Challenge and change in 2023: What if you fly?

Source: @cocoparisienne via Pixabay

During primary school, my children learned loosely about growth mindset. At times, they came home with mantras such as “I can’t do it … yet”, “I can reach my goals”, and “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” Over the last couple of years, challenge and change have been thrust upon us in spades. ‘Change fatigue’ has taken on a whole new layer of meaning. The Collins Dictionary 2022 word of the year was permacrisis, meaning an extended period of instability and insecurity. This state of ongoing uncertainty is reflected in our exhaustion and concerns about global crises and individual stresses, and the erosion of our individual and collective appetite and energy for facing challenge.

As we enter 2023, concerns about the economy, war, and the climate continue to intensify. The 2022 Mission Australia Youth Survey of 18,800 Australians aged 15-19 found that our young people are concerned about the environment, equity, discrimination, and mental health, and that their personal challenges included academic stress, school workload, anxiety, depression, and relationships. Societies, industries, workplaces, families, and individuals have needed to adapt and re-imagine at a rapid pace. Workplaces, such as Deloitte, are developing increasingly flexible ways of working that allow employees autonomy and choice.

While there is a sense that we are emerging from three years of pandemic-related restrictions and after-effects, wellbeing, inclusion, and agency are areas for continued development. Many of us have found ourselves reconsidering what is important. Some have turned to travel, adventure and personal change, while others have turned to stability, certainty, and returning to home base. Many of us have rethought how we spend our time, including what we do with the time we have and who we spend it with. This includes time with self, family, and work, with the ‘great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’ trends showing a paradigm shift in how people are choosing to live their lives. I have always done work that provides me with a sense of purpose, gets me out of bed in the morning, aligns with my values, and makes a contribution to others. Finding meaning and fulfilment are now more important than ever, for our communities and society, as well as for our own individual wellbeing.

When change is all around, and forced upon us, it can be difficult to open up rather than turn inward, to move forward rather than coast along or retreat. I’ve just finished reading Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. At one stage in the novel, set in the 1960s, the main character Elizabeth Zott challenges others to act with courage to design their own futures based on their aspirations and talents, rather than on what they or others might expect of them. The character, who is unapologetically herself despite the constant judgement of others, encourages us to embrace change and move forward without allowing limiting beliefs to hinder us.

“Courage is the root of change – and change is what we’re chemically designed to do. So when you wake up tomorrow, make this pledge. No more holding yourself back. No more subscribing to others’ opinions of what you can and cannot achieve. … Design your own future.”

Lessons in Chemistry

While denial about obstacles and Pollyannaism are unhelpful, in 2023 our task is to find the courage and energy to continue to challenge ourselves, each other, and our organisations to move forward in directions that result in positive outcomes for all. We need to continue to balance competing needs, and navigate tensions such as providing stability while also working towards context-embedded innovation, and supporting wellbeing while maintaining high expectations and forward momentum. We need to co-design the future.

Courage and change do not need to be loud and fast. While we may need to be bold in our intent, it is consistent, incremental nudges and small regular steps that allow us to move forward. The following poem by Australian poet Erin Hanson encourages us to question our concerns about failure, and to take the leap into those opportunities that may result in growth and success.

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask ‘What if I fall?’
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”

Erin Hanson

A useful starting point for what leaps we might take is to ask ourselves is: What do we want to have achieved by this time next year (or in five years or thirty years)? And if we were to fast forward to this time next year, what will it look like if we’ve been successful?

When I wrote my book, Transformational Professional Learning, I put a message on my bathroom mirror that read: “If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll wait forever. Start now.” Starting now is better than waiting for the ‘perfect time’, even if starting now means doing so slowly, quietly, cautiously, gently, and with close attention to those around us.

It’s 2023. Let’s start!

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