I have been asked a lot lately about crisis as a catalyst for change. In my research on opting out, this is something I have seen across the board. Everyone I have interviewed or talked to who has opted out and adopted a new lifestyle has experienced some sort of crisis that pushed them to make a change. It could be anything from an identity crisis or something at work that went against their values, to sickness or even a death in the family. The nature of the crisis varies, but all of them experienced something that made them realize that they just couldn’t go on the way they had; something that provided them with a sense of urgency.
As I talk about this idea of crisis as a catalyst for change, a question I sometimes get is, if people experience a crisis that pushes them to opt out, is their lifestyle change really an active choice or did they have no choice but to opt out? Well, choice is complicated and there are always both push and pull factors. Just because one is pushed to make a choice, or a choice is made from a number of less that optimal alternatives, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a choice.
What we’re looking at is actually just the nature of change. Whether we’re talking about individual lives or implementing change on an organizational level, a sense of urgency is what is needed. Change can be daunting. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone and into the unknown is uncomfortable, which is why people don’t usually change their behavior until they’ve had that light bulb moment that provides them with the sense that something just has to be done, now.
This is what my colleagues and I used to do when I worked as a consultant. We would help our clients implement organizational change by providing everyone in the organization with the opportunity to have a light bulb moment of their own, and it worked like a charm. Only after having this light bulb moment, did they also feel that sense of urgency and understand that change is necessary. And only if they changed their own behavior was change on an organizational level possible, because an organization is made up of its employees and their actions.
So the fact that people who opt out experience a crisis before making a lifestyle change is only natural. It provides them with the sense of urgency. But opting out and adopting a new lifestyle can be quite a radical. Changes can also be made on a smaller scale, and sometimes it is only a small change that is needed in order to greatly improve one’s sense of wellbeing.
This is what a good friend of mine did a while ago. Those of you who regularly read my blog will know just how much I love working from home. I often write about the advantages of having real flexibility and more control over when, where, and how you work. However, my friend is employed by an organization where working offsite is unheard of, and she often mentions how she wishes she could too. Well, get this. One day she decided she would ask anyway if she could work from home for one day, and grudgingly she was given permission. It just made me so happy. It made me feel that my research is really making a difference. Maybe, just maybe, my friend is the start of something new in that particular organization. Maybe more of her colleagues will now start asking for more flexibility and maybe it will even lead to changes in company policy. Who knows?
But one thing I do know is that if you want to do something differently at work, the first step is to ask. If you never ask, the answer will always be no. And asking may just make all the difference.