I was once accused of being a band-aid ripper and to be fair, of that I am guilty. When I know there is something that has to be done, no matter how much it might hurt, I would rather hurry up and do it…like now. I would rather just take the medicine and not try to hide it in something else because inevitably you still taste the medicine or choke on it anyway. I see no need to draw out a process just because it might not be the most pleasant. For me the same goes for tough conversations. I always appreciate bluntness, especially when it is something important, or even difficult. When I was climbing the career ladder long before I realized it was a ladder I didn’t want to be on, I found most people don’t in fact carry that same mindset. Most people just aren’t band aid rippers.
Most of us can imagine for example, the dreaded budget meetings we’ve spent sitting around a table for hours with someone trying to smooth over almost everything but not saying anything. We’ve all sat checking our endless emails while pretending to listen to a boss beat around the bush with the buzzword of the week, slowly pulling off the bandaid. Wouldn’t it be nice however, if they could just get to the point tell us the changes that needed to be made…budget cut again. Then, we all would have been able to search for solutions with that wasted time. I generally ended up more annoyed with the attempt to make the bitter pill easier to swallow than whatever it was they were asking me to do, as much as it sucked. I’m not a fan of sugar coating on anything but Jordan almonds and creme brûlée. But I’m learning…I have learned, after listening and observing behaviors, that most people really aren’t that way. Most people are so worried about the very idea that it might hurt that they will drag out a process forever or avoid it entirely. I have read plenty of articles and been told by leaders that I respect that those who are quick to adopt something new, are quite unusual…that most people need time, a lot of time, to adjust.
Fine. I accept it. People need time, especially to adapt to a big change. Change isn’t easy for anyone really. Change stings and none of us are immune to it. None of us.
One of the many bummers of being a band aid ripper is when you finally realize that any real change can’t be rushed and that we all really do have to be patient. As a ripper, our sense of need to get the ugly over with real quick just isn’t possible all the time and that’s pretty frustrating. Real change, the kind that lasts a lifetime is a lot of work. It is days in and days out of being uncomfortable. It stings. During the process of change, it is gonna get ugly before it gets pretty and that’s not fun to even think about. Some people will tell you you’re crazy embarking on a new big change, and maybe even try to talk you out of it. The process of change, whatever change you are making is just like getting a tattoo.
I used to explain the process of change by comparing it to tattooing when I was working in schools as an administrator and coach in buildings undergoing major transitions. These were high drama environments going through school closures and massive downsizings. High change and high stress. For days and weeks on end people were uncertain at best, their footings in quicksand ready to panic, unable to see any good from the situations they were in. People were nervous, hurting, and people were afraid. I did my best to offer anything to help ease them and help them understand the process. The best I could offer was this story most days. My colleagues looked at me like I was a crazy, but understood where I was coming from after hearing me out. Tattooing is a perfect metaphor for major change.
It begins with an idea that may not even be your own. A spark to commemorate a moment. A tribute. A drunken declaration. A desire for something different, and a readiness to take a risk, a necessity.
You plan a tattoo for a while, hopefully. You don’t want to embark on a major change you haven’t really put thought into and truly considered because this one will be around for a long time, maybe even forever. Maybe you dream about how awesome it would be. Sometimes there is a subtle itching sense of need, or a transformative moment seemingly out of your control that is the absolute decision and the Universe made it for you. But you know it’s going to happen.
You may ask yourself a series of questions before you start. ( Talking Heads ear worm?) Where is this going to take place? How long might it take? What is the cost? Am I sure this is what I want? How much is this going to hurt?
The first step is made, the decision to change. Then you think about a shop, an artist, the person you will have to trust to help you with this. The person to help bring this change to fruition. If this is a first, it is probably a little scary. So you ask for recommendations, find people who have done it and seek out someone you could trust to go through the process with you. You make an appointment and the nerves are there the first time you step into a tattoo shop because it finally begins to feel real. You meet the artist, and talk about your vision, start on a drawing, an outline, a rough draft and a plan. Put down a deposit and now you’ve committed and it’s really only the beginning. Maybe a few days or weeks pass while you’re waiting for the actual appointment before you meet again. You might collaborate again to modify the rough draft or sketch and then…get ready for the pain. The first step, that commitment to change feels real. Meanwhile you’re waiting….patiently, nervously, excitedly waiting because it takes time.
When the actual process of putting it, the tattoo, the change into place begins, a delicate template is drawn out to act as a reminder of the plan and it is a true first glance of possibility. Flimsy tissue paper with only an outline in that strange purple carbon color of childhood dittos that will stick to the skin is carefully aligned with curves for the best possible, most pleasing fit. As the paper is pulled off, the sketch remains and this is the first time the change becomes visible, but only partially. You and your artist know there is so much more to that idea that just what we initially see, but neither of you are going in blind. There is nervous energy, perhaps fear or maybe a giddiness. The artist prepares, laying out inks and washes getting everything ready. Knowing the process they have the ability to anticipate needs, to make the process as smooth and clean as possible. Start the machine. Needles dip in the little ink filled thimbles. Pause, assess the starting outline. You ready? That first poke, when the needles begin to drag across your skin, is shocking no doubt. You may question what you were thinking in deciding to undergo this process, but you started so you better keep going. This isn’t something that can be left unfinished. You remind yourself why you wanted to do this in the first place, you envision the final outcome.
Drawing on the skin with deliberate concentration following the plan, a there is bit of pain. Wipe (always the worst part for me) and observe. Take time to assess how the actual process is matching the draft as this change is happening. Make adjustments, if needed. Perhaps a bit more color, add to the background…ink, pause to observe, repeat the discomfort. Continue slowly and deliberately (don’t forget to breathe) until the whole plan is in place. Mostly.
When finally finished it looks good, fresh and bright and there is a sense of relief that the pain is finally over. But there has been pain in the process and the process isn’t really even complete. Not yet.
Then the healing begins. Tender and delicate, that change to your skin must be treated with care in the early stage. There is still pain, it is sore, sometimes surprisingly so. Bright sunlight that normally would make you curl in a chair like a cat with a smirk on your face, instead feels like bathing in lava reminding you there is something new and different there…be gentle. There may be spots where the ink, the change didn’t quite stick, maybe a scab or a little spot that is extra sore that must heal on its’ own with time. The change may have been too deep, or perhaps there was resistance and your skin rebels a bit. Change isn’t easy. As the healing and time move on your new tattoo gets dull, maybe peels a layer and itches like crazy. Most people don’t tell you it gets ugly for a while until your body finally adjusts. But you adjust with time and care, and then beauty shows.
After the initial healing, with the passing of time and time alone, the process can continue if it is needed, if it is a big piece or if it’s not exactly the way you wanted. You can revisit for final touches, highlights and special attention to those resistant spots, but those final adjustments, that attention to detail will just have to wait until the initial healing is complete. The process will all be there again, every time. The pain, the waiting, the discomfort will all be repeated and yet you know it is all worth getting it right. Change must be revisited too to keep it right.
Despite what was written in our high school yearbooks, to never change, we will change. Thankfully. We will change jobs. We will change our bodies, our habits and our minds. True change, like a tattoo takes time. It is work and sometimes it really, really stings but those spots are different for all of us and so is our pain tolerance. For some of us the pain is cathartic, for some it is chaos. Some of us embrace the pain as the pathway to beauty and offer it on up to the Universe. Some accept it as growing pains and some people just know that in order to get the end result we want, we have to suck it up buttercup. A tattoo truly hurts more in some places than others, just as some changes are harder than others to make. Big changes take more time too, obvious when you think about it in tattoo context right? One thing is certain, it will never be the same and it really can’t be un-done. Tattoos and change are personal, and carry with them great stories, and I believe that will always be something to be proud of. So treat the entire process with care. Don’t skip steps. Reach out to those in the know, don’t go it alone, and please remember that it won’t sting forever. Don’t forget to heal and be kind to yourself throughout the whole process. It ain’t gonna be easy but when it’s all said and done it is yours, it is you, and you are beautiful.
And yeah, odds are your’e gonna want to do it all again. I know I will.