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Change Is Ugly. Change Is Beautiful

Last week, I attended the TEDx Foggy Bottom conference. The theme was “Illuminate”, and it exposed the audience to 20+ dynamic people who shared personal experiences, passions, insights, talents, and how all of this aided them in creating something new or addressing a problem in an innovative way.

While I could think of several speakers that day that left an impression and several thoughts to take home, during a presentation by Nicole Lynn Lewis of Generation Hope, she said…

“Change is both ugly and beautiful.”

…while talking about her understanding of the Civil Rights Movement in America and how the progress achieved was beautiful, but the process through which it was achieved was ugly.

This line stuck with me as a very poignant reflection on change and the process that accompanies it. As I thought about it, I realized that “change” is a word in the English language and an idea in human existence that no doubt evokes other dichotomous descriptions – painful and pleasant, unsettling and satisfying, unwelcome and welcome, fear-inducing and comforting.

I find this dichotomy to be especially true for change in our personal life. Whether it is a new goal, pursuing a passion, attempting to improve life’s circumstances, or just be a better person than you were the day before, the one unknown in all that will be the path that your journey will take between the conceptualization and realization of that change in your life.

And it is the unknown that can make change difficult to achieve, even when we know that change will be for our ultimate good. Because the fear of the unknown may affect our resolve to embrace even what is sometimes necessary or desired. You know, we make a New Year’s resolution and discover about a month in that making it a lifestyle is somehow more difficult that imagined. Or maybe its simply the process of growing up.

Like the saying “change is inevitable”, we all know we will get older. However, that does not guarantee a smooth journey between the change from young to old, immature to mature, ignorant to knowledgeable, and inexperienced to experienced. The unknown within the process can make change daunting to face, even if you embrace the notion that change is progress, and progress is good. Or as Lewis alluded to, the process can be downright ugly because parts of it may be unexpected.

However, as I get older, I am learning to fear the process less and appreciate the process more, regardless of what that process may entail. Because ultimately, the end goal is a beautiful one – growth, change, and progress.

While being young, it was easy to use the process as an excuse – because the process felt too different and too hard, resist the change and growth that was coming in the future. Tapping out was borne out of a fear of being able to endure the challenge and survive the process.

Then at a certain point in life, it became easy to use the process as a crutch – so focused on perfecting the process that the purpose is lost.

The crutch mentality was motivated by a fear of being ill-prepared for the “next thing”. The process becomes a scapegoat that excuses are built on, because any hardship or stumble becomes a reminder of just how unprepared you are to live in the change you are marching toward.

But now, I appreciate the process as training. Like the seasoned athlete, the victory is in achieving the goals I set for myself, changing and growing for the better. The path to get there requires building endurance, pushing and testing my mental and physical limits, learning how to move past adversity, and how to use small victories as fuel that aides in my iterative growth process. Change is made sweeter by the process endured to get there.

And for all of its personal applicability, I feel that history has shown us that social change and movements are borne out of this yearning for change, and recognizing that the ugly process should not derail the resolve to achieve an ultimate social good.

From the most global issue to the most personal desire, change – to make or become different – comes with living, yet is rarely a process that can be predicted or controlled. Rather than using that as a source of fear, embrace the process and all of its ugliness and unpredictability. Because through that process, change is realized, and progressed is achieved.

And that’s a beautiful thing.


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