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6 Life Lessons on Embracing Change and Impermanence

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“Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.” ~Karen Kaiser Clark

Life can be a persistent teacher.

When we fail to learn life’s lessons the first time around, life has a way of repeating them to foster understanding.

Over the last few years, my life was shaken up by dramatic circumstances. I resisted the impermanence of these events in my life and struggled with embracing change. When I resisted the lessons that change brought, a roller coaster of changes continued to materialize.

When I was seventeen years old, my immigrant parents’ small import-export business failed.  From a comfortable life in Northern California, they uprooted themselves and my two younger brothers and moved back to Asia.

The move was sudden and unexpected, catching us all by surprise. I was in my last months of high school, so I remained in California with a family friend to finish my degree.

I spent the summer abroad with my family, and then relocated to Southern California to start college upon my return. Alone in a new environment, I found myself without many friends or family members close by.

Life was moving much faster than I was able to handle, and I was shell-shocked by my family’s sudden move, my new surroundings, and college. Their relocation and college brought dramatic changes, along with fear, loneliness, and anxiety.

I felt overwhelmed by my new university campus and its vastness; alone, even though I sat in classes of 300 students; and challenged by the responsibilities of independence and adulthood.

Everything I had known had changed in a very short period of time. I tried to cope the best I could, but I resisted the changes by isolating myself even more from my new university and surroundings. It was the first and only time in my life I had contemplated suicide.

Several years after college, having achieved my career goals in the legal field, I started a legal services business. I helped immigrants, refugees, and people escaping persecution who’d come to the U.S. to navigate the hurdles to residency and citizenship.

I invested money, time, and my being into my law office. Not only was I preoccupied with the dire legal situations of my clients, but I also confronted the ups and downs of running a business.

Starting and running a new company is not easy, and mine was losing more money every month. While I found the nearly three-year venture immensely gratifying because of the lives I was able to help, it was time for me to move on.

It was a difficult decision, because I thought I’d found my career path. My life became engulfed with changes once again as I tried to close the doors to my office, close my clients’ cases, pay off my debt, and seek employment.

In between university and my business venture, I married a beautiful, gifted girl in India after an international romance. We were married for ten years and endured many of life’s personal and professional ups and downs together. Despite our problems, we both struggled to keep our marriage together.

When the tears dried, the counseling sessions did more harm than good, and our communication ended, we separated and then divorced last year. The ending of our marriage felt like the shattering of an exquisite glass vase into a million pieces.

I met the closure of our marriage first with strong resistance and then with profound sadness and loss. How could something that I valued so much and believed to be forever, cease to exist?

As much as I fought back and resisted each of these events in my life, I’ve since learned to embrace the impermanency of my life and the changes that come my way.  

Here are 6 lessons life has taught me on embracing change:

1. Reduce expectations.

In each of my life’s circumstances, I had high expectations for my family, my business, and my marriage. I had expected each to remain constant and to last forever. But I’ve learned that nothing lasts forever. Nothing.

You can have reasonable expectations of how you’d like something to turn out, but you can’t marry yourself to that result. Reducing or having no expectations about a relationship, a business, or a situation can help you accept whatever may come from it.

When you set reasonable expectations, and don’t expect or demand a particular outcome, you’re better able to manage any changes that do come your way. Unreasonable expectations of life, however, will likely be met with loss, disappointment, and pain.

2. Acknowledge change.

For the longest time, I refused to believe that change was in the realm of possibility in a situation. I’ve since learned that change can happen quickly and at any point.

Be aware that change can happen in your life. This means understanding that things can and will be different from how they are now. Acknowledging change is allowing it to happen when it unfolds instead of approaching change from a place of denial and resistance.

3. Accept change.

I desperately tried to prevent and stop change from happening in my business and marriage by trying to forge ahead even in futile situations.

Instead of resisting, allow change to unfold and try to understand what’s transforming and why.

Circumstances will not turn out the way you want them to, and it’s perfectly all right. Embracing the situation can help you deal with the change effectively, make the necessary shifts in your life to embrace the change, and help you move forward after the event.

4. Learn from the experience.

If you accept and embrace change, you will start looking for and finding lessons in it.

When dramatic changes were happening in my life, I refused to acknowledge them at first, so change left me distraught and without meaning. Once I reflected back and finally accepted the changes, the lessons I started absorbing were profound.

Change becomes your greatest teacher, but only if you give yourself permission to learn from it.

5. Recognize you’re growing stronger.

When you accept, embrace, and learn from change, you inevitably grow stronger. The ability to continuously accept change allows you to become as solid as a rock in the midst of violent storms all around you—even if you feel afraid.

6. Embrace the wisdom.

The more I permitted change and impermanence in my life, the more I grew as a person. Embracing change has brought newfound strength into my life and surprisingly, more inner peace.

When you proactively embrace change and learn to accept it as a part of life, you are filled with more calmness, peace, and courage. When life fails to shake you up with its twists and turns, you realize that changes can’t break you.

You’ve reached a level of understanding in life that some might even call wisdom.

While by no means have I reached that place called wisdom, I’m working through my aversions to change. I now openly welcome and embrace it.

When we can accept change, learn from it, and become all the better for experiencing it, change is no longer our enemy. It becomes our teacher.

Photo by amslerPIX

Avatar of Vishnu

About Vishnu

Vishnu blogs about overcoming challenges in life and spirituality at his blog www.vishnusvirtues.com. He currently blogs from Biolley, Costa Rica.

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  • Derek Caldwell

    Dealing with change and expectations while still holding on to the American Dream has been my challenge. My goto source and formula for success is god, love and my kids and in my world and their all one and the same. I say this because change is inevitable as you mentioned but it sure helps having something that never changes to get you through it. To me that is what life is all about. Finding your formula, validating it, cherishing it and possibly passing it on to loved ones.

  • Criola

    Beautiful writing Vishnu, thank you! The wisdom of real life experiences speaks through all your words. It’s not easy lessons you share, but yet so very true. Thanks again and all the best to you.

  • Hope

    Thank you for such a beautiful article.

  • Melah

    Thank you :)

  • Blakekersey

    I needed that. Thank you.

  • Meg

    Every word here is True. I am struggling with dealing a major change in my life. This article has helped me to become optimistic about my future and embrace it.

    Thank you!

  • Johanna_Galt

    Great article, Vishnu. Accepting that change is inevitable and becoming comfortable with that fact is something I’ve been working on a lot lately. Your 6 tips are all right on. The first one reminds me of something Pema Chodron says in one of her books — to just lower your standards and relax. I’m a recovering perfectionist, so that can be difficult for me, but just remembering the words helps. I also really like number 5. Reminds me of a great quote by Louisa May Alcott:
    “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
    If we can be confident in our abilities to handle whatever life throws our way, we needn’t be afraid of change. In fact, like you, maybe we can even learn to embrace it.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose Alannah Rose

    Everything you’ve written here is true, and I have had many similar experiences to you.  It’s a hard lesson to learn but change is inevitable and the more you try to stop it from happening, the more painful the experience is!  Thanks for this wise piece – best to you!

  • http://www.byjanet.net/purple Purple Panda

    loved getting to know more about you and your story :) just read an article about divorce.. 

    i love the ‘reduce expectations’ advice. it always makes me laugh because I always think of the “Lowered Expectations” skit on SNL that they had.. but its so true! you SHOULD lower your expectations.. that way you don’t get disappointed either way. I’m a hardcore Buddhist in the fact that non-attachment comes fairly easy for me now a days. 

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Yes, accepting change, no matter what formula you use is a good idea, Derek. This is something that worked for me but I think we each will have to find our own. I think just coming to the realization I needed a formula and change happens was a big discovery for me:) thanks for your comments.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

     Thanks Criola for reading and your feedback. The lessons were hard but writing it was easy:) The lessons also make me who I am today.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Thanks for your kind words:)

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

     thank you!

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    thanks, I’m glad you liked it.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

     thanks Meg. Just sharing my experience. It’s a lot easier to reflect on change and understand it than when I was going through it. I’m glad you found the post helpful.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Thanks for your comments Johanna. Lowering your expectations of how things should turn out is very important I’ve found out. And thanks for your quote by Louisa May. It takes awhile to learn  how to sail when you’re in the middle of the storm:) but once we do, we can handle any storm. 

    Being able to embrace change was not an easy lesson to learn but once I realized that it was in fact a lesson, I started embracing it. It did take some time to learn the lesson but like I mentioned in the post, life is a persistent teacher:)

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    I loved reading about your experiences, Vishnu…I’m going through a similar situation now in that almost everything in my life is changing. Stability? Forget about it!
    But, like you, I’ve learned to grow through change. It really is an awesome teacher. =) One thing I’d add to your 3# (Accept change): accepting it doesn’t mean liking it. That’s been a big help in getting me to accept change - just realizing that no, I don’t have to like the change, but it’s happening anyway…so might as well make the most of it.

  • http://10stepstofindingyourhappyplace.blogspot.com/ Galen Pearl

    So true, all of it.  Marriages ending, discovering my son was autistic, parents dying, life threatening illness–so many big and small changes.  I always tried to control it, either forcing changes I wanted, or resisting changes I didn’t.  And how did that work for me?  Not so great.  I finally wore myself out.  Making peace with change (at least most of the time) was one of the most important things I ever did.  

  • ariellabaston

    :) It gets easier over time for sure. After two divorces, 25+ moves, and several entrepreneurial ventures that didn’t lead to permanence, it’s all just a blurry stream now. It’s a blurry stream of BENEFIT mind you! All change is for the better, otherwise it wouldn’t happen.

  • http://twitter.com/downfromtheledg downfromtheledge

    I think we believe we will somehow beat the system: we’ll go out and gather all the stuff we want in our life, build a big fence around it, and pretend we get to keep it forever. 

    What actually happens is we’ll get robbed, lend stuff out we never get back, maybe our whole stash will burn down and we’ll be left standing alone.  We can’t stand feeling powerless and having no control, so we repeatedly rebuild our stash without taking the time to get right within ourselves first.   

    I’m not sure we grow to LIKE it, but eventually we have to surrender to the multitude of losses we’ll endure in a lifetime.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

     Janet, thanks for dropping by. I don’t know if I want to say reduce expectations as much as don’t be married to a particular expectation or result (no pun intended :) ) If I expect or demand a result, it usually means a lot of suffering follows. I can want certain results but don’t demand them anymore. I’m impressed with your ability to live a non-attached life! Buddhism and a lot of other practices for non-attachment are helpful to teach and guide us.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Thanks Alannah, it’s good to know that others can relate. It doesn’t make one feel alone and inspires all of us to accept change even more. Change is a part of life and you’re right, the more we stop it, the more pain follows. 

  • Jenn

    That was awesome. I’m going to share you’re story with a couple of close friends. You totally broke that down to where I can understand. :0) And I hope this brings a smile to your face as you have not only helped me, but two more people with your story. Take care. :)

  • Jody Lamb

    Awesome article, Vishnu! Thanks for sharing your story.  “Over the last few years, my life was shaken up by dramatic circumstances.” You’re not kidding! Goodness gracious. Most people I know would get swallowed up in anxiety over and fear of only 10% of the changes you’ve experienced over the last few years. You’re such an inspirational person.

    #3 Accept change spoke most to me. “I desperately tried to prevent and stop change from happening in my
    business and marriage by trying to forge ahead even in futile
    situations.” I have allowed myself to do this at many points in my life, too. As troubles in my family worsened and as my life became more negatively affected by it, I decided to continue pretending that the troubles would just go away and I could just deal with its destructive impact on my life. It took me years, in fact, to recognize that I had dismissed every opportunity to change my life and my outlook on these troubles. Thanks for the reminder that change, while scary, may be there for a very positive reason.

    “Embrace the wisdom.” – The wisest thing I’ve done is to decide to be a sponge to the words of those who’ve sought wisdom and found it. Words from people like Vishnu!

  • Nicole

    Thank you so much for this. It gives me hope and was exactly what I needed during this difficult time.

  • Dark1130

    Thank you for the insight. This is so true and part of the journey. It hit home. Thanks.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

     Thanks for sharing your story Galen. Forcing or resisting change does not work – we all find out the hard way:) Glad you were able to come to terms with change in your life.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

     thanks for your comment DL. i know the feeling of not getting stuff back:)

    we can’t keep things forever as much as we like to think we can.

    and you’re right, we don’t like to feel like we have no power over certain things in our life but coming to that realization was a life changing event for me.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    time certainly helps but sounds like you’ve had a lot of changing life events! I never felt changes were for the better but now that I reflect on these events, I do think ultimately things are better for the lessons they’ve taught me. change is now my teacher:)

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    glad you liked it and could relate Kaylee. Acceptance is not enjoyment, as you rightly point out:) Making the best of change is really the only way to live. thanks for your comments.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    I’m glad it hit home. Change is part of the journey. As long as we live, change will happen so might as well embrace it:)

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

     Good wishes your way during this challenging time in your life Nicole. I’m glad you found the post helpful.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

     Glad you liked it and thanks for sharing with your friends, Jenn.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Very happy to hear you liked it, Jody. Hard to figure out what change really means when going through it and we’re usually not looking for lessons during moments of change. It’s usually only later, with time and more life experiences that we come to understand why things happened in our lives.

    Lol on the words of wisdom – there are a lot wiser people that me:) I just learned a lesson that kept repeating itself in front of me. Thanks for dropping by and your comments!

  • Peggy Dold

    LOVED THIS.  Thank you.
     

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

     thanks Peggy. appreciate the feedback.

  • http://alwayswellwithin.com/ Sandra / Always Well Within

    Vishnu, It was wonderful to learn more about you and your life.  At the same time, I appreciate the wisdom you’ve shared about embracing change.  That’s been difficult for me, so I know all that you’ve shared here with us is absolutely true and the short cut to sanity!

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    I think writing about my experiences was a lot easier than having experienced them:)

    I’m now more open to change and embracing it but was quite resistant to change before. Life-changing events are an opportunity for us to understand, experience and embrace change more:) Thanks for your visit and comments Sandra.

  • http://www.breakingthehabitofme.com/ Breaking The Habit Of Me

    Thanks Vishnu,

    This is very timely for me. Number 1 in particular. I may be reading this over and over in the months ahead.

    Brilliant post

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

     thanks for the wonderful feedback – really appreciate it Keith. #1 took me some time to figure out but once I did, it changed my life:)

  • http://www.vidyasury.com/ Vidya Sury

    Happy to read you here, Vishnu. Such a well written post.
    I learned, very early in life, that change can be an opportunity to stretch out of that comfort zone and discover capabilities hidden within me. This helped as I grew up and although my corporate career, looking back, seems like a natural progression from where I began to where I ended up when I quit that lifestyle, at each point, I explored a different path, embraced change and grew.

    As a child, it wasn’t always easy to be teased about not having a father and while I did not really feel bad about it, the constant jibes would hurt. I knew I had to change my attitude. And did.  Not belonging to a wealthy family and having to sometimes scrape for things also brought its own set of grief. It is funny how fellow human beings will look down upon others who are not fortunate enough to be blessed with material stuff

    The biggest changes I’ve had to tackle were mental – and thus, no.5 speaks to me.

    Thank you for a great read!

    Lori – so great to see Vishnu here!

    Love, Vidya.

  • Michael

    Very timely for me as well. Closing a mental health practice, losing my father, and subsequent relocation of family members has left me feeling adrift. Things and people and goals that have always been present are now part of the past. I can certainly identify with the anxiety mentioned in the post.
    I will remind myself of lessons 5 and 6 in the upcoming days and weeks. Thank you.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    It sounds like you’ve experience a series of changes in a very short time Michael. I’m glad you could relate to the post. It was my journey from resistance to acceptance of change. I wish you well on your journey and thank you for the kind words.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Thanks Vidya – it sounds like you’ve experienced your fair share of changes in the corporate world and in your life. And come out all the stronger as you write to share with, motivate and inspire others.

    I think all change is difficult, even those within our mind. But when I realize I’m growing stronger in the process and more available to accept changes in my life, it’s worth it. Glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for commenting Vidya!

  • kayu

    Hi sir,
    really uo’r article made me tu realise mnythgs n my lyf wch i crossed so far, albeith m nt so strong enuf tu face evathg tat cam tu me so far………
    bt uor words gave me enuf of courage tu face ths world…
    i hop i ovr com al the untoward thngs tat hpnd wd uor encouraging words……
    thnx alot

  • Xtina

    Wonderful!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/justine.kyomuhendo.9 Justine Kyomuhendo

    Dear Vishnu, your article touched my heart. No 1. I had so many expectations and only postive ones. No 2. I never had time to accept change. I knew accepting change was giving in to failure. I dropped out of University in my second year and had two years down with malaria because I failed to accept change. I was angry with everybody around me and couldn’t smile for some good time. I only realised that I was growing older. I failed to accept my poor background and wanted to change every mountain into a gold mine which wasn’t possible. I surely suffered!

    I now belog on some websites and encourange others to be postive, try their best but also to remeber not to burnout when things don’t turn the way they expect them.

    God bless you and Wish you the best!

  • Bhavana

    I love this post so much…I came to the right post at the right time..gratitude

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful message and lessons in this post! Thank you for sharing yourself, and experience! :)

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Glad you enjoyed it.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Thank you for your feedback. Glad you found it helpful, Bhavana.

  • Anamatt

    I had a hunch that much of my anxiety from shifting to another country for several years and having my self-worth depend on the University degree from that foreign country might have been caused by the inability to accept that I was in new surroundings. I kept trying to look for constants, e.g. the use of English, familiar brands and foods etc. but the sense that something was wrong never went away. You’re totally right – if you don’t learn your lesson life throws you the same thing over and over until you finally learn. And hopefully now with this realisation I can start seeing things in a different light. Continue writing!

  • kavin paker

    Have faith in yourself. I think you will be surprised by how much you will do, all in good time!
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