“REMINDER: everything changes”


So, this happened …

When I was 0, I could only drink milk.
When I was 1, I loved solids. Apparently.

When I was 5, I proposed to my nursery school teacher.
When I was 6, I was still unmarried.

When I was 10, I was part of a perfect happy family.
When I was 10 years and a month, my father was dead.

When I was 10.1, I denied my father’s death. It must be a bad dream.
When I was 10.2, I was angry. Why me? Why him? Damn you God.
When I was 10.3, I bargained. If I was good, would God please bring him back?
When I was 10.4, I became depressed. I was one parent away from being an orphan.
When I was 10-and-a-half, I finally accepted he was gone.

When I was 13, I vowed never ever ever to smoke.
When I was 14, I was already smoking daily.

When I was 13, I was single.
When I was 15, I was dating A and knew it would last forever.
When I was 17, I was dating B and knew it would last forever.
When I was 19, I was dating C and I knew it would last forever.
When I was 21, I was dating D and I knew it would last forever.
When I was 23, I was dating C again and this time I knew it would last forever.
When I was 25, none of A, B, C, or D were in my life.

When I was 7, I wanted to be a scientist who invents a machine to extinguish volcanoes.
When I was 8, I wanted to be a fireman.
When I was 15, I wanted to be a mathematician.
When I was 16, I wanted to be a computer scientist.
When I was 17, I wanted to be an actuary.

On one Sunday afternoon at 15:55, I was driving down the highway in my car, listening to music.
On that Sunday afternoon at 15:56, I was hit by a car going 1.6x the speed limit, according to the police report.
On that Sunday afternoon at 15:57, I regained consciousness, my car (now a write-off) was slightly folded and resting against a giant pole.

In the 1970s, I enjoyed Disney music as a child.
In the 1980s, I was obsessed with 80s music.
In the 1990s, I was obsessed still with 80s music.
In the 2000s, I enjoyed 2000s music (especially if it sounded like 80s music).
In the 2010s, I don’t remember caring about music.
In the 2020s (so far), I enjoy Disney music with my children.

When I was 16, I read “Catcher in the Rye” and thought it was the best book ever.
Around 20 years later, I re-read it and found really disappointing.

In my teens, I could see three moons of Jupiter with my naked eye.
In my 20s, I needed distance glasses to see the traffic lights clearly while driving.
In my 40s, I needed reading glasses to read the menu in a dark restaurant.

When I was 30, I loved goat’s cheese.
When I was 32, I was allergic to goat’s cheese.
When I was 34, I was happily eating goat’s cheese again.

In my teens, I had callouses on my hands from going to gym.
In my 20s, I had swollen knuckles from always punching through roof tiles and wooden planks, during my martial arts training.
In my 30s, I had callouses on my fingertips from playing the electric bass guitar.
In my 40s, I had sore finger joints as my years of training came back to bite me.

In the 1990s, there was no amount of money you could offer me that would make me give up working. I loved my job.
In the 2000s, I started calculating how much I needed to retire.
In the 2010s, I was too busy to think about whether I wanted to work or retire.
In 2020, I made a massive change that put lifestyle ahead of promotions and money.

In the 1980s, I wanted to get a tattoo that said “The Cure”.
In the 1990s, I wanted a tattoo that said “𝚪”.
In the 2000s, I wanted a tattoo that said “Words don’t describe your world, they define your world”.
In the 2010s, I wanted a tattoo that said “🎼”.
In the 2020s (so far) I don’t want a tattoo.

On 1 January 1990, I lived in Johannesburg.
On 1 January 2000, I lived in Tel Aviv.
On 1 January 2010, I lived in London.
On 1 January 2020, I lived in Hong Kong.

At the start of May 2015, if you had asked me if I wanted children of my own, I would have said clearly “No!” like I’d said 1000 times before.
By the end of May 2015. I knew that I really wanted a child of my own.

In 1995, I was speaking at actuarial conferences about HIV/Aids, and the impact it’s going to have globally.
In 2018, I spoke at several actuarial conferences to warn the profession that even “mini-pandemics” can have a massive impact on our industry.
In 2020, we were living through the worst pandemic in over 100 years, locked down, watching it spread across the globe.

At the end of 2019, most of the world wasn’t even aware of the breakout in Wuhan.
At the end of 2020, we were still in a bad way, but felt optimistic because the vaccines were coming.
At the end of 2021, we were still suffering from Delta, realizing the vaccines were not the perfect solution. Then Omicron arrived.
Now, in the middle of 2022, we are either on the way to normalized living with endemic Covid, or things are about to get a whole lot worse, and we don’t even know it.

Simple Definition

REMINDER: Everything Changes: This #hashtag-story reminds us that change is a fundamental defining feature of our lives. We can deny it and fight it, but only by accepting it and building on it, can we create a life filled with happiness.

Summarizing what it means

Harvard Business Review gives us “Ten Reasons People Resist Change”. Forbes explains “The Big Reason Why Some People Are Terrified Of Change (While Others Love It)”. And Psychology Today wants to know “Why Is Change So Hard?

And it’s true – people are terrible with #change.

  • When things are good we don’t want change, but when things are bad we can’t wait for change
  • When things start changing, we often start by assuming the changes will be bad
  • When we don’t like the changes, we refuse to accept them – even though there’s nothing we can do to reverse them
  • And every time things change, we act all surprised, as if we live in an unchanging world.

In reality, it comes down to being in denial about #change.

  • By accepting that change will happen, we don’t have to fear it, and so we don’t have to fight it
  • By appreciating that change is the rule, not the exception, our mindset will always be on how best to respond, rather than being upset about each new change
  • When we realize that everything changes, we learn to be less attached to whatever exists now
  • When we admit that our attitude to change can affect us more than the actual consequences of the change itself, then we get better at responding, not just reacting
  • When we’re realistic that we cannot possibly know the medium- and long-term implications of a change, we’d be less quick to judge and more comfortable just accepting
  • And noting that change can bring good things, can produce improvements, can deliver our dreams, then we would welcome the changes more readily.

Change doesn’t change who you are, change is who you are.

Reminder: everything changes.

Discussing what it means

Lesson 1: Everything changes

#Change is broad, very broad. That is why the inability to cope with #change is such a problem.

  • If a good thing deteriorates, that’s change
  • If a bad thing improves, that’s change
  • If circumstances remain the same, but our attitude evolves, that is change
  • When we run out of time, that’s change
  • When it starts to rain, that’s also a change
  • Getting an idea from a book or a movie, means you’ve changed
  • Starting a relationship, ending a relationship, beginning a new job, getting fired, getting promoted, changing teams, moving to a new country … it’s all change
  • When your phone battery dies, that changes things
  • Trying a new restaurant, a new dish, a new hat, a new position … that’s change
  • Deciding that you’ll only read the first section of this #HashtagYourLife chapter, and then realizing right now that you actually intend to read the whole chapter below … is change (it’s good change).


Lesson 2: Your attitude to a #change is more important than the change itself

You started reading this chapter feeling emotionally neutral. But when you saw “everything changes”, your mind may have started looking for examples of things that never change. And now your emotional state has changed from neutral to argumentative.

For example, you think that 1+1=2 never changes. It’s maths. And you’re right.

But that mathematical fact doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Very few people were thinking about “1+1=2” today as a general knowledge fact. It only comes up in the context of something.

  • If you’re the parent of a 3-year-old child, “1+1=2” represents aspiration, it represents the gateway to the world of maths that your child must pass through
  • If you’re the parent of a 4-year-old child who is still not immediately answering “2” when you ask “1+1=?”, then “1+1=2” has changed to now represent a point of frustration for you
  • If you’re the parent of a 5-year-old for whom “1+1=2” is as obvious to them as it is to you, then “1+1=2″ has changed again, and it now represents a so-called “hygiene factor”, something that is super obvious and no longer requires thought (unless someone gets it wrong).

Or let’s use a more adult example. Say you’ve recently been dumped, and (as things turn out) you will never get back together again. So that breakup can’t change, right? Wrong!

  • You start off totally upset after the breakup
  • After a while, the breakup hasn’t changed, but now you’re not thinking of them as often anymore
  • Then, while the breakup continues (uhm, forever), you start to get optimistic about what your future holds
  • Eventually, with the ongoing breakup, you’re already noticing that you’re benefiting from being single – perhaps focusing on yourself for a while, prioritizing your own needs for a while.

The breakup didn’t change, but the relevance of the breakup changed substantially. Everything changes.

And finally, I remind you that my father died when I was a young child. And he’s still dead today. But the pain has gone down since then, and the reminder I have about the certainty of death goes up every year (it’s good to accept one’s mortality). Sadly, the number of people who remember him continues to reduce, but the number of stories I tell my children about him continues to increase.

So, while you can zoom in and think you’ve found something that doesn’t change, remember that everything exists in relation to something else. And so context changes, opinion changes, usefulness changes, importance changes, relevance changes.

And your attitude to things – even apparently unchanging things – changes. Therefore change is only bad if your attitude towards that change remains bad.


Lesson 3: You can’t control #change, so stop that fantasy

We tell ourselves that at least choosing a change is better. It’s better to be in control. Yes?

Sure, it feels different when you leave a job because you want to, versus leaving because you’ve been fired. It’s the difference between wanting the change, and having the change forced upon you.

But we forget that it was your changing circumstances that resulted in your feeling enough of an “itch” to want to make the change in the first place!

In the job example, why did you choose to leave the company, when previously you had chosen to join the company? It might have been because you got a better offer, but something changed such that you were open to that offer in the first place. It was once your ideal job, but perhaps you ended up with a boss that you no longer liked, or pay that wasn’t keeping up with your expectations, or a commute that was more painful that you thought it would be.

The Butterfly Effect tells us that a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane.

And where you are now is the outcome of countless billions of changes and decisions. Genetic outcomes, actions taken by others, the roll of a dice, food poisoning the day before your big exam – it has all brought us to this moment.

And yes, you are making decisions and changing your future. But fundamentally you’re being swept up by the tide, making small adjustments along the way. At any moment, what seemed like a great change to make, can end up producing terrible results.

This isn’t bad news, and it’s not meant to depress you.

It’s just a reminder that while we can initiate change, and we can make some adjustments, we can’t control it. When you accept that, life gets so much easier.


Lesson 4: #Change can be bad, and that’s OK

Some people believe that everything happens for the best. I disagree.

Of course, change can be good! A good wine ages, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, or your resilience grows from each challenge you face.

But sometimes, change sucks.

I can think of many examples in my own world of pointless suffering and death, of good decisions based on good intentions that ended up with bad outcomes, from which the person didn’t recover.

When that happens, remember the following:

  • Lots of changes suck, and that will happen throughout your life
  • You can fight it, deny it, refuse to accept it – and add to your unhappiness
  • Or you can accept it, make the best of it, and move on – thus adding to your happiness (regardless of whether your happiness took a hit after that change).

If we tie this to the previous lessons, it double-reminds us that, whenever things change (and remember: everything changes), the key to happiness is to accept the change and then build on the change.

And if you do that right, you can end up in an even better place than before the change. (The story of #[The dog on the rusty nail] is a perfect example of this.)


Lesson 5: Death is a big #change, and that’s OK too

It is painful to lose someone close to you. It can be debilitating for a time. But it happens.

In fact, there are billions of people on this planet who have already lost someone close to them. And most of them are OK. Sometimes it takes a fair amount of time to get there, but generally, people move on with their lives.

Are you going to fight death? Will you be surprised when it happens around you? Are you going to allow the only certainty in life – that we all die – to derail you and mess up your life, even though you aren’t the one who died?

And what about when it’s your time to die? What about people who know their time is coming soon?

It seems hard to imagine accepting one’s rapidly-approaching death, but it’s possible. And it’s the right approach.

I learned this in a weekend course I did many years ago through [Art of Living]. We were asked a simple question:

“What’s the least you need to be happy?”

We had to discuss this in small groups:

  • In my group of five people, we quickly dropped wealth as a necessary requirement for being happy. It’s nice to have, but you don’t have to be wealthy to be happy.
  • We then decided that as long as we had our health, we could be happy. But then someone was quick to point out that there were a lot of people in the world who are not healthy, but still find happiness. Good point.
  • We concluded that, as long as we weren’t dying, then we could still be happy.
  • But then …
  • … I remembered visiting a close family friend in a hospice. He was dying of skin cancer that had spread, and probably only had days to go. I remember sitting by his bedside, listening to his jokes and laughing with him. He was dying, he was so close, and at that moment – laughing together – I could see that he was happy!

I mentioned this to the group and we all paused to think about it.

We eventually realized that we don’t need wealth, or health, or even the confidence that we aren’t going to die soon.

All we needed to be happy was the decision to be happy. No matter how bad things are, no matter how close we are to that final change, we can choose to be happy.

Confession: I’m not being flippant and suggesting it’s an easy thing to do. But it is doable, and it’s the right thing to do. If you or someone close to you is facing death, there are a number of excellent books that you might consider reading: When Breath Becomes Air, When Things Fall Apart or The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying.


Lesson 6: We can never really KNOW a #change

When something changes, when something goes wrong, we can become unhappy. But we don’t actually know what the alternative would have been. Neither do we know what the implications of this change will be in a week, a year, or in a decade.

Priorities change:

  • Your focus on sports when you’re younger might be impacted heavily by an injury, which – apparently – changes everything. Terrible. But 10 years later, when you’re more focused on your career, you look back at that change and realize how little it actually meant.
  • You really wanted a Bohemian lifestyle as a musician, but rejection after rejection prevented you from following that path.  You change careers with a heavy heart. Two years later you’re loving being a graphic designer, and you start to appreciate that in fact you just wanted to be creative – you never specifically needed to be a musician.

Size doesn’t matter:

  • A small change can have massive implications. You get annoyed for dropping your phone and cracking the screen before getting into a taxi. But what if that 5-second delay actually prevented you from being involved in a terrible accident just 15 minutes later?
  • A huge change may make little difference to you. As I write this, there is a war in Ukraine. It’s a terrible act of aggression which is creating pain, suffering and death. But there are many people whose lives are effectively no worse because of this change.

What happens next?

  • Sometimes, nothing happens next. You panic that a comment you made in a meeting will change everything, people won’t respect you anymore, and your corporate prospects will worsen. And then … nothing. No one noticed, no one cares. Nothing happens next.
  • It might end up being for the best. Perhaps you mourn having to change schools and leave your best friends behind. But you don’t realize that the change will take you on a path which allows you to meet the partner with whom you will build a family and live happily together for decades.
  • The change might trigger a new opportunity. Your loss of a job and the resulting financial stress allowed you to start your own business, which leaves you much better off.
  • The change might trigger a new attitude. Your bubble bursts when you overhear a school friend or work colleague mocking you behind your back, but what if that triggers your determination to make changes which leave you in a much better position later on.

We don’t know what other changes will be brought about by this change, so try not to dwell on your current stress, and just focus on building on this change, towards a better future.


Lesson 7: #Change creates the potential for happiness

Imagine we all lived forever. What would you do when you woke up every day?

Death is the ultimate #change.

Death gives us the ultimate #FOMO.

You’d be in no rush to do things, because … you’ve got eternity to read that book, to finish that crossword puzzle, to learn the Vienna Opening in chess. You don’t need to work on the perfect relationship because you’ve got time to try date every single person on the planet.

What would drive your passion? What could possibly excite you after you’ve tried everything? What would give you the buzz of excitement from taking risks?

No wonder Dracula was such a grump!

The potential to be happy comes from the fact that death is waiting for us.

We have a time limit, so we feel pressure to do the good stuff. And this motivates us, pushes us, inspires us. “I sense death, therefore I do.”

A great glass of wine, a steaming coffee, or the perfect chocolate-chip cookie … would we get as much pleasure from them after having had thousands, knowing we will still have millions more?

It’s the fact that we have a time limit that creates the potential for true joy. It’s the fact that each bad outcome has stolen one of our finite remaining moments, which makes the good outcome – when it does happen – so much more special.

Therefore, not only does everything change, but it’s the existence of these changes (from small things like eating at a restaurant with a broken coffee machine) to big things (like our own impending death) that creates the potential for joy and happiness.

“Everyone dies, and we’re the lucky ones.” (Richard Dawkins)

Welcome #change. Even the bad stuff!


Lesson 8: Denial denies us lasting happiness

A common strategy for change is denial:

  • We pretend nothing has changed (even though everything changes)
  • We lie to ourselves that things will soon get back to how they were (believing that change is the exception, not the rule)
  • We negotiate with reality (as if the laws of physics, for example, were within our control).

This is fine. Meme. Dog surrounded by fire.

But denial does not solve things:

  • It takes constant effort to pretend that things that are, actually are not
  • Denial perpetuates the bottled-up irritation inside
  • It leaves us accepting a lifetime of mild unhappiness, instead of looking for the change that will bring about long-term happiness
  • It delays the point of reckoning, the moment when your mind realizes that denial is not working, that it cannot work.
  • It prevents you from building on the change, which is ultimately what would leave you happier than if the change had never taken place.

And the silliest thing about denial is a lesson we got from #[Pigs on my birthday cake]:

Being in denial requires us to be in denial about being in denial.

In other words, there may be something that you’re in denial about. And here you are, reading about denial being bad, and you agree that denial is bad, and you insist that you’re not in denial about anything. But actually, you are! (Click on the link if your instinct is that, perhaps, this is a lesson you need to explore for yourself.)

Further, drinking to forget, is no solution. Filling your life with work to cover up the loss in your personal life, will not make happiness happen. Smiling at your friends and family when they ask how you’re coping, hoping you start to believe yourself that everything is fine, is not the way, no matter how many times you do it.

Accept the change. Then build on the change.


Lesson 9: Changes Change (love your #change)

Some people make the terrible mistake of becoming passive observers of the world, bravely accepting whatever happens to them, but also not fighting to get what they want.

This is wrong.

  • Yes, everything changes. But that shouldn’t stop us making improvements after every little change.
  • Yes, we have to accept that change has happened. But we don’t have to accept the impact that the change has on us.
  • Yes, even the change that has happened will change too.
  • But being in a state of denial, all the while waiting and hoping for it to change back again, leaves us at the mercy of constantly being tossed around like a leaf in a storm.

You don’t need things not to change in order to be happy.

But you don’t need a new change to happen, in order to be happy either.

This is definitely one subtlety that the Stoics got right. Their philosophy is not about “take it on the chin” or “stiff upper lip” or “repress your feelings and endure”.

No, it is through their belief of Amor Fati that we see it’s not about denying change, or tolerating change, or about indifference to change.

Instead, Amor Fati tells us to love our fate. And since everything changes, change is our fate, and we should love every aspect of it.

That doesn’t mean that we should love it and cling to it (because that would be suggesting that we want that change not to change – and that’s self-defeating).

  • We should love it because it’s going to happen anyway
  • We should love it because that’s part of accepting and not denying
  • We should love it because it allows us to appreciate the lesson which it brings into our lives
  • We should love it because then we actually see it for what it is, not what our emotions are trying to make it look like
  • And we should love it because that opens us to building on it, for a happier future.

#Change will happen (after all, everything changes). But your attitude to change is the key to ongoing and increasing happiness.

Reminder: Everything Changes.

Making it personal

Everything changes, so there’s nothing in your life that you could think about, that would be irrelevant here.

Take out your #HashtagYourLife journal (is it a paper one? a password-protected Word document?) and write down some thoughts on the questions below.

There are some big-picture themes that are worth contemplating …

  • Do you accept that everything changes?
  • If not, where are you still resisting that idea?
  • Think about the last few big changes that happened in your life … how much of the stress came from your attitude to the change (including what you thought others would think about your change), and how much from the change itself?
  • Write down a couple of examples of changes that made you really unhappy, that ended up working out well
  • Now write down a couple of examples of changes that seemed great at the time, but ended up being unhappy outcomes.

Where are you sitting (literally) right now, as you’re reading this chapter?

  • If you’re at home, what changes over the years led to you being in this home, in this city? Go back 10 or 20 years to bring all key events to this moment.
  • If you’re in a coffee shop, why did you choose this coffee shop? Take everything in the last year (and this morning!) that contributed to you being in this coffee shop, right now?
  • If you assume that one change in your life was responsible for you reading this chapter, what was it that made you want to understand #change better, and so persisted your way through this chapter?

Given that #[Dog on the rusty nail] is a strong theme within this chapter, also go back to your notes in the Making it Personal section of that chapter, and re-read those. (Or go answer those questions for the first time, now.) Are there any lessons for you, when you look at the two chapters side-by-side?

And here’s one important final question to ask yourself?

  • If you could bring about a positive change in someone’s life, would you do that?
  • Would you take a few seconds to share this article with a close friend or family member who needs to see the messages above?

Can you be the cause of positive #change?

Related stories

#[Dog on the Rusty Nail]
#[Pigs on your birthday cake]
#[Just put your name in the damn hat!]
#[What if I get on the wrong bus?]

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