Choice or Compromise?

I’ll never forget an interview I did for my book….. One afternoon a mid-forties woman who had three sons joined me for coffee in an artsy bakery in Pasadena, CA.  She agreed to talk with me about her transition, triggered by an empty nest.  Shortly after we began we unexpectedly turned our focus to an earlier transition, her decision to leave the workforce.  She offered, “there was a lot of pressure on me to buy into the concept of being a full-time mother.” Her husband and her in-laws voiced strong opposition to her continuing to work. Financially she and her husband thought they could get by on one salary. Neither of her own parents were living.   She said of her experience, “I was the guilty party for wanting to pursue my work. It was a particularly difficult time.” Continue reading

The right posture…

Do you lean in or lean out?  It is a question that many of us have thought about thanks to the March 2013 publication of Lean In.   That book asked women to engage themselves more fully – to lean in – albeit in a largely  corporate vein.  While interesting to consider, I’ve found another more important posture that women not only need to be aware of – they need to defy.  I call it the failure posture. Continue reading

A Transition Solstice Celebration…

Who wouldn’t give their right arm for more hours in the day?   When faced with the prospect of newly available time, most of us instantly think about what we could do.   The possibilities are endless.  Think about it.  An important ‘to do’ for work.  A laundry list of actions in support of children, spouses, or dependent elders.  A few minutes for long deferred personal care or even a personal interest.   Maybe even a few moments dedicated to a long overdue job search.  What would you do with ‘found time?’  Would wishing make it to your list?

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Time was on my mind this week as we enjoyed the Summer Solstice. Celebrated on June 21st, the day marks the true start of summer for me.  It is our ‘longest’ day of the year in the Northeast, offering six more hours of daylight than its astronomical opposite on December 21st.   It makes me think about time and how I choose to spend it.  A concept, I might add, that I rarely thought of pre-transition.

Solstice derives from two Latin words; sol, or sun, and stare, to stand or stop.   Early astronomical observers believed that on the solstice the sun stopped its progression in the sky.  Its literal translation is the day when the sun stands still.

The solstice’s definition caught my attention this week because I’ve been noodling a presentation I gave earlier this month.    On June 9th I hosted a luncheon ‘dry run’ of the key messages from my upcoming book, Women & Transition: Reinventing Work and Life (Macmillan Nov 2015).   The outset of the conversation was standard fare: transition’s definition, its anatomy, and an overview of a process that I created to help women navigate transition.

What really caught my audience’s eye was a list at the end of my remarks about what surprised me most in my research.   For those unfamiliar with my research, I spoke with two hundred women in various forums about transition over an eighteen month period.

Before I share the surprise, let me give you some background.  It’s a bit of an  oversimplification so please bear with me.

Thanks to my research and my own circuitous path, I found that transition requires us to navigate an iterative two-stage process.  The first stage is ‘envision,’ during which we develop a hypothesis of what ‘might be’ possible for us.  It goes by many names.  A dream.  A wish.  A personal strategy.  You can choose the vocabulary most comfortable for you.  This stage asks us to think beyond our assumptions about what we could or should do – staring down boundaries set by ourselves and by other’s expectations of us.

The second stage is ‘validate,’ a stage during which we test and retest and learn about our ‘envision’ hypothesis.  This stage is experimental and flexible – progressing in increments designed to fit our own circumstances.  At the end of all this you get a refined wish and real life experiences to give you the confidence to move in that direction.   I referred to the transition process’s cycle at the June 9th lunch as the dream/do loop.

The surprise I shared on June 9th?  I’ve witnessed again and again that women shortchange the work in the dream stage, preferring instead to do.  The work of thinking – wishing – is difficult, non-linear and uncertain.   Let’s face it most of us would rather clean the refrigerator on a sunny day than undertake such a task.

Wishing seems fanciful.  This is only partly true.   Here’s what I’ve learned:  Dreaming requires us to trust our instincts – and most importantly to dignify what we hear.   There is a competency we build up in the process – we learn to quell the negative internal voices that instantly pop up to extinguish whatever those instincts may be telling us.

In the summer weeks ahead be aware of the shortening days as we begin the long cycle towards the Winter Solstice.  If you find yourself with a moment or two, dream.  I’ve found it’s the most useful do you can do.

Copyright © 2015 NovoFemina.com.  All rights reserved. No content on this site may be reused in any fashion without written permission from NovoFemina.com.

 

A simple step: reframe

Last week my ten-year old son and I watched the replay of the first game of the NBA finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.    We were rooting for the Golden State Warriors, his stand-in team given that his beloved Celtics will sit this one out.  Thanks to his interest, I stumbled onto a terrific example of one of my favorite transition tools  – reframing.

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Value?

There it was.  That phrase.  “…since you’ve been a stay at home mom.”  An  acquaintance used it in conversation with me over the weekend.  It always stops me in my tracks.  I get a physical reaction.  The hair stands up on the back of my neck.  Let me be clear.  There is nothing wrong with the phrase – nor the choice that it represents.  Many women and men make the choice to stay home.   If it is your choice, I applaud it.  My problem?  It isn’t my choice.  So, when I hear it, I immediately conclude that the speaker can’t or won’t see the value in what I’ve chosen.    That’s where the disconnect comes in for me.  I can’t help but wonder where the problem is?  Is it them or me? Continue reading

The Courage of No

When was the last time you said, no?  I’m not asking about passing up a calorie laden dessert or skipping an indulgence at your favorite retail escape.   I am asking about turning down something meaningful because you knew deep down that it wasn’t right.   A job offer?  A proposal?  A move?   Someone else’s expectations? Continue reading

Distance versus Denial

Last week I was struck by a quick comment made by Joyce, a mid-forties marketing czar and parent.  She’d lost her job just prior to year-end 2014.   A mutual friend asked if I would have coffee with her.  “I’m ready,” she said as we settled into our seats at roast, our local Starbucks alternative.  She wanted to initiate a job search.  There was something else I heard – her tone and demeanor didn’t quite match.  “I put all that stuff behind me,” she said.  As if saying, ‘isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?’   Continue reading

Four and Foresight

“I got a sense of breathing for the first time,” said a dynamic woman whom I interviewed early on for Novofemina’s Voices of Transition column.   Prior to being laid off she was a multi-decade employee of a large corporation.   She was also the parent of several children, one of whom she lost to a rare childhood illness.   She got herself another job within a year of her termination.  She described her transition as enlivening.     She was energetic and peaceful when we spoke.    I will never forget how I felt as I listened to her tell me her story.  Awful might be an exaggeration – but not much of one.  I remember thinking, ‘how did I ever get myself in this predicament?’  Her confident, delighted state seemed a million miles away from where I sat.

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Grace and the Unknown

Unknown.  What an unusual word.  I keep bumping into it.  Teens in our town are plagued this week with many unknowns thanks to a widely reported safety threat at the high school.   Our family is trying to grasp the unknown too.  There are still many decisions pending related to my mother’s care.   And my little world is shrouded in the unknown thanks to a book project whose due date is ten days away.  Will it be readable?  Engaging?  All totally unknown.   How do you proceed in the face of not knowing?

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Transition is full of the unknown.  We choose it even though the future state – transition’s outcome – is unknown.   I sat back and realized this week that my exploration of transition over the past four years has given me a new perspective on the unknown, a new lens.

I made this lens discovery Tuesday as I instinctively re-framed another woman’s experience of the unknown.  In Out of the Woods, Into the Dark (NY Times 3/17/2015, D6)  Suleika Jaouad wrote about surviving cancer at 26.  For the past three years she has been running at a goal, survival.   Great news, she nailed it.   “Friends and family congratulated me on being, ‘done.’  What they couldn’t know was that in some ways the hardest part of my cancer experience began once the cancer was gone. Now that I’m done my treatment I’m struggling to figure out who I am.”

I’ve learned a few things in the past four years…….

  • Transition is a normal part of adult growth and development – although one that isn’t widely understood nor discussed.
  • Transition is a process during which we re-examine our assumptions about identity, capacity and values. Through it we evaluate how we make meaning in the world.  It has all sorts of twists and turns.  It is uncertain and frightening.  But it is also described as empowering and enlivening and free.
  • Transition operates with a three part anatomy: a triggering event; a decision about whether to proceed with transition;  and the act of transitioning itself.  We cycle through the first two parts in a circuitous non-linear fashion.  There are many ups and downs – often feeling continuous over a period of time.

Through this lens I can see so much more for Suleika.   Could it be that her cancer diagnosis was a sudden and unintentional trigger?  Her survival deposited her at a decision.   Will she transition?   She doesn’t have to.  She can. She could also just as easily stall where she is or even retreat to an earlier – more comfortable – state.   The decision is hers.  She already realized, “I’ve looked all over New York City for me before cancer. But the more I look the more I am beginning to realize that me no longer exists.”  Sounds as if she’s heading towards transition….

If I could give Suleika a gift it would be context – an understanding of transition.  Knowledge after all is power.   But in this case I’ve found that it also offers peace.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate – my transition’s trigger was neither sudden nor tragic.   Your experience of it may fall somewhere in between Suleika’s and my own.   Regardless of your transition’s start – you won’t escape the unknown.  The only real question is whether you will have the good fortune to have perspective and its gift of grace accompany you on your journey.

Happy first day of Spring!

 

Copyright © 2015 NovoFemina.com.  All rights reserved. No content on this site may be reused in any fashion without written permission from NovoFemina.com.

Nine Seconds

That is all it took.  Nine seconds.  My mother is critically ill.  In a period of nine seconds her heart performed in a pattern that catapulted her care in an entirely new direction.  Those nine seconds offered a framework from which to proceed.  Up until that moment there had been only isolated symptoms.  All concerning.  Independent.  Nothing to bind them together.   In that zone we were pursuing conclusions.  Some aggressive.  Ones we believed were supported by a data set.  Thanks to nine seconds, all wrong.   Nine seconds…..nine spectacular seconds.  Continue reading