Transformation is awkward.
I mean, we all know that change is hard, but it’s also awkward.
It’s been a big year for me. The last ten months in particular have included a lot of things I never saw coming and just got to run with as they came my way. I’ve made a lot of new friends. I’ve gotten to have some incredibly transformative learning experiences (the Evaluation for Social Change and Transformational Learning program through SFU and the annual Art of Hosting training on Bowen Island being two I can strongly recommend to others!). I’ve been graced with some amazing opportunities to step in and push myself to new levels. I’ve had to deal with some setbacks, disappointments, and missteps, though I contend that all my best mistakes are still ahead of me. (I can only aspire to be a future contributor to a follow-up volume to the wonderfully honest and generously insightful, Evaluation Failures: 22 Tales of Mistakes and Lessons Learned.)
When I think back to myself a year ago, I’m astounded. It’s not that I was doing so terribly before, but it’s such an unexpected, qualitative difference. In less than a year, I’ve transformed my practice. I’ve clarified (at least for now) my guiding principles. I’ve discovered personality traits I didn’t know I had. I’ve changed things I thought were immutable personality traits! (This is why it makes so much more sense to think of personality as a system, as an aside.) My social and professional networks (around here those are basically the same thing) quadrupled at least (I’d give my right arm for a time-lapse network analysis of this, truly). I grew out my dang hair even, which is a big deal! I had that buzzcut longer than I’d lived most places. And, weirdly, I’ve felt more like myself than I can recall for a very long time.
But it’s been uncomfortable. It’s been hard. The biggest, most joyful and breath-taking breakthroughs also brought on periods of grief and despair—grief over the loss of a perceived self, grief over feelings of lost time spent travelling down paths that led away from the core self, despair over how long it takes to find a way back again. I spent a lot of time pondering this visualization of artist block and reminding myself that I am improving all the time, it just doesn’t feel like it when I’m also increasing my capacity to see what else I could be doing.
And even now that I’m acclimating to the emotional waves of change and not getting knocked about quite so much, it’s still awkward. Ungainly. I don’t get to be coolly possessed and confident. My intuition will run ahead of my conscious understanding so I’ll end up feeling strongly about something without being able to articulate why, and then having to backtrack later and explain once I’ve figured it out. Or I’ll find myself entangled in the extinction burst of a past habit and at cross-purposes with myself. A moment of insight and clarity will take the impossible knot I’ve been wrestling with and dissolve it into irrelevance, and I’ll find myself wondering how I managed to waste so much time on something that was resolved so easily. I spend a lot of time feeling incompetent, then realizing that I’m way more competent than I think, and then feeling incompetent for thinking I’m incompetent. Argh! I feel inconsistent and inconstancy still reads as a character flaw or moral failing to me. (Another habit yet to be unpicked and re-stitched! Coherency is preferable to constancy, if nothing else.)
Change is just like that, whether it’s coming in drips, tides, or tsunamis. You don’t get to sail into it, smooth and suave, confident that you know exactly what you’re doing and how to do it. Because you don’t! That’s the point. If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be change. But not knowing exactly what you’re doing but kind of maybe knowing what you’re supposed to be doing and possibly doing some of it wrong but going ahead doing it anyway and trying to pull it off with some level of grace and integrity and humility is kind of where it’s at. So thank goodness for having a really high tolerance for embarrassment (not a skill I’d planned to lean on so much in adulthood, oh well) and a good circle of folks to commiserate and celebrate with, awkwardness and all.
(This is an evaluation blog, or at least the blog of an evaluator on their professional evaluation website, so I always feel compelled to draw some kind of evaluation-specific connections or insights or lessons out of what I write about, but I feel like “transformation is awkward” speaks for itself, y’know? Let’s all go a little easier on ourselves.)