Change is Possible. But Not in the Way You Think.


People don’t change, right? They are who they are.

Over the years, I have heard these words so many times from my clients and it immediately sends me into disproving mode —  I am a coach, right? I spend my days finding evidence contrary to that statement.

People DO change.

People change their habits. People change their beliefs about what’s possible, both for themselves and for others. People change their lives – they leave jobs, careers, hometowns – the list is endless.

And yet there is a kernel of truth in that statement: “People don’t change.”

What do I mean?

Take the Enneagram assessment as an example. I love using this assessment in my coaching practice and many clients find it a powerful reflection of their beliefs, motivations and relationships. However, one’s Enneagram type doesn’t change. So there is a very real part of me that recognizes that while we are constantly changing in this lifetime, there are also essential parts of us that remain steady at our core.

How can we reconcile these two beliefs?

I often tell my clients this part of my own story; I have a tendency towards overcommitment. I have a real desire to help others, to be social, to spend time with my loved ones, and to keep learning and growing. It’s easy for me to fill my schedule with courses that fascinate me, outings with family and friends, and time volunteering with organizations I’m passionate about. My bookcase is literally overflowing with new books that I’m convinced I will definitely have time to read. . . soon! There is something about my endless priorities that is endemic to who I am. It’s hard to imagine myself as someone who doesn’t see whitespace in her schedule and think “I could probably fit one more thing in for today!”

Yet during Covid I found a new, almost equally powerful passion, for relaxing and under-scheduled weekends. In that apparent contradiction, I have found the desire, and the drive, to change some parts of myself. With the help of my awesome coach, I’ve found ways to contain my “overscheduling gene,” prioritized lazy weekends with my family, and now live more deeply into my values of work AND play/fun. I look at my work-life-volunteer balance now and know that my past self of five years ago wouldn’t believe the space I have created for rest. And yet, those who know me would still say that I’m busier than many people.

And therein lies the learning edge that is so important for personal, and leadership, growth: how can I grow and feel better about myself while still knowing even more progress is possible – and desired?

While we can and do change, we often still find ourselves on our own personal learning edge for what’s next. For me, my learning edge is overcommitment and finding peace in what is “enough.” I am constantly re-learning that more is rarely better no matter how tempting it feels in the moment. “The more things change, the more they stay the same” seems to encapsulate all those moments when no matter how much I feel I’ve evolved, I find myself back in the same overwhelmed state again.

The truth is that each year I’m in that situation less though. I do see this as the change that’s possible. Most change happens incrementally. We rarely feel a big “a-ha” and change our lives drastically. Instead, what I see in myself, and my clients, is that over time your internal calculus changes as you start making different small choices, and getting new results. So you do it more and more.

Until one day you look back and find that while you aren’t a different person, you have fundamentally changed some aspects of your life, and sometimes others around you have also changed in response.

When you take the energy and learning from one change you’ve made and apply it to another change you want to make, you can see the effects of your learning journey ripple throughout your life, and your sense of self. You are still you, but you are engaging with life and others in new ways that amplify your essence.

Does this mean you’re a different person? I will leave the final answer up to you, but here’s where I land.

People can radically change and still retain enough of their essential core, like a fingerprint, such that you can both recognize them and see them anew.

This is what I want for my clients who embark upon change. That what we work on helps them diminish what’s not working, the behaviors that get in their way, and amplify what people most value and admire about them, the heart and soul of who they are, and want to continue to be.

With this in mind, what learning journey are you on right now? What would you like to be possible that still feels slightly out of reach? This is the axis of change you can walk to create an even more aligned future for yourself – and if you need help doing this – just let me know!

Read more>> Navigating Change: Slow Down Before You Land on Your Butt

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Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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