George was 53 when he had his first attack. He'd smoked for almost 40 years, was badly overweight, had an extremely high fat diet, and handled stress poorly. This warning shocked him into joining a smoking-cessation program. George and his wife also learned about healthy eating and improved their diets. Within a few months he'd lost his huge stomach, was very cheerful, and full of new energy. He was a changed man.
But slowly the memory of his big scare faded. He started having just a cigarette or two. His between-meal snacks turned into high-fat meals. As his health deteriorated and his mood blackened, he needed more cigarettes and food to cheer him up. By the time he approached his 59th birthday, he had convinced himself that he'd never had a heart attack.
That Christmas, his family questioned George's return to his old, destructive habits. They begged him to return to a healthier lifestyle. George defended his overeating and smoking by saying, "If I can't live the way I want, then life's not worth living." Three months later, he had a massive heart attack and died. He chose not to change — so he was changed.
Some changes appear unexpectedly as a sudden crisis. An accident, act of violence, death, or natural disaster may come out of nowhere to hit us when we least expect (or deserve) it. But most crisis points come with warning signs — if we choose to see them.
After he lost his job, a production worker at a manufacturing plant said he could "see the writing on the wall" four years ago when the company set up a flexible manufacturing pilot project to experiment with how to automate his circuit-board assembly task, among other jobs.
So what did he do during that time? Curse, pray, and organize his co-workers to decry how unfair things were? Did he try upgrading his skills while the "writing was on the wall"? He sat and waited for four years to have his fate decided for him. He chose not to change — so he was changed.
Many "sudden changes" are really the next big step in a series of activities that we may have helped create or allowed to continue. These changes may be the result of our failure to change our habits, lifestyle, growth patterns, or skills.
Unless a crisis actually kills us (often it just feels like it will), it's an opportunity for us to change. It's a chance to choose a new path.
But those change choices are seldom easy. Sometimes I can be like one of those old spring-powered pocket watches: I have to be shaken hard to get me going. However, when we choose the road less traveled, we'll reflect back years later and say that, while we wouldn't want to live through the pain again, it was nevertheless an important turning point. It was one of the best things that happened to us. It seasoned and strengthened us.
Responsiveness to change is as important to organizations as it is to people. There are two kinds of organizations in today's world: those that are changing and those that are going out of business. The business and government graveyard is filled with the corpses of organizations that failed to respond to inevitable changes.
Similarly, there are also two kinds of people: those who are changing and those who are setting themselves up to be victims of change. As the world continues to march on around us, if I am only maintaining the status quo — if I'm not growing — then I'm falling behind.