encompasses me with a shroud of guilt, even when I know that the change is best for me. 

When I struggle with certain decisions or challenges, I (as a writer) will typically look to children’s literature for the answer. Adults can make life so complicated, and sometimes I need a new view. Take Charlotte’s Web, for example.  In 2006, Kansas banned Charlotte’s Web because “talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural” and passages about the spider dying were also criticized as being “inappropriate subject matter for a children’s book.” Whatever, Kansas. This novel is a great children’s story, and if you think about it, it is really about vulnerability, friendship, diversity, inclusion, and grief. Reading such a book through the lens of adult experiences reveals themes that one can’t visualize as a nine-year-old.

Today (this entire month, really), I’ve wrestled with change, and while I cuddled in my blanket in a quiet space, I reminisced about another story that was one of my son’s favorites. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons is a story about non-attachment, letting go, and moving on. It is a story about accepting that change comes and goes, and it’s up to us to decide how to handle that change.

When faced with change, we can do one of three things: Accept it, fight it, or ignore it. I don’t recommend that last one. Change will happen whether we participate in it or not. Now, I’m not suggesting that if you’ve experienced one of the three most stressful life events (death of a loved one, divorce, or the loss of a job) that you just shrug and say, “Whatever. I’m fine with this.” I mean, please, take all the time you need to grieve. I am just saying that ‘buttons come and buttons go‘. Often change happens for us, not to us, and can lead to some big insights.

Take my divorce, for instance. I was bitter and angry for a very long time. And there were so many people available to help stoke that fire whenever I was ready to stir the coals. But I had to decide to stop putting wood on that fire. I had to be the one to decide: Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy? I believe the experts call this the ‘acceptance’ part of the grieving cycle, and truthfully, I never thought I’d get here. And because I thought I would never get here, it probably took longer than it should have to arrive.

So maybe it’s a job. A relationship. A pattern of behavior. Whatever. We can always find something in our life that is begging for change. Transitions are complex – I’m not invalidating that at all. But there are some ways we can navigate change to stay as calm as we possibly can during it.

  1. Admit to yourself that change is hard. Change can be both good and challenging at the same time. Give yourself time to process the change. I used to bury myself in work to ignore my feelings of fear, anxiety, and dread when faced with a significant life change. It turns out this isn’t helpful. I know, right? But, if you sit in the space, accepting that you don’t know what is going to come next (Buddhists call this space “nothingness”) there will be a moment when you start to accept the change.
  2.  Avoid asking everyone you know for their help and opinions. I’m super bad about this. Because I battle anxiety, I struggle with the fear that I’ll make the wrong decision and later regret it. It can be paralyzing at times, and it keeps me stuck in places I don’t need to be in for longer than I need to be there. If you are stuck, seek therapy. A good therapist can help sort out the details without having any stake in the game. 
  3. Stay moving. This point isn’t about exercising, relax. (Although, that’s not a bad idea.) This point is: Continue to grow. You can’t grow if you don’t keep moving (I know, plants do it. But you aren’t a plant.) I’ve continued to write this blog even when I haven’t had the energy at times to do it or felt as though I’ve had nothing really to offer. Keep moving forward – even the tiniest of steps can help you to find clarity.

I hope this helps today, and as always, I leave you with a song. Life’s changes can feel like a landslide at times, but there are so many seasons of our lives, and each one of them brings a new direction if we let it. You may be going through the worse time of your life right now – and I empathize with you. I really, really do. I also know that it will, eventually, get better – especially if you lean into it.

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