How to deal with uncomfortable change

There are two certainties in life… death and taxes! I’m going to argue for the addition of a third – change!

Change is inevitable, and although I generally love change, I’m prepared to admit that the process isn’t comfortable and it can be terrifying. For financial advisers, RDR brings a whole bunch of changes and you might be feeling all sorts of emotions.

In this post, I want to explore the change process and see if we can give people that are resisting change, the chance to understand that whilst they might feel like they’re going to die in the process, they really won’t. I think there are two ways to approach change:

  1. You look at what’s going on and prepare for it – this is by far the best option
  2. You are blind, or choose not to look at what’s going on and get caught by it – this is not ideal

A personal crisis

In February 2012 my partner decided to end our 9 year relationship. I didn’t see it coming, and maybe the signs were there and I wasn’t paying attention, but to me, it happened suddenly. By April, she had uprooted our children from the UK to South Africa. The boys were aged 3 and 1 and I was devastated.

I’m willing to admit that I descended into a pit of desolation. However, you can’t stay there forever, and faced with the prospect of running a growing business in the UK without my family, or coming to South Africa and stepping into the complete unknown, I chose the unknown. I had a simple and very clear vision – my relationship with the boys.

I sold or gave away everything I owned, including my business, the car, the house and all it’s contents (except my golf clubs… there are limits!). Everything! In 6 months.

I literally arrived in South Africa with two suitcases, my golf clubs, and a desire to be with my children. I didn’t know anybody, and nobody knew me. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to survive the experience.

It’s uncomfortable to write this, but it’s relevant, and what I’ve discovered, is that it’s in this place of uncertainty  that you find out what you’re all about.

Five years later, the experience has changed me. As a result of the experience, I’m a better person than I was. I have faith I didn’t possess before. I have friends I didn’t know. A wife, a completely new business, the list goes on and on actually. There’s so much to be grateful for. I even have a good relationship with my ex, despite all the shit we went through.

And it was impossible for me to see any of that at the start. I just saw pain.

The change process

There’s a pattern here.

On my travels, I’ve discovered a change process, originally created by Virginia Satir which was designed for use with families, but applies in a business context too. I’ve adapted it here to fit the circumstances we face as we try and move financial advice from an industry to a profession. It’s featured in my own professional journey and if you hear me speak about the four stages of The Evolution of Financial Planning, you’ll see this pattern repeated through each stage.

The pattern works like this:

There is a current status quo. A current ‘normal’ if you like. It’s how things are at this moment in time. It’s comfortable for us. We have a degree of certainty and we feel at ease. Life is okay.

Then along comes a ‘foreign element’ and something happens to shatter the illusion.

As the foreign element is introduced, we begin to descend into a painful place and our narrative changes. “Clients won’t pay fees” and “The regulator is killing the industry” are two common responses that take us down that path to denial, fear and ultimately chaos. It’s a horrible place.

We’ll stay in that place and we’ll be looking for answers, until we have a new idea. A transformational idea!

The transformational idea gives us vision and new hope, and something to look forward to. It gives a sense that all is not lost and there may be a way out. It’s a defining moment. It’s what I’m trying to share with advisers in the future financial planner workshop

Then comes the hard bit. All the bloody effort. In order to get this transformational idea in place, we have to take action and do stuff. Difficult stuff. Stuff we’ve never had to do before, and in faith that it will all work out. It’s called GSD. Getting.Shit.Done… and, oh my word, there’s a lot of it! Often, we’ll need the help of some special people to get through it, but we start climbing the other side, the pain eventually recedes and we find ourselves in a new status quo. A new ‘normal’ – one that, if we’re crystal clear about why the transformation is important, is better than the old one!

And all of a sudden we realise that we’ve changed. We’ve become something more, something extra, something better than we were before.

And for a while, we sit there in our new normal, feeling at ease. Life is okay again, until another foreign element arrives to take us once again through the inevitable process of change. You’ve got to love it really. It’s called progress.

Transformational ideas

If we can get to the transformational idea as soon as possible, then we’re likely to spend less time in the anger, denial and chaos phase.

I recently attended the Justice Conference. It was one of the most inspirational couple of days I’ve ever had and also one of the most uncomfortable. But sitting with this discomfort is absolutely necessary, as part of the journey through change. Transformation doesn’t come easily.

I heard two things at the conference which really struck me, and I want to share them with you.

“Crisis is not the time to be making decisions. Crisis reveals the decisions we’ve already made” 


“Do not waste the pain of the experience. The end result should be better than if we had not experienced it. The future is better than it would have been had we not been through it”

If at all possible, find the transformational idea long before the foreign element arrives. Be alert to what’s happening. The longer it takes to get to the next transformational idea, the longer the pain will last.

Like death and taxes, change is a certainty. If change is being made for important reasons then we need to embrace it, live in the discomfort, seek the vision for the transformational idea and GSD until we have a new normal.




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