10/20/2010 04:00 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Are You Progressing or Staying Stuck?

We've been in an intense, collective change process that had its beginnings decades ago but gained momentum with the collapse of the economy in 2008. Two years into this current upheaval, how are you doing? Have you learned to surf this tsunami of change, or have you been thrown against the rocks and still trying to catch your breath? Are you learning to reinvent yourself and move on, or are you in upset and anger over its impact in your life?

Change is not a tidy process. Anyone who's ever been through a divorce or lost a job knows that endings are often very messy and that starting over can be even more difficult. As Marilyn Ferguson, author of The Aquarian Conspiracy, put it, "It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear ... It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to."

Imagine you've just jumped out of an airplane with no parachute. All you have is a piece of fabric, a needle and some thread. Your task is to make a parachute on the way down and have it completed and opened before you hit the ground.

If all this sounds a bit daunting, that's because it is! Navigating change is like trying to walk through quicksand without being sucked under. Each step needs to be taken mindfully, yet with a sense of urgency.

The trick is in knowing just where to place your foot and exactly how fast to move, for the sands are always shifting and every step carries with it the possibility of either triumph or tragedy. You could step into the abyss and disappear, or you could come down on solid ground and live to take another step. Just ask Sisyphus.

Change doesn't come with an instruction manual. When the rubber meets the road, all bets are off. You can work hard, plan and prepare, and then Life happens. You either end up where you thought you were going or you end up somewhere else. Sometimes the "somewhere else" turns out to be an even better outcome, so don't automatically reject any outcome that doesn't match your pictures. Life has an interesting way of always giving us what we want, even when we don't consciously know we want it.

Assume Responsibility and Move On

Even if your current situation is completely outside your ability to control, you are in charge of how you respond to it. Don't waste precious time being a victim. You might get lots of sympathy and comfort from your friends, but all you have at the end of the day is a nice story, and nothing changes. That is not to say victim shift doesn't happen. But that's not what makes one a victim. Victims are those who get caught in the story and give up their power to it.

Accepting responsibility for your choices sucks the wind out of the critical voices, including the ones in your head. Nothing will free you from the past and help you move forward faster than taking responsibility for your life now. And here's the good news: it also means you get to acknowledge all the accomplishments you're proud of along the way. The buck really does stop with you in both good and in hard times.

Mistakes = Learning Opportunities

If you find yourself in a steep learning curve, consider yourself enrolled in a master class on how to dance on a tightrope in high heels going backwards. Missteps or "mis-takes" are highly probable. Learning from mistakes made early in the learning curve will better equip you to navigate the steepest terrain later on. Or as Michael Jordan said: "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed."

Necessity Is the Mother Lode of Invention

So don't be afraid to fail. If you don't have at least one failure under your belt, it means you've played too small, stayed too comfortable and never dared to color outside the lines. You might as well dive in and get your feet wet! Or as author M. Scott Peck said, "The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers."

We're confronting change on a scale that is beyond anything we've ever learned to comprehend, much less believe in. The key is not to try to hold on to what was, but to learn how to fly with what is. Get used to being uncomfortable. And then reinvent yourself. There are people who are learning to thrive in these difficult times. Why not you?

Please consider sharing what learning opportunities are opening for you. How has the shift hit the fan in your life? What's most challenging for you now? What kind of support would most serve you at this time?

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