Change and Routine
When I agreed to write a blog post for the Wellness@Work blog, I thought it’d be easy. I thought I’d Google a few articles, watch a few YouTube videos and regurgitate some meaningful information that makes me seem like an expert on going through change. After doing some initial research I sat down to write and immediately felt overwhelmed with where to start. Everything I wrote sounded fake and toxically positive. Think of self-help books and colourful illustrated quotes on Instagram that are meant to encourage by telling you to embrace change and “be the best you!”. I read one quote by Alan Watts that said, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” Excuse the expression, but barf. “Join the dance”? I am decidedly a wallflower. When I read “plunge into it”, I think of people doing the polar bear plunge into icy Canadian waters in mid-January. Good for those people, but from where I sit - thanks, no thanks.
I’ve never been the best at going through change. I am a creature of comfort and rarely venture out into the unknown. While making the change to work-from-home in March 2020 had its challenges, for me, it was welcome. I was delighted to stay in my apartment, wear my cozy clothes, get my groceries delivered, and check in with colleagues over Teams. I acknowledge that folks who shared their quarantine space with their children/families or others (e.g. housemates) may have had very different experiences, and that my introvert’s paradise was a result of very privileged circumstances. While there were many perks to my Work From Home (WFH) oasis, after a month or two the fear started to creep in. Fear of what was going to happen next. I asked myself, what will my work environment look like post-pandemic? I’m also seconded to a contract position, so I wondered if it was going to be renewed. What would I do if it wasn’t? After some time, our team learned that planned renovations of our office space on the third floor of the University Centre were going to move forward. That meant that workwise, we’d truly never go back to the way things were before COVID.
When I started as an employee at U of G in 2017, I quickly became a person on our team who liked to challenge “that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking. I was always asking why we did things a certain way, and I was keen to introduce ideas and make changes to our processes. I assume that some colleagues appreciated a fresh take, and others considered my championing for change an annoyance. Now, four years later, I find myself yearning for “the way we’ve always done it”. Consistency is comforting. As we return to work and consistency and comfort have somewhat gone out the window, to me, the first hurdle in working through change is accepting that it’s inevitable.
This thought – the idea of accepting change as the first step – reminded me of one of those YouTube videos I watched when I was first delving into this topic. It was a TED Talk by Dr. Raymond Mis, which you can (and I encourage you to!) watch. Dr. Mis is an American gastroenterologist who began to lose his hearing and vision in his late thirties. By forty, he was declared legally blind and could no longer practice medicine. While his TED Talk came out long before COVID, I drew comparisons between his experience and what we all experienced during the pandemic. Quite suddenly, everything he -and we- knew had changed. He hoped he would regain his vision, just like we hoped that things at U of G would go back to normal. After some time, Dr. Mis accepted that he would need to find another way to return to his profession. He did so successfully, and his “prescription for dealing with change” may be useful for U of G staff and faculty as we tackle change and adapt to new routines this fall. The prescription includes five principles:
As staff and faculty working at U of G, we should accept that our work environment has changed and is going to change. We’re bound to have some curveballs thrown at us over the next few months, and the first step in being prepared to navigate them is to accept that they’re unavoidable. I’ve observed that many staff on campus have already accepted change as fact; I continue to be amazed by colleagues’ adaptability and positivity.
We should hold ourselves accountable to face our fears and own up to it when we’ve wronged somebody. We may not be able to control the circumstances, but we can control our attitudes and approaches to them.
As far as responsibility goes, we have a responsibility to our community. To help our students reach their goals, to administer our programs and services, and to conduct our research activities to the best of our abilities, with respect and kindness towards one another. Of course, we also have responsibilities outside of work (such as caring for family), and a responsibility to ourselves. I think in times of change, responsibility to ourselves is one of the first things to go for the University’s faculty and staff. I’ve noticed many of the people I’ve met who work at U of G possess a selfless characteristic of always wanting to give and contribute to others, often at the expense of their own wellness. As wonderful as this selflessness is and as unique as it makes our community, staff must grant ourselves the time and space to rest and enjoy. “Improve Life” is a bold mission, and we should be reminded that it also applies to ourselves.
We need passion to fuel us, to help us get over obstacles that lie ahead. In his speech, Dr. Mis shares the all-too-known (perhaps overused?) quote, “If you love your work, you’ll never work a day in your life”. We need to remind ourselves why we chose to work in higher education, and why we chose to be a part of the University of Guelph community.
Lastly, is purpose. While I expect many of you reading this will relate to Dr. Mis’ initial definition of purpose as caring for his patients and his family, he later restates his purpose is to find inner peace and serenity. To achieve this, he mentions caring for mind, body, and spirit and ridding of expectations. I think this is a great lesson for us as we move forward into the 2021-2022 academic year.
I’ll end this post by sharing my favourite line from the TED Talk – “progress not perfection”. Getting back into new routines and navigating change over the next few weeks or months is not going to be easy and won’t be perfect. If our community strives for progress, and not perfection, we’ll get through this together. Thank you for reading these musings of mine and welcome back to school, Gryphons!