When I got back to Hollywood after three months in New Hampshire, a lot had changed.
Streets were blocked off for repairs, changing normal routes into confusing detours, snarling traffic. A wonderful neighbor in my triplex announced he would be moving to the westside in October. And there was a new and insistent change, making immediate demands on all three of us in the building. (Yeah, that guy, up there to the right, batting his baby-blues at you.)
From the timing of his appearance in our driveway, we think he was abandoned when someone moved out of a nearby apartment at the end of August. My soon-to-be-departing neighbor reported that he was so hungry, he tried biting into a lemon that had fallen from a tree. So distraught that he sat on my other neighbor’s doorstep and cried all night. Here was a young cat, used to living indoors, out on the streets, dealing with traffic and, yes, even in central Hollywood, wildlife – the kind that tends to fight with neighborhood pets. This little guy seemed unprepared for all that and dazed and distressed by his new circumstances.
By the time I returned from the east coast, both neighbors were leaving food and water for him. But due to allergies and peripatetic lives, none of us was prepared to adopt him. And so he remained on the street, exposed, which gave me a week’s worth of sleepless nights.
My contribution was lots of cuddles (he was starved for affection, too) and immediate outreach (for some reason, my neighbors hadn’t thought this far ahead). I figured my social media network probably wasn’t wide enough, but I knew two friends – both with extraordinarily kind and generous hearts – who had substantial numbers of friends, acquaintances and followers. I reached out with a kitty profile and photos (hooray for smartphones) and, as it turned out, one of them didn’t need to share across her network – she was looking for a pet.
And I went back to losing sleep over who my new neighbor is going to be and whether he or she will smoke and party every night and leave suspicious things in the laundry area. Y’know, the usual stuff I stress about.
That Darn Cat
I also was left to reflect how far outside of my comfort zone this little fellow’s desperation had placed me.
How, before I got emotionally invested (darn that cuddling!), I could feel myself balking at even acknowledging the existence of a stray cat who’d taken up residence in our driveway.
How annoyed I felt at the intrusion into my work.
How my mind kept racing with questions: What if he got run over? What if a raccoon gave him rabies? What if he was already sick? What if he belonged to someone who was looking for him? What if I took him in and he turned out to have the kitty equivalent of Mr. Hyde lurking inside him?
And how – after he left our driveway for his new home – all three of us confessed to missing him terribly and worrying about him even though we knew he was in a far better place.
You see, usually I’m the one inflicting change on other people. But it reminded me of something we used to say to each other, over and over, on one of the facility-closure change teams I served with: “You never want to get so good at this that you forget what it feels like for the people losing their jobs.”
As professional communicators, we’re dealing with change management 24/7. So it’s probably not a bad thing to take stock, when change hits home, and see – no, feel – what it’s like when our own emotional ball of string gets unwound.
Fear, cynicism, unwillingness to let go, anger, blame, excitement, acceptance, and all the other emotions that experts chart on the change curve, don’t arrive on schedule or follow a neat, sequential line. No, typically they pile up on top of each other, like bad L.A. traffic; they honk our horns and change the pre-sets on our radio dial. They’re the busted car alarms that keep us awake all night.
I’ve learned it’s valuable to remember that we too balk at change, feel uncomfortable in our own skin, and toss and turn all night. It doesn’t mean we’re terrible at change. I think it makes us more effective change managers if we recognize that talking points and trainings and lunch-and-learns often barely scratch the surface of what people are experiencing when their lives are upended and that our feelings about change don’t stop just because we’ve happened to reach that final milestone on a change plan.
What do you think? What important emotional experience – in life or at work – have you learned from?