Thank you, Liz Taylor. She was my childhood change muse, giving me the courage, confidence, and perseverance to become a successful change agent.
To respect her and myself, I should write “Elizabeth Taylor.” Until I read the obits and this Slate tribute following her March death, I never knew that she hated the nickname “Liz.”
And believe me, I know about hated nicknames. Ill-fitting nicknames are probably the only thing I shared in common with the beautiful child actress turned voluptuous Hollywood legend.
My first change project was switching my nickname from “Beth” to “Liz” when I was in grammar school. Once I read Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women, I could no longer bear the name “Beth.” The youngest sister—sweet, sickly Beth—died. That was not me!
“Liz” was more suitable: one syllable, solid, and in my mind, also literary. I was a big fan of Tennessee Williams, especially his plays Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Streetcar Named Desire, and The Glass Menagerie. (Not exactly appropriate childhood literature, but that’s a totally different story.)
The characters’ names Maggie, Blanche, Stella and Amanda didn’t appeal to me, but Liz—as in Liz Taylor who played Maggie the Cat—was a fit. After all, Liz was a natural nickname for Elizabeth and Elizabeth (Liz) Taylor was a shining example of someone who had blazed a trail to fame. (Growing up in Sand Springs, OK, I was probably clueless about many aspects of her fame.)
So I embarked on my first change campaign to influence my family and friends that I was “Liz”—even “Elizabeth”—but not Beth. My campaign included these elements:
1. Sharing my vision. I explained that “Liz” or “Elizabeth” described me better, and I would be happier, do better in school, and be more responsible if my name better matched who I was.
(To make the name change easier for my parents and other relatives to swallow, I tried to find a rationale that appealed to their interests too. I also gave them the alternative choice of Elizabeth, my given name, recognizing that might make the switch easier for them. Some still call me Elizabeth. To me, this was a reasonable compromise.)
2. Creating a sense of urgency. The sooner we all could switch, the easier it would be for all of us, especially for me in school. (Yes, the educational appeal was a hot button in my family so I hit it hard.)
3. Recognizing short-term wins. I tried to remember to thank family members and friends for now calling me Liz.
4. Removing obstacles. I got rid of everything that had “Beth” on it, including my Christmas stocking. Either my Mother or I changed the felt letterings on the handmade stocking to “Liz.”
5. Ignoring the nay-sayers. When people who knew I was committed to my name change insisted on still calling me Beth, I developed selective hearing. I remember I didn’t pay attention to them until they called me either Liz or Elizabeth, generally Elizabeth since they found that the more palatable name.
Over time, they came around—even my little brother who was born a few years after my change campaign. When he was a toddler he figured out that I didn’t like Beth, so that’s what he wanted to call me.
Considering my youth and naïveté, I didn’t follow any of the change models then that I’ve now embraced as a working professional. However, if you look hard enough, you can see elements of ADKAR, David Nadler’s Congruence Model, and John Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model in my initial work.
Back then though, I didn’t know what a change agent was. So I certainly didn’t aspire to become one. Nor did I want to be an actress. Maybe a Pulitzer-prize winning playwright, like my idol Tennessee Williams. However, I’m happy with my career choice—especially considering my track record.
So here’s to Elizabeth Taylor, Maggie the Cat, and successful change!
What’s your change inspiration?
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