I had been a smoker for almost ten years, till a very good friend of mine was diagnosed with lung cancer. Terrible news, almost unbearable.
What’s so funny in such situations is that the person who is probably suffering the most worries about the ones around, tries to ease their pain, and to find ways through which they won’t have to go through what he/she is going through, and that’s what happened to me: this dear friend of mine told me she didn’t want me to die, nor to suffer in the future from a terrible illness. She asked me to quit smoking. And after having smoked one pack a day, for almost ten years, I just quit. Was it difficult? No, not at all. Did I miss it? No, not a second. Weird? No, not then.
It was then 1999. What I called “change” was a habit that seemed innate, almost unconscious. In those years I was able to change like a chameleon: adaptation was my most valuable asset, which undoubtedly has brought me very far and has been responsible for a great deal of my growth and achievements, personally and professionally. I liked change, and still do. I love it (otherwise I wouldn’t be a coach). However, the way it happened then calls my attention now.
According to Wikipedia,
“when a person is described as chameleon, the reference to the animal is generally a commentary on the person’s ability to blend into various social situations, often to mean the person has no true values, or that he quickly abandons them in company if it’s convenient to do so.”
As I myself have just used the word chameleon to describe what I used to do, I wonder how much of this definition applies to me, and to what I used to describe as “change”.
My conclusion is that the most valuable thing to me then was to be accepted by others, and not, under any circumstances, be criticized by whomever it might be. Perfection was my goal, and I used the level of acceptance of others in order to measure the level of my own perfection. That meant that my own values, my needs, my preferences, my ideas, my dreams, ME, were disposable, less important. I would never ask myself what I really wanted, what I missed, what I liked or what I longed for. I would, with the snap of a finger, pretend they didn’t exist, or never existed. As a chameleon I would “change”, and I thought it showed the world I was able to change.
Looking back, I can see how naïve I was. Denying my need to smoke, for example, protected me from failing, but didn’t help me succeed. Telling everyone I didn’t miss it showed them I wasn’t weak, but didn’t convince me I was strong. Not having a cigarette showed others I was reliable and trustworthy, but that was only the outside color of the chameleon. All of that belonged to the new ME I had turned into, but not to me. That was a new ME that missed a piece of me.
I’ve been smoking again, for a few months already, and recently I’ve had the feeling I want to quit. Yesterday the chameleon in me said we were finally going to quit, old way. From that moment on, I was not going to smoke anymore. I was not going to think about it. I was not going to talk about it. I was not going to tell anyone I had quit. From that moment on, smoking did not belong to me anymore. I was going to exorcise it. Out of my life. Out of me. Out.
But what I experienced consequently was something new. I realized that if I simply quit I wouldn’t have really changed. I would have again denied myself, who I am, what I want and what I feel. I would have hidden a part of me, and tried to create someone new. I would have repeated a pattern, and something told me this pattern does not help me anymore. Something told me this pattern makes me shrink, instead of making me grow. Something told me that pattern isn’t really what “change” is supposed to be.
And then I freaked out. I didn’t know how else to change. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do otherwise. It felt unsafe, unknown. There was no-one to tell me what to do. No-one to ask me to do it for them… I had no way out. I stood still. And then I heard myself tell myself,
Ok, Sandro. In the past you’d deny who you are and just become someone new. You’d call it “change”. Now, don’t deny yourself. What is exactly the matter? What is it that you are going through now? What are the questions you want to ask? What do you really want to do?
This was my answer:
I want to quit smoking, because I think it is unhealthy. My teeth are becoming yellow and it also affects my breath. My clothes smell bad, and so does my right index finger. I love my lungs, my skin, my teeth, my clothes and my hair. I want them to be healthy, to look beautiful and to smell nice. On the other hand, I enjoy smoking. I enjoy having a cigarette when hanging out at a bar with friends, after a nice meal or at the end of a very busy day. Therefore, it will not be easy to quit. Furthermore, it has become a habit again, and my body will certainly miss the nicotine. Maybe it will help me quit if I tell others I have quit, if I don’t carry my own pack, and if I ask my friends to help me keep up with it, and not to offer me a cigarette when they light one up. In fact, what I really want is not to be a smoker anymore. I want to have a cigarette once in a while, on special occasions, if I feel like it.
And this answer has given me a new understanding of “change”. Change is not “black or white”, not “my way or the highway”. Change is colorful. It is dynamic. If I allow myself to become aware of my feelings, my wants, my needs, my values, and of what I consider important for me, I can better weigh the pros en cons, predict difficulties, SWOT-analyze myself, draw conclusions, create a plan of action (and also a plan B, in case plan A does not seem to work) and act. In this process, the ME that now exists will try to cope with this movement. It will integrate it, digest it, adapt to it and maybe even change it. Consequently, it will grow. It will change, and I will change. This change, however, will have been driven by ME. It will have been motivated by ME. It will have happened in me, because of ME.
Something tells me now that I am not a chameleon anymore….
Something tells me I have changed…
… Time for a cigarette.