Posted with permission from Brigadier General John E. Michel, USAF – Commanding General, NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan; Commander, 438 Air Expeditionary Wing.
“Change before you have to.” Jack Welch
Long before Dorothy and Toto ever showed up on the scene in the classic, The Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man had a story each of us should hear.
Once a human lumberjack, the Tin Man lived in the Munchkin village and fell madly in love with a beautiful Munchkin girl. Their situation was complicated by the inconvenient fact that the munchkin beauty was a slave to the Wicked Witch of the East. A careful analysis of Munchkin history reveals that the Wicked Witch eventually grew fearful that the lumberjack would take the Munchkin slave away, so she chose to put a curse on the lumberjack’s ax. Each time he went to chop a piece of wood, the ax would slip and instead cut off a part of his body.
Undeterred by his love for the beautiful Munchkin girl, the lumberjack kept chopping and his body parts kept disappearing. Piece by piece, his body fell apart and eventually, the only way he could carry on his duties was to allow the tinsmith in the village to replace his severed parts with artificial limbs made of tin.
In time, the once human lumberjack was made entirely of tin–even his heart. The only way he could continue to function properly was to regularly use his oilcan to keep from stiffening and rusting. The larger problem, however, was that he recognized his tin heart could no longer love the Munchkin beauty the way he once had. So instead of abandoning his love for her, he chose to set out on a journey to find a new heart. Intent in the process to rediscover the man he had once been and rekindle the love he and his Munchkin beauty once shared.
So what does this prelude to the Wizard of Oz have to do with you, you ask? Simple. This story is a parable that describes the importance of risking making the necessary changes in your life so you can rediscover what really makes you tick. Consider it a challenge designed to encourage you to exercise the courage of the tin man and face the proverbial wicked witches in your own life–a choice to pursue a path that reunites you with the deepest desires of your heart.
The willingness to change remains one of humanity’s oldest dilemmas and, as such, has given birth to the major sciences whose texts now fill the world’s libraries. Business managers seek to harness the power of change to maximize value for their shareholders. Marketers seek to understand what prompts one to change from Coke to Pepsi, Nike to Reebok. Psychiatrists and psychologists have developed thousands upon thousands of theories on what practices, therapies, and remedies can best help people navigate change and achieve new levels of wholeness and happiness.
Yet, any way you look at it, change, and the uncertainty that accompanies change, is uncomfortable, unpleasant, and often downright unwelcome for one primary reason: it invokes fear in us. And when our hearts and minds are full of fear, science confirms that our natural human response is to do everything we can to reduce if not eliminate outright the source of discomfort we’re experiencing in our current circumstances.
Researchers who specialize in studying the brain confirm that since our arrival on the planet, fear has been an essential tool to protect and preserve human life. As such, it should be no surprise that these same cognitive scientists have also discovered our brains, in an effort to maximize our ability to adapt and survive in an ever-changing world, are actually hard-wired to fear first and think second. This helps to explain why by the time we begin to experience fear physiologically, be it sweaty palms, trembling hands, or a racing heart, our bodies are already hard at work trying to keep us safe by automatically setting into motion our flight or fight response.
What this unconscious response reveals to us then is that our initial resistance to change is actually a primal instinct. A natural byproduct of how we are neurologically wired as human beings. The bigger problem arises, however, when we allow fear to work against us by allowing our unfounded or unexamined concerns of the future to dominate our thinking and drive our decisions. When this occurs, the psychological side of fear kicks in to convince us not to break our old routines or stretch outside our comfort zones. Leaving us instead to abandon the deepest desires of our hearts and settle for leading a life far smaller and narrower than we were ever designed to live.
So though I will be the first to admit that facing the need to change is certainly challenging, I can also confirm it is necessary. After all, it is those who figure out that leaning into our fears serves another, more empowering purpose. Namely, it prompts us to act. It motivates us to follow the example of the Tin Man and risk pushing off into uncomfortable territory. In other words, facing our fear of change is what helps us grow. It’s what reveals all we are capable of being and doing if we allow our dreams to guide us, our imaginations to embolden us and our hearts to lead us.
Ask yourself how things in your life would be different if you chose to follow artist, author and entrepreneur Eric Wahl’s wise advice, “If you want to know how to have the life you desire, follow your heart today.”
No yellow brick road required.
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