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November 12, 2017

Can People *Really* Change? Here’s What It Takes

Do  you think people can people really change?

Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine, and they started digging into someone we both knew—someone I was friends with and supported.

I try my best not to indulge in gossip, but my friend was adamant that this mutual acquaintance of ours was actually a worthless fraud and proceeded to share with me something the person said 5 years ago. A conversation they overheard and were turned off by.

I listened openly, and deemed that yes, the comment our mutual acquaintance made was indeed, gross. Inappropriate, insecure and childish.

But … that was 5 years ago. And also not the person I knew her to be now. In fact, I knew this person to be undergoing a huge personal development shift over the last several years.

So, has this person successfully changed, or is a gross comment shared 5 years ago enough evidence to write the person off for good—once a bitch, always a bitch?

I wondered.

And then I looked back at my own life. Not only the ways in which I have changed, but my ex-husband Jade, too.

As many of you know, several years ago, Jade had an affair during our marriage, but has come out on the other side the most honest, open and communicative person I know. I went from not trusting a thing that came out of his mouth to trusting him more than ever.

You don’t have to “get” this by the way—many people don’t understand how we could be as a close as we are now, still best friends, after such a “betrayal,” but honestly, we have gone to war together, there’s no one I trust to have my back more at this point.

But is my assessment of Jade’s evolved behavior false?

Certainly doesn’t feel that way.

His actions have shown me again and again over the last couple years that yes, he has done a 180 when it comes to honesty, integrity and loyalty. I would trust him with my life.

And if I’d written him off as a liar and a cheat—which he certainly was, at one point—I would have missed out on the amazing and fulfilling friendship we have now (and side note: I am not saying everyone can or should stick by an ex, it’s a completely individual choice, and I would never assume to understand your own situation—I just know that I’ve made the right decision for me).

And I’ve changed, too.

I hate to admit this, but in high school and college, I was kind of a mean girl. Not in a bitchy way, but in a better-than way. I hate talking about it now because I literally get a visceral reaction thinking about it. I was always a good person—jock and a nerd—but for those I felt “above,” I didn’t always treat with kindness or compassion. I wasn’t a bully, I just wasn’t exactly warm or sweet.

Ugh, it was indeed, uh, also gross.

But something happened right after graduation that I will never forget.

I got a job running a corporate fitness center in Washington, DC and I was a Fitness Specialist working with one other gal, who was technically my manager. Her name was Tish. And together our job was to personal train the members, teach fitness classes and be a highlight of their day—pleasant, kind, talkative, greet everyone with a smile and a hello, and you know, just be good at customer service.

I was a little wary of some of the older men who worked out there. Not because they did anything in particular, but as a young woman, I was worried they would hit on me (“Ew, gross.”) and I didn’t want them getting the wrong idea if I was nice to them. I was selective with who I gave attention to.

So silly to think about now. And egotistical as hell! But my superiority wanted to come out and resist showing them warmth, ironically out of my own deep, deep insecurity.

But I remember Tish.

She was only a few years older than me, but acted so much more mature. She always ALWAYS had a smile on her face for anyone who came through the door. She was sweet and generous, almost to the point that you thought it might be fake. But it definitely wasn’t. It was sincere and open and treating everyone with equal kindness and warmth.

Watching Tish, I hated myself.

She was so open, and I was not. She was so smiley, and I was not. She was so kind and sweet and I was not. I was holding back out of insecurity and superiority and it was stupid.

So with Tish as my role model, I just … switched my behavior. Overnight. I just relaxed and gave everyone the benefit of the doubt, and I smiled and chatted and was open and kind. To everyone. It wasn’t hard once I got over myself, ha! In fact, it felt amazing.

And since then, I have never been that closed off, bitchy, insecure, better-than chick.

At least not in my mind, ha! I can never control how I am perceived, but my goal for the last 15 years has been to treat every single person with compassion, kindness, warmth and presence. If we are talking, I want you to know you have my full attention. I want you to feel seen and heard and important.

I don’t always hit the mark, but I will never, ever go back to being that rude, insecure 21-year-old.

So when it comes to change, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t realize the ways in which you could be better until something happens. Like an affair, or a new job, or a loss, or even just someone calling you out.

And I like to make space for that.

If I didn’t feel like I could change, and as a result, have my friends and family see me in a new light, that would really suck.

And yes, sometimes a history of being one way is hard to overcome, but actions speak. Don’t just say the right words, do the right things. And then keep doing them. Like Jade, keep showing up in your new way. And then let the chips fall.

If it’s becoming a consistent exerciser, don’t say you’re going to train. Just … do it. Show up at the gym day in and day out, and the people around you will be forced to see you as someone who trains regularly. You are showing with your actions that you are indeed this new person, most importantly to yourself.

If you are working to overcome some emotional demons in your past like me, don’t just say you want to change, just start acting like the person you want to be. I had Tish to model. Who in your life is modeling the kind of person you want to be? What do they do in the moments when the rubber meets the road? Start there.

If you say you want to build your online business, don’t just keep saying it. Take action, even when it’s hard. Look around you—who has the lifestyle and impact and income that you want? Do they do coaching or mentorship? How can you surround yourself with people living the life you want, creating the things you want to create? Don’t just say you want it, do something.

Action, not thinking, is the first step to change.

Talking in circles might feel good, but if you truly want to change, look at your behaviors. Get super honest with yourself about where you are, and where you want to get to. And then take one small action step in the direction.

You don’t need to know all the steps, just the first one.

And likewise, look at other’s behaviors. Now. Not 5 years ago. Not when you were a kid. Not early on in your relationship. Are you treating them commensurate with how they are acting right now?

I am certainly happy that Tish didn’t treat me the way I deserved to be treated at 21. And I know that Jade is grateful that I can recognize the ways in which he has changed. And for you, maybe give someone in your life the benefit of the doubt. If you are holding a grudge, why?

Just some thoughts for you.

I like the idea that we can change, and that that change can be seen and appreciated by those around us.

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