How to Overcome Your Resistance to Change

Grinnell’s diverse culture helped alumna examine her core beliefs
Tequia Burt ’98

When English major Deborah Helsing ’88 initially arrived at Grinnell College, she felt incredibly out of place. “It was a very different culture than what I had grown up in,” she says.

Helsing had come from a pretty homogenous environment, and Grinnell, she says, “was so open to experimentation and had all kinds of people who claimed diverse kinds of identity and difference, that it was shocking to my system.”

Ultimately, Helsing says it was “powerful” attending school with students so open to defying traditional ways of thinking. Even late professor Peter Connelly’s unconventional teaching of Oedipus Rex in her First-Year Tutorial opened her eyes to new literary ideas.

It has been in that “transformative” spirit that she has approached her job as a lecturer at Harvard University Graduate School of Education and as co-director of Minds at Work, where she coaches education, business, finance, and nonprofit leaders to diagnose and overcome their resistance to change.

“Often there is something deeper involved when we find ourselves unable to confront a crisis. Our work helps people identify the underlying barriers and unconscious beliefs that we have about ourselves or the world that keep us from being able to make change or grow,” Helsing says.

The coaching that Helsing provides, which grew out of theories of adult development and learning, helps people see more clearly the obstacles in their work and personal lives and why they might struggle to face these challenges. Helsing’s coaching helps to serve as a change-agent for leadership at organizations experiencing pressure to evolve.

Her work can also help people with individual problems, such as trying to lose weight, quitting smoking, or stopping procrastination. But it can also be vital when identifying fundamental cultural beliefs and values related to important and uncomfortable issues like, for example, race in America.

“Our approach helps people begin to explore those core beliefs, where they come from, and how are they impacting their life right now,” she says. “We might ask people to do things like imagine that you find out these beliefs aren’t true. What would your life be like? What could you do? How would you think differently? How did you feel differently? When do you notice that your assumptions are operating?”

It was at Grinnell that Helsing first learned the importance of being able to deeply examine your core beliefs in order to be able to grow and flourish.

“It was fundamentally jarring to have these conversations with people who approached an issue opposite than I did or saw the world completely differently,” she says. “Being able to have a really open conversation with them taught me how considering another perspective can lead to growth.”

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