When I was twenty-five years old, the clichés I lived by all were something to the effect of “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” or, “wherever you go, there you are,” or any other number of uninventive parallel logics about experiencing change without really ever changing.
I had spent the past half-decade in an ever-looping cycle of movement and motion. There were two separate yearlong bouts in Europe, bookending and bookended by experiences of extreme stateside evolution. I changed languages nearly as often as I changed my hair, took on new personalities and new wardrobes with each new neighborhood. I flitted from best friend to best friend, from one noncommittal boyfriend to the next, from one eternal dream to the next, only to end up right back in the place I had started – Los Angeles, California, USA.
I was camped out in my parents’ guest bedroom after yet another failed stab at lasting love followed by another failed stab at peaceful platonic cohabitation (I never did have good luck with roommates; let’s just blame my OCD). I was in a new yoga phase with an old pot habit, flirting with meditation, carrying on a long distance fling, and gearing up for another possible move abroad. I was halfway through my MFA and writing my way through my past, all while sitting back and watching myself repeat round after round of the same old actions and the same old behaviors that had gotten me back to this same old place. And suddenly I realized, no matter how far or how fast I ran, no matter how many cliques or scenes or inner circles into which I interloped, I was and always would be the exact same person I had always been.
Now, ten years later, in my professional life I’ve made a tiny little name for myself in the tiny little field of change management for North American Higher Education Middle Managers. I give presentations at niche conferences about how to lead through change, how to plan for it, accommodate it, welcome it. I am the go to restructure guru on my home campus. I was chosen for my new job (yes, I got the job!) in no small part because of my blunt eloquence in declaring Change Is Death, Death Is Opportunity, and Opportunity Is Exciting! One might even go so far as to call me a change addict – I need movement, improvement, invention. I need the challenge of change, or else I flounder toward failure.
But as good as I am at implementing innovation in a profession notoriously stuck in place, I actually kind of suck at dealing with change in my own life. Or at least I used to. All of a sudden, that old narrative I had about myself doesn’t apply. Everything is up in the air, and for once I’m letting myself get comfortable with the feeling of flight.
After months and years of begging, praying, dying for that change that I simultaneously tried to keep at bay, change is upon me like a tidal wave, sucking away the ground that has held my feet steady like cement and hurling me into some other new world, the structure of which won’t come into view until finally these tides begin to recede (and now I know how my staff feel every time I call a meeting). There is only one thing that is clear about this new existence, and that is the new parallel logic that defines it: I am the same as I’ve always been, and I am in no way the person I used to be.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact start of this shift, but I realized that it had taken root last week, at where else but the playground, where all of my ah-ha (and oh shit) moments seem to be happening lately. I was talking to a friend who was visiting with his two kids, one about the same age as my daughter, and one just about to turn six. I was getting ready to go into my stale old joke about how glad I was that MY daughter would never be a six-year-old, when I stopped – not because the joke is old and was never very funny to begin with, but because the joke used to be based on truth, and now that truth had changed.
I did actually used to hope and believe that my daughter was always going to be exactly how she was at that exact moment. I believed this when she was a newborn, when she was an infant, when she started rolling, crawling, walking. No matter how clearly nature was screaming in my face that CHANGE IS INEVITABLE, I thought that if I just didn’t pay attention I could keep it from happening. As my daughter continued to grow and evolve, I continued to deny the fact that these changes would keep happening, especially when we turned the corner to toddlerhood, replete with really not fun tantrums, ferocious stubborn streaks and the like.
Somewhere, though, I stopped struggling against the inescapable. I started seeing each new notch on the child development chart as one more miracle to celebrate. I started seeing each new growth as an opportunity for, well, growth. And it now appears that I’ve started approaching my own change in the same way.
I’m still the same old person I’ve always been, I still deal with all those same demons that lurked in my linen closet during all those years of living alone and traveling lightly. I’m still very attached to my anti-social and almost depressive tendencies, still struggle against the happy optimism that has implanted itself in me of late. The flirtation with meditation has become a full blown love affair, the languages are fading like the cover of a book left too long in the sun, and my personality and wardrobe have both evened themselves out into a hodgepodge of all of those old identities I tried on for size.
In a little over six weeks I start a new job, leaving behind a job that is comfortable, casual, and known. In a little more than four months my daughter starts a new school, with no transitional daycare situation yet worked out. Sometime this summer my husband starts shooting a new film that may or may not take him quite literally into harm’s way. There are simply too many moving parts to manage. But instead of freaking out like my good old self, I’m throwing up my hands and having a party. Because in less than two weeks, it’s also my 35th birthday.
Any moment now I will go back to planning like a maniac, to hedging bets and coming up with inclement weather alternatives. The difference now is that even those plans working themselves out in the back of my head as I write this are not an attempt to cushion my fall, but to keep myself in a steady ascent.