My 99 Year Old Grandmother's Lessons on Change
She was born in the middle of the First World War, in a city that was just starting to build its first skyscrapers. Early automobiles were just starting to appear on the streets and the telephone had only recently become a common convenience. Over the next 99 years change would come at an ever-increasing rate. If one were to sit back and attempt to take stock of all of the events and advancements that have occurred during her lifetime, it would be almost impossible to fathom. Yet my grandmother, who lives in a skyscraper, watches Jeopardy on television, loves to hear from her 20 great grandchildren on the phone, has gracefully navigated it all. To me, she is truly a Change Management expert and one that we should all listen to and learn from. She, of course, is unfamiliar with the term Change Management and does not have a specific theoretical method. But by simply watching and listening, I learned her formula. She embraces that which improves her life, tolerates what is inevitable and discounts what is meaningless to her… pretty straightforward.
One of my favorite examples of her dealing with change comes from her answering machine. 25 years ago, newly married and broke, we were offered the use of my grandparents condo in Florida in July. While standing in the kitchen with the refrigerator and freezer door open in desperate hopes of lowering our body temperatures, I noticed an index card affixed to the top of the machine. It read, “press the red button and say; you have reached Norman and Jane, please leave a message; press the stop button.” It was explicit instructions of how to record their greeting. It was obvious that they were uneasy with this new technology, and that they were uncertain of how to operate it. Yet she had the insight that accepting it would make it easier for her kids, grandkids and great grandkids to reach out. So she made a point to embrace this change in technology and develop a system to help her navigate the process. This is a simple lesson. Look for the benefit of the change and lean in. Leverage that benefit as the inspiration to find a means to adapt, learn and grow.
When she was in her mid 80’s the family decided it was time to ask her to give up driving. Now in my opinion, this was a few decades too late. I always joked with her that I was convinced she went to Tulane (two-lane) University, because she always aimed the hood ornament of her Chevy right between the white lines of the Outer-Drive and cranked the car up to 36 or 37 and held her steady. When approached with the request to stop driving, she did not fight nor complain. She knew this change was inevitable, part of the process of aging. Therefore, she tolerated it and moved on, sacrificing some of her personal freedom, but recognizing the need. Why do we so often fight a change that is inevitable? We could all learn from her grace and acceptance.
On a recent visit, my grandmother caught me enthralled with my phone. “What are you doing with that thing”, she asked? “Oh, I am uploading that picture we just took on Facebook so the kids can see”, I replied. “I don’t get this Facebook thing, but I know you have a cute face, come give your grandmother a kiss.” She had no need to understand this concept. It was going to be of little consequence to her. So rather than attempt to absorb or worry about it, she just set it aside and let it go. Again, this is a powerful lesson. Don’t we all spend time ruminating on change that will have little if any impact on us directly? Shouldn’t we just set it aside and let it go, rather than feed our tendency to be anxious with something we don’t understand? I would think so.
I am certain of my bias, but I believe my grandmother to be a brilliant lady. College educated, unique for her generation. However, I doubt she would lay claim to being a change agent, yet her life’s evidence proves otherwise. Change happens, how we deal with it can determine both our happiness and our success.
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