Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

The Promise and Fear of Change

23 February 2015


Change is a fascinating subject. While nearly every politician around the world gets elected through a promise of change, people are actually afraid of change when it comes to their own environment. Change seems to be welcome when it is general and feared when it becomes individual.

The human fear of change within organisations – or life in general – is a topic of a famous and must-read book called “Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life” (1998) by Spencer Johnson. The book describes change in one’s work and life, and four typical reactions to those changes. I found a free PDF copy of that book for you at the following URL:

Fear of change must somehow be age related. Kids, teenagers and people in their early twenties seem to have much less fear (of change) than many others. I still remember that I felt a sudden fear many years ago during kart racing as I had recently become a father. That fact brought new responsibilities that I had not felt before. Responsibilities for others than myself. I also remember feelings of fear during a certain stage of my career. I haven’t felt such career related fears for quite some years now.

On November 9, 2014 Lucy Kellaway, columnist of the Financial Times, also wrote on this topic: “Losing the fear can be liberating – and dangerous”. She even presented a graph in her column on the very same axis: age and amount of fear. The pattern of the graph is almost the same as I described in my previous paragraph. For those who are interested:

Another famous fear of change is usually referred to as vacation stress. Vacation is supposed to give stress relief but vacation is usually only building up stress. I remember my parents getting stressed while preparing for their 2-3 week vacation and then seeing them return after just 1.5 week and then seeing how they would finally relax (at home). Vacation stress relief tends to take place when people are back in their common environment, either at home or at work.

The fear of change is most prominent in organisations that announce a strategic reorientation (e.g., selling activities, closing down factories or outlets), mergers, cost saving programs or a new CEO. People in the midst of their career have a lot to lose and their new behaviour reflects this.

Sometimes even the welcome promise of a change (e.g., an upcoming promotion) can easily turn into anxiety (e.g., fear of failure).

To me the origin (why) of this phenomenon is far less interesting than the way to deal with it (how). Often fear is denied. I am convinced that makes matters worse. Recognition and acceptance are key in understanding fear. Understanding fear is key to liberation.

I found some remarkable quotes for today’s blog:

– “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” H.P. Lovecraft, American author, 1890-1937

– “Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.” Dorothy Thompson, American journalist and radio broadcaster, 1893-1961.

– “Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely” (Buddha).


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