Can making one small change really help you make radical change?

by K B , updated on May 28, 2016

photo (81)I’ve been talking about change a lot lately.

I’m trying to understand my behaviour.

I’m also motivated to explore this as I see so many people who are stuck in unhealthy jobs, yet struggle to make a move.

I know many people think successful change needs to be made with a big bold move.

Other people think that to succeed in making change it needs to be fully scoped and planned out, possibly for months ahead.

I think people stop making change because at this point it all seems too hard.  Or other things in life take over as they appear more important.

People stop in the planning stage, perhaps trying to minimise the fear through the idea that they can reduce the risk. (This blog post by Change Consultant Sue Webster talks about this.)

There is this idea that to make change, you just need to change one thing to get started.

I think it works partly because you don’t make it too hard.  Perhaps change all seems a whole lot less intimidating, as you’re taking small steps.

You can fool your brain into thinking that the one small change you’re making is just about doing another activity, not actually about making the change you fear.

Doing something differently where there are other people involved, exposes you to different ways of thinking, or a group of people who see you differently.

I think many people do not take this approach because at the start there’s no obvious end point.

But if the end point is to reduce fear, I think that’s a strong starting point.

In fact, it could be the most important starting point.

Speaking personally, I have found making one small change has worked when I have really wanted to make radical change in my career, but did not know what that radical change was going to be.

Here’s what happened to me.

When I was looking to leave my steady (but insanely stifling) corporate role, I was stuck.

I had lost all my confidence, so I could not see anyone else offering me a job.

There was no other role within the company that I could see that I wanted to do.

The idea of following the traditional pathway to management filled me with dread about how long it would take to reach a higher and better paid level of dissatisfaction.

And I felt overwhelmed and could not talk to anyone about how I was feeling, in case they thought the worse of me.

I really felt like I needed meaning and purpose and I wanted to make a contribution. But I could not see what that could possibly be.

So I started volunteering in my spare time.

I worked out of a van feeding the homeless. I helped out at an Aboriginal literacy program. I taught computers to asylum seekers, and helped them find jobs. I did a creative writers course. I also pitched and wrote a few articles for free for human resources and recruitment magazines.

Starting out, I actually did not know where any of these activities would lead.

The volunteer work temporarily filled my need to give something back, to something I thought would improve Australian society. It opened up my eyes to different workplaces and styles. It also connected me up with people who became supporters of my business when I actually launched it. 

The writing confirmed that I had talent in that area. I was able to approach larger magazines off the back of having been published in smaller magazines. This gave me income that was separate from my day job, and confidence that I had a few options should I decide to leave.

Eventually with my writing and after launching my website, I gained the confidence to go part time at work, then leave.

The confidence came because each step seemed like a logical next step to take, rather than a giant leap which seemed too scary.

So yes, making small changes – did work for me.

The change did not happen in a particular order. It did not happen in a neat way. It did feel directionless for a while.

However I did feel like I was finding my sweet spot in terms of what I wanted to do and the best way to make it work. (That’s an ongoing exploration, by the way. Very few people have perfect happiness in their work.)

But without making one small change, which was trying something outside of an environment I was stuck in, I would not have launched a blog that has a worldwide readership, and be writing this today.

In writing this, I realise this is the way I have made the most of the radical changes in my life.

I’m not a great planner. So that’s never worked for me. Maybe that’s because when it comes to things like life and careers a plan has too many artificial failure points. If something doesn’t happen in the way it’s meant to happen, you end up giving up too early.

If you have a story about how making one small change has helped you, in your career or some other part of your life, I’d love to hear from you.

Telling people about it could help them too.


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