Disorientation of Change

I’m writing this week’s article from my childhood hometown of Macau, which was a Portuguese colony until it was reverted back to Chinese rule in 1999. Over the years, economic development has expanded this “Monte Carlo of the Orient” with reclaimed land, more massive casinos—including the likes of the Venetian—and a complex web of new roads and traffic patterns.

Ruins of St. Paul - MacauOn the night I arrived last week, an uneasy pang of feeling lost sat in my stomach on the car ride from the harbor to the apartment where I spent the first 16 years of my life. With each time I set foot on my childhood hometown, I feel more and more like a first-time visitor than a returning former resident. I realize that feeling lost in previously familiar ground is the perfect metaphor for talking about the ever-evolving mental and psychological landscape of personal development, the quest for knowing ourselves and leading an authentic life.

Preserving core character through change

Over the last 26 years and counting, I watched Macau morph into what it is today. The Chinese government didn’t want any visual remnants of the colonial era. As such, all landmarks associated with the Portuguese regime were torn down years before the political changeover in 1999. With that, signature pieces of Macau’s “face” for a very long time were permanently removed. However, some attempt was made to preserve the historic Iberian feel of Macau through modernized cobblestone walkways and town squares. In other words, it was a bit of a balancing act to preserve Macau’s core character while adapting it to the political change.

To me, this morphing process of my childhood hometown is parallel to that of personal development. To grow and evolve, we need to peel away layers of social and cultural conditioning to get to know who we really are at our core. To live an authentic life, we need to cull through a lifelong collection of beliefs to discern what’s congruent with our true selves and what can be recycled. Proactive truth-seeking aside, unexpected life changes also offer us opportunities to define and redefine who we truly are and who we want to be—our core character, the heart of our identity we wish to preserve come what may.

Senado Square - MacauLeaving the comfort zone

Reflecting on feeling lost in the place where I grew up, I realize that my disorientation stemmed from attachment to the familiar—at least what once was familiar. Familiarity breeds comfort. Without the familiar, comfort goes, leaving room for disorientation to set in. I could hang onto the nostalgia of the familiar past gone by, or I could appreciate the products of economic progress and focus my energy on getting reoriented to the unfamiliar present.

This relationship between familiar comfort and feeling disoriented very much applies to personal development as well. In life, the only guaranteed constant is change. We can’t truly stand still, even if we wanted to do so. By definition, change is deviation from the familiar, departure from the comfort zone, which inevitably produces disorientation. The less we resist change and try to hang onto the familiar comfort that is no longer, the less we get dragged into the undercurrent of change; in turn, the more quickly we can get over the disorientation and reestablish our bearings.

Change is a guaranteed constant

Gate of Understanding - MacauPart of me will always remember the old Macau that was my home all those years ago. At the same time, I celebrate the signs of progress and prosperity embodied by the new Macau, a powerfully personal visual reminder that life is but a promise of constant change. It’s up to me whether to embrace or resist change, while staying true to who I am at my core. The less I resist and the more I allow, the more readily I’ll be able to harvest the fruits of change.

Over to you: Do you find it easy or challenging to embrace change? How do you stay true to yourself through changes? Would love for you to share your thoughts/feelings in the comment box below.

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Photo credit: http://www.macautourism.gov.mo/en/

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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6 comments
ThinDifference
ThinDifference

This is a great way to think about change, through personal stories. In a similar way, the place I grew up is now mostly gone. It is odd to go back to our family farm now, as there is only one building left. Most of what was is now gone, other than the vast prairies and memories. Change does always continue yet, at some point, some our advancements disappear. Our hope is that what has happened next is better, and it is our responsibility to try to foster the right type of change. Our stories center us around these elements. Thank you, Alice!

AlliPolin
AlliPolin

Alice - I'm going to carry your words with me moving forward... the less I resist and the more I allow the more readily I can harvest the fruits of the change.  Really appreciate that you shared this experience and reminded me that a fond remembering and honoring what once was does not need to stop me from fully stepping into today.  Many thanks!

jaqstone
jaqstone

Wonderful post, Alice. We often say we want change but then resist it, thus creating a stressful experience of it. I share your approach of allowing change to arise and show me what it is offering rather than resist it. There is some disorientation but it passes quickly if I center myself in the moment. Clinging to the familiar may be an attempt at finding comfort but what it creates is not comfortable at all!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@ThinDifference Thanks for adding your personal note to this discussion, Jon. There really is something special about the place where we started our lives. The changes that transpire there are somehow more personal than witnessing any other type of change. They hit us at our core in terms of where we started developing who we are today. But, like you said, we can all hope that the changes that take place are for the better. To me, I hope they serve whomever after us well, even if differently than the way what was served us in our foundation building. Thanks again, Jon!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@AlliPolin Thanks, Alli! I used to unknowingly think that honoring the past and welcoming the present and the future are mutually exclusive. I'm especially sensitive to making associations between things/places/music and experiences. I've learned that we can consciously redefine what these "experiential markers" mean such that we can honor our sentimental selves while moving forward. Thank you for adding your comment to this discussion.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@jaqstone Completely agree, Jacqueline! Clinging to the familiar out of unconscious reflex of hanging onto comfort is ultimately anything but comfortable. We end up creating a lot of heartache for ourselves, trying to cling to the shore instead of allowing downstream current to carry us. Thank you for adding your insights.

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