As I sit here on a cloudy spring day, I’m cheered by the knowledge that several of my clients are making big changes in their lives and work and that in some small ways, I might have had a hand in that change.

These are no small changes, either.  We’re talking cross-country moves, leaving behind bad jobs (and bad companies), doing unfamiliar work because it’s exciting, joining the ranks of the employed in a target city, taking on new and challenging roles, aligning career goals with life goals.

For years I studied and led organizational change, struggling to move stagnant operating models and ancient business processes from the ‘as-is’ to the ‘to-be’.  My colleagues and I fancied ourselves as catalysts for change, doing the dirty work of engaging hearts and minds so some vision of the future could materialize.

In many ways, the changes my clients are experiencing follow the playbook of change that my fellow Change Management practitioners and I so zealously deployed.

I can’t help but see some of those ‘best practices’ reflected in the actions and mindsets of my clients who are leading their own, personal changes.  Seeing these overlaps, I got to thinking – ‘is organizational change and personal change all that different?’

The way I think about it – change like a recipe, you can dial up or down some of the ingredients, but you can’t leave anything out.  The ingredients are the building blocks of the dish, without an egg a cake just isn’t a cake (it’s a sad, lumpy pile).

The same is true for change – if a key ingredient is missing, the change isn’t going to stick (or even get off the ground).  As I reflect on the changes my clients are making, I’m noticing that they all have the key ingredients – those same ingredients that were so necessary for driving change organizationally.

Change – despite the context or setting, has a recipe. 

Here is my take on that recipe, based on my observations of those who are successfully navigating change and my experience leading organizational change:

  • A clear and compelling vision for the future.  If you don’t have a strong sense of where you want to go, it’s difficult to plot a course to get there.  More importantly, though, you have to know why you want to go there, and your why has to be powerful.
  • An inherent dissatisfaction with the status quo. For change to really take hold, there has to be a stick to accompany the carrot.  The carrot is your vision, the stick is your discontent.  It’s the classic formula for behavior change in humans: we change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.
  • A public declaration of intent.  Most of us make changes to improve something in our life or career, we are looking for something better – this is about overcoming complacency and increasing the odds of success.  When you communicate the subject of your change to others, you are more likely to take action and that change is more likely to materialize.  There’s also a strange thing that happens when you let your network know that you’re seeking something, they help you find it – increasing your chances of success in your change.
  • A group of influential people who challenge and support.  Just like a Steering Committee comprised of senior executives selected to guide and support a major project in the corporate world, we also need people whom we trust and respect to guide us along our change journey.  There are a lot of roles to fill but some of the most critical are motivator, BS detector, shoulder to cry on, listener, connector, editor, coach, cheerleader, role model,  optimist, pessimist and that one person who won’t let you give up.
  • A set of actionable steps that navigate towards the desired future state.  It may not be totally clear all the things that need to happen to get from point A to point B, but one must have a plan.  It’s here that many get stuck, not sure what to do to bring their vision to life, so overwhelm sets in and they fall back on the path of least resistance.  This is where having your own personal ‘steering committee’ comes in handy – both for guidance on the path forward and for that kick in the pants to keep going.
  • Constant monitoring and evaluation.  I guess this is the ‘Project Management’ side of change.  It’s not very sexy but its necessary.  In the context of personal change, the monitoring of progress becomes dual.  It’s about where you’re at on your change journey and strategizing on your next steps but it’s also about looking inward and understanding the progress you’ve made there as well.  There’s a self-awareness that is cultivated when something worthy is pursued and while you may not achieve the vision you set out to achieve, there’s sometimes as much or more value in the pursuit.
  • A willingness to get creative and experiment with new thinking and methods.  The path of change is not linear, its more like a bowl of spaghetti – twists and turns, forward and backward.  There is no ‘one right answer’.  Change is more about trial and error than it is about having the perfect sequence of steps.  It’s inefficient, messy and there’s a lot that is unknown – it’s one of those things where you just have to get out and start trying stuff.
  • A relentless pursuit of the vision, despite setbacks.  Progress is not only measured by the successes. There will be setbacks – bombed interviews, dead-end jobs, crazy people, endless conversations that go nowhere, rejection (all real-life setbacks my clients have endured).  Discerning the learning from the setbacks and applying that knowledge to chart a different path forward is how breakthroughs are made.
  • Celebrating progress and the growth resulting from change.  It may seem like change takes forever, and no progress is being made when that lofty vision remains unrealized but this would be wrong.  Despite goals remaining unachieved, there’s tremendous growth in the pursuit of something better.  There’s nothing better for motivation than this reminder and the celebration of being a better version of yourself.

Just like you wouldn’t start preparing a meal without first checking if you had all the ingredients in the recipe, it’s not wise to set out on a big change without first checking to see if you’ve got all the prerequisites for success in place.

The clients I’ve been lucky enough to coach along their change journeys are experiencing success because they did the hard work of bringing their change to life, making sure they head the ingredients as they pursued their lofty mission.  I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Neill Beurskens is Founder of This Fearless Life and creates profound change for incredible people looking to get more out of their life and work. To explore the possibilities of a life lived fearlessly visit