When Taking Action Threatens the Status Quo – Don’t Default

07 October 2011, by A. Cedilla

Status quo :

“The state of things; the way things are, as opposed to the way they could be; the existing state of affairs.”

“Status quo” is a different animal from “comfort zone”, although it’s very easy to take one for the other. You both get used to them, and they can help make you feel safe and stable. Just as you know the boundaries of your comfort zones, you know what keeps the status quo, and in both case your general approach is usually this: Don’t rock the boat. Just keep quo-ing.

You may have also heard this one quote about the definition of insanity : doing the same thing each time and expecting a different result. Repetition with the intent to change just isn’t possible; You give the same-old, same-old, you get the same-old, same-old. Period.

But if the status quo just isn’t doing it for you anymore and you’re desperate for a change, how do you get though without rocking the damn boat?

You don’t. Same-old, same-old, remember? The only choices are to rock, or not to rock. (Pun intended). The hidden choice is how to end up on top.

Beating our idiom to death, in this situation the stability of the boat overshadows your trust in your ability to get it back on an even keel or to survive the occasional splash and the rarer full-body immersion.

So that’s one: fear of rocking the boat, or challenging the status quo leads you to see the situation as bigger than you, beyond your control. Remember that, we’ll get back to it later.


Everything is in a changing state. If you’re mostly comfortable with the rate of change, no problem. You have a systems that’s flexible and responsive, working to support you as things show up for you to deal with. When the shifts come fast and on top of one another, that’s when you get ragged around the edges.

Too much of this-and-that, and with only one of you, there’s only so much to go around. With a support team and a support system, you’d fare better, but if something comes along that, haha, blows you out of the water, you’d better be prepared to swim.

That’s two: preparation, which means having foresight and taking action. You take charge before you get caught unawares.


That’s where you can use the fear as fuel. You see a threat coming at you, you move out of the way, right? That’s pure reflex.

Fear in its physical manifestation — a racing heart, senses hiked to red alert levels — enables you to fight the threat or run from it. Fear in its mental manifestation, on the other hand, can freeze you, leave you grinding to a halt, or succumbing to panic-driven decisions.

To use fear as fuel you need to flip the view: instead of seeing the threat as bigger than you, take a few breaths and calm yourself down before assessing the situation as an intelligent being with the know-how and the power to deal with the issue, not an insect about to be stomped on.

You see, the best horror movies work when you can’t see the monsters precisely because you can’t see them. Your imagination goes into warp-speed thinking of all the things the shadows are hiding. You make your own monsters.

And they say the smoothest things in your own voice, too. “I can’t, it’s too much, there’s no other choice, it’ll never work out. I’m doomed. I’m dead. Might as well lie down right now.”

Screw that. Turn the lights on. You don’t do anything, you get: eaten, fired, reassigned, whatevered. Keep a light out, you’ll get to see things coming from far away and have the time to move to protect yourself.


When you’re at a crossroads, if you freeze, you get left behind — or risk getting run over. You let go of your power to choose, to act, and to make a difference. You’re stuck with:

“…the way things are, as opposed to the way they could be.”

You default.


What makes it so hard to make a change for the better?
The status quo feels stable.

It’s familiar: You know it, you know how it goes, you can deal with it. It feels…safe. And if something affects that sense of safety, alarms ring so loud you’re deaf to everything else but the need to get things “back to normal” as fast as possible.

Even if normal isn’t the best, or if it’s painful as hell.

Even if you think that normal is stagnant and you’re making a dying. You know “normal, you can deal with “normal.” What’s strange and new (and threatening)?

No, thank you.

That’s how you can yearn to pull your hair out when talking to your friends about their problems. You can see the root cause (and the solution) right in front of you, they can’t. It’s normal for them.

You, on the other hand, also have the choice of flipping the spotlight on yourself by asking a few trusted friends about your own “normal” that you can’t see. Bet you would be surprised and/or miffed at what you’ll hear.

Seth Godin shared the warning signs of defending the status quo in his blog, and he has very good warning indicators in his bullet list. Here’s two more I’d like to add:

  • You focus on keeping the money safe – putting more weight on the financial cost than the other tangible (and intangible) benefits.
  • You cling to the circumstances or scenario which causes feeling of safety: when the scenario changes, the feeling goes away. So when you want that feeling again, you try to keep the same scenario, or recreate it, even if it brings with it the same old problems.

The danger lies into holding onto an external thing to create an internal event; doing, having or holding onto X, Y or Z to feel secure, content, safe. But, as the late Steve Jobs explained in his 2005 Stanford commencement address,

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

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