On Embracing Change

Nicholas Chieng - Brazil


November 24, 2014

For me, change is intrinsic to fear.

It is human nature to fear what we can’t necessarily control. It’s how we’ve been raised. I think we can all agree that being comfortable is good, right?

We like familiarity. We like routine. We like relatability. It’s new things like the future, an ominous gassy sphere of unknown, that truly scares me. Why? It’s because I can’t predict it and I don’t know what it is exactly—it’s uncontrollable. For instance, this year is that sphere of unknown;  this sphere could either explode or it could be a success.

I have a love/hate relationship with change. I don’t innately like change. At all.

But embracing change is an everyday battle I struggle with every single day. I would go as far as to say that I love the feeling of comfort so much that sinking into my fluffy penguin pillow pet, on my cozy couch, in my Merino Wool sweater, with a cup of hot chocolate sounds divine right now. But would I have been happy?

Probably not.

So I decided to take on Global Citizen Year in an effort to force myself over and over again to embrace change because I know that this year will change me. I’m going to shake up routine, dabble in new things, push how long I can stay in my stretch zone, humiliate myself, and set myself up for potential failure. But why do I keep doing it? Why do I talk to random strangers on the bus in my broken Portuguese? Why do I nervously come out of my room and initiate awkward conversation with my host parents who don’t speak a lick of English? My fear of the unknown is ultimately triumphed by the fear of regret and not taking risks. At the end of the day, I would have rather tried and failed than to not try at all. I’ve spent so many years sitting on my butt reading others’ adventures, and now, I want to see the world more for myself. I want to write those stories, not just read them.

For me, change manifests itself in travel. Embracing change is something I have to be constantly aware of and work on. Ultimately, the benefits of change, the positive results of challenging monotony greatly outweigh the risks. So I’ve come up with why change is a good thing and why we should all embrace it.

1. Change leads to flexibility

I used to be inflexible and always needed to have control of everything. By embracing change, I’ve learned to go with the flow; because of all the changes happening in my life right now, adapting to new situations has become easier. Instead of awkwardly trying to give someone I’ve just met a handshake, I’m able to lean in for a kiss on the cheek and wrap my arms around for a hug. Of course, I still have that bit of fear and nerves inside me whenever there are changes forced upon me during this year, but I’ve realized fear is natural. Fear’s actually not bad because it means I’m growing.

2. Change wipes out the “what-ifs”

Once I was settled in during In Country Orientation (ICO) with Lagoa Da Conceicao, my host mother, and public transportation system, I didn’t want to go to my permanent homestay. Well, I wanted to go, but that would require change and discomfort, right? Leaving Lagoa Da Conceicao in Florianopolis was the hardest thing I’ve done since moving to Brazil. I had just made connections with other Fellows, my host mom, and Lagoa Da Conceicao itself. Now, I have to adapt to Garopaba and its people and places. I was full of anxiety and unnecessary stress about something I couldn’t control.

I understand that of course we’re here in Brazil to develop leadership skills and to step out into the stretch zone, but if I was given a choice  to go to my permanent homestay and apprenticeship in Garopaba, would I have willingly chosen to go?

Choosing between the familiar and the unknown is probably one of the hardest choices to make. Except, thankfully, I didn’t have a choice. What moving into a completely new environment has taught me so far is that I will change. But how? Life is change. Growth is optional. Pick one. Pick carefully. Life is embracing change. If I didn’t embrace change, then I wouldn’t grow. Growth is optional, but change isn’t. So embrace it. Embrace speaking a new language. Embrace the struggle of saying “palavla” instead of “palavra”. Embrace the new way to greet strangers: hugs and kisses.

3. Change widens your vision and opens your mind (the world becomes bigger the more you’re open to change)

We’ve all gotten stuck in a certain way of thinking and behaving that we completely shun change. But I’ve found that thinking only a certain way over and over again really limits your perspective of the world and its people. So when you embrace change, you’re essentially learning to think and live differently. Change liberates your mind to help you see outside of yourself.

For me, travel whether domestic or international has worked. Before this experience, I would always tell everyone that travel is the best catalyst to open your mind. But it’s not for everyone, and saying that travel is the best and only way to open your mind is actually small-minded.

4. Change is a lifestyle

Change is hard. Change is a battle. But the fight is worth it at the end. I’ve learned to not waste my time comparing myself to others. This is my journey and my change. Dream big. I’ve learned to control my fears. Embrace change with open arms and move forward into the unknown instead of running from it. For me, there’s nothing more glorious than looking back at my choices with pride instead of regret.

Nicholas Chieng