People Don’t Change…But They Can Evolve

By Liz Bentley

The other day I was at a work cocktail party speaking with the CEO of a world renowned laboratory where our company does a lot of work. He said, “Liz, I’m not sure I really believe that people can change.”  I thought this was a great observation and I wholeheartedly agreed with him.  I noted that we get called into organizations all the time on the premise that they would like us to “change” someone.  And that is not what we do!

Ironically, I was having the same conversation with my son the day before.  He was arguing with me that we can change people and that I had changed him.  I told him that I had not changed him.  Over the course of his life, I had illuminated issues, given perspectives and made suggestions.  It was he who decided what to adopt and what not to adopt and how to apply it to his life. 

In coaching our goal is never to change anyone.  Changing people is the wrong idea because: #1. people don’t need to change and #2. they can’t!  But here is what they can do – they can evolve.  What that means is that people can evolve into a better version of themselves. This is what we at Liz Bentley Associates call “stepping into your power.”  This means living in your full potential and being the best you can be –  an evolution that continues throughout your life. We all have traits that make us unique: the ability to be innovative, detail-oriented, visionaries, task-masters, etc.  These qualities make us successful in the world.  However, we also have emotional struggles that sabotage our ability to perform.

Changing Doesn’t Work

First, let’s clarify the difference between changing and evolving. To change implies becoming a different person or changing a significant characteristic. For example, this could entail trying to change someone from being introverted to extraverted.  An introverted person prefers to work alone and recharges by doing activities independently.  They thrive from solitary time.  To change them into an extravert by forcing them to work in constant collaboration with people and/or continually be around people without breaks would push them to work against their natural strengths.  It would ultimately not work and make the person very unhappy.  They might be able to sustain the change for a short period of time but eventually would go back to their natural style.

Evolving Does

Contrast that with the concept of evolving. To evolve means that you are making adjustments that work better for you to improve your results. In the example of the introvert, they may find their introverted nature is sometimes hindering their success because they are having a hard time working on a team, speaking up at meetings and/or struggling in social settings.  They need to evolve into someone who can fake extraversion when necessary.  For them, stepping into their power could be sharing their knowledge and lives with people to make deeper connections and improve communication.  This slight adjustment (evolution) allows for growth without compromising their natural preferences.  The benefit is that the introvert will likely find they enjoy being around people, being heard and sharing ideas as long as it’s not too much and they get breaks. An introvert faking extraversion when needed pushes themselves to become a better version of themselves.  They will still thrive on classic introverted activities but will be able to adjust to extraversion in order to drive better results.

Evolving Allows Us To Fail

Recognizing that we are constantly working to evolve ourselves is a major part of the journey and is critical to success.  In acknowledging that it’s not a change, but an evolution, enables us to allow for growth through trial and error.  This gives us the needed forgiveness to fail.   When we make it about change, it’s too black and white.  In a mindset of change, we are set up to fail because it’s impossible to change all the time.  With a mindset of evolving, we have the ability to succeed because it’s working gradually off of our strengths, which can lead not only to bigger wins but to a more satisfying life.

Evolving Is Meant To Be Selfish

Most importantly, the goal is not to evolve for anyone else’s sake; this is a selfish endeavor.  We step into our power for ourselves only. We create better versions of ourselves for our own happiness and well-being.  And from that hard work, we find that everyone grows around us.

Don’t look to change, look to evolve.  Strive to step into your power so that you can become a better version of yourself to go from good to great!  By using your natural strengths and being willing to working out of your comfort zone, the possibilities of success are unlimited.  Plus, the emotional self-sabotage is greatly reduced.