Why change is important for us and others

Have you ever resisted change? As I was reading People Change by Vivek Shraya, she discusses how change is vital to us all, how it’s viewed by others, and discusses changes throughout her life. She takes us on a thought provoking contemplation on what it means to change and how all change is relational.

Main impacts

These are the key points that stood out to me:

  1. Make a comeback
  2. Autonomy vs. authentic
  3. Reinvention is a sign of hope

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Photo by USGS on Unsplash

Make a comeback

The idea of a comeback is a great example of how people change. It both accepts the past but allows you to return with a new approach or identity. The idea of returning afresh while embracing the past, shows that change doesn’t always come with a blank slate. No one gets to ignore the past completely, but you can always make a comeback.

Key to this is that you can change at any age. There’s no limit to change or reinvention, not by who you are or how old you are. There’s always room to reinvent and change yourself, there’s room for self improvement — whatever that looks like for you.

Key to embracing the past is that no bad decision is too big to keep you in the past. You can always learn from your mistakes and change your actions. The goal is to focus on what you’re doing now, not what you’ve done in the past. If you don’t like the past, do something different now. Your choices now reflect who you are and what you think are important.

Remember, you can always change.

For example, Vivek’s dad wasn’t always around when he was younger as he had to work in another town to support their family. He has apologized repeatedly for not being around when Vivek was growing up. As difficult as it was for Vivek growing up, what really matters to her is that her dad is supportive and making an effort right now. His current actions mean much more than just an apology for the past.

Not all change is equal

I liked how Vivek made sure to highlight that not all change is viewed equally and that we need to acknowledge how change is perceived.

Typically, those more masculine are rewarded for changing as they tend to be seen as unmovable, so it’s a feat when they adjust (think homophobic fathers who finally accept their queer children in media). Whereas feminine presenting individuals tend to be expected to change and be flexible, so their changes are not rewarded or barely acknowledged (compare the father to the mother in accepting their child – a change expected not rewarded).

This difference in the external validation of change is seen in celebrities or pop stars. Women either have to be forever young or forever changing. Madonna was the queen of reinvention, with each new album came a new identity. Lady Gaga was later compared to Madonna, but her reinventions happened so much faster, a continual reinvention to keep others interested. As with most women in the spotlight, you either keep changing or become irrelevant. Whereas aging in men is celebrated without requiring constant change.

Autonomy vs. authentic

Vivek talks about both internal and external change, and how both can serve a purpose in your personal transformation, but may not both be required. You may change yourself externally (outfits, hair, makeup), but it’s not required for reinvention.

An interesting part of this discussion focused around how others view external changes. Sometimes others find these changes to be deceitful or a way of covering up the “authentic self.” This feeling of deceit is often weaponized against transpeople.

Often external changes, such as makeup, clothing, and surgical procedures, are viewed as suspicious, with people being overly concerned with individuals “being authentic.” But everyday we make a million little decisions about how we present ourselves to the world. We carefully (or choose to not so carefully) craft our appearance through what we wear, how we wear our hair, and how we act.

How are those other choices like makeup or surgery that different? And why are we so concerned about “authenticity” instead of autonomy?

If you consider the idea that changing yourself is deceitful, it seems to imply that you can only be one thing. But we’re constantly changing, we’re never the same as before. Your whole life is a series of choices that make you who you are, through curating your appearance, how you act, and what you choose to do. Everything you do (or choose not to do) informs how others perceive you.

Just another choice

Another way this deceit is perceived is through the “no filter” trend on social media, as if that makes it both more authentic and somehow a better photo. (Personally, I understand that this is partially to combat unrealistic photoshopped beauty standards, and that certain filters are morally questionable as they tend to emphasize “white beauty standards” through skin lightening and certain types of facial features.)

But I appreciated Vivek’s point that you’ve already positioned and constructed the entire photo, what’s a little filter going to do to make it more “authentic”. Every choice you make into lighting, positioning, framing, colours, etc. are part of creating that image. A filter is only one more choice you make when deciding how to present the image to the world.

Understandably this all needs to be viewed through the lens of capitalism and the patriarchy. Some changes are desired because of the messaging or societal pressure that we’ve been exposed to, telling us we need to look a certain way. But if we focus on autonomy (personal choices) rather than authenticity (some kind of “true self”), we can help people make the changes they want to become whoever they choose.

Reinvention is a sign of hope

Reinvention is the possibility of something new, a new identity or new way of being. The ability to reinvent or change shows that you are not contained or limited, that there’s always a new possibility. The ability to transcend your current self makes you boundless and limitless. There’s always more of you.

The prefix of “re” implies that it’s continual, which means that it can keep happening. It’s not a one time opportunity and we aren’t limited to one chance or one comeback.

We can continually reinvent ourselves and change as we desire. Which also indicates that it doesn’t have to be forever — we aren’t forced to be this new self for the rest of our lives, we always have to chance to reinvent ourselves. It’s a reoccurring process.

Taking forever out of success

Long lasting is often seen as success without considering what happened. This is most typically seen in relationships, the idea that they need to last forever to be successful.

Not every relationship is meant to last forever, some are only a good fit for so long. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t have a successful relationship together or that you can’t reimagine what your relationship will look like. Even relationships can be reinvented. You can still grow with people while changing what your relationship looks like.

Lasting forever is not the only type of success. We shouldn’t focus only on how long it lasts, but what it accomplished and who it allowed you to be.

Change is constant, bringing the possibility of new opportunities. Don’t limit yourself.

Final thoughts

I liked this meditation on change and what it means for everyone. I found it both thought provoking and encouraging. Also, I like how it causes me to question how I view the world, and how I view others changing, as nothing we do is isolated. While also pushing me towards accepting and encouraging my self development into whoever I want to be.

It’s a short book, but a nice refreshing way to start the year. I think it helps you avoid focusing on the “ideal self” that productivity books like to speak about, but rather about who you want to be now, with room for that to change later on. There is no singular self you need to strive towards, but rather give yourself grace and room to grow in any direction you choose.

If you’ve read this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts below!