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

Painful redirects

It is easier this late in my transition.  Reframing that is.  Earlier this week I had an interview for a professional opportunity.  It wasn’t my finest hour.   At the end of the day I am disappointed in myself.   Transition is full of learnings – successes and failures.  I thought today I might share a little about how I’ve learned to reconcile the less than stellar events along the way….

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At this moment I am frustrated with myself for not doing better.  The rich data and conclusions that I had to share barely came out.   In the moments since I have comforted myself with a continuous stream of negative self-talk.  Ever been there?  How could I have blown it?  In a spectacular fashion I might add…..

In my book I talk about techniques to help us reframe a situation.   Re-framing  contributes in two ways;  it acknowledges that there will be hits and misses during transition, and it embraces perspective – an incredible gift.  In transition we need to learn from the misses but not get stalled by them.

In my book I introduce a technique called externalizing.  It helps you bring objectivity to an experience.  It asks women to change adjectives to nouns.  By adopting this approach I would say, “you are not the problem. The problem is the problem.”   For example a friend of mine is very angry about her transition’s length.  The anger is a mix of many emotions – including shame and a real fear that she’ll never be able to get the job she desires.   She is very connected to how it might look – this extended job search.

For her this technique would ask her to change an adjective – like being angry – to a noun.  Instead of saying, “I am so angry,” the woman would talk about “How long the anger had been influencing her.”  The technique challenges my friend to redirect her energy away from negative self-talk and towards more positive activities.  It puts separation between her and her emotions.

Nelson Mandela in his Long Walk to Freedom said, “do not judge me by my success.  Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

I find that my stumble earlier in the week was a gift.  It helped me recalibrate – at a critical time.  It brought me back to reality.  I had been a bit untethered.

Why?

A week or so ago my publisher asked me for a list of people who could possibly write a forward for my book.  Not all books get forwards.  The mere question sent me into the stratosphere.  It was a sign –  a good sign – she and her publishing house really believe in my project.

The gap between these two experiences was sobering.  The gift is that it has helped me hunker down on finishing the book.  It reminded me of the importance of bringing honesty to the experience of transition.  An honesty that from my viewpoint know one has cared to do before.   Yes there are painful days – even those days when the pain is self-inflicted.

Your transition will be characterized by wins and losses.  I hope that you have the presence of mind to bring objectivity and grace to your worst moments.   Within each is a gift – waiting for an appropriate frame.

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 Direction

Three of us had lunch.  We got together because one of our crew was embroiled in a complex issue at work.  We listened to facts.  We agreed.  We disagreed.  We offered opinions.  Two minutes before parting the two of us not in the spotlight that day gave quick updates.  I told the story about my editor’s pre-Holiday remark, “I am finally hearing YOUR voice.”  She said it to me after patiently reviewing draft upon draft of my book.   Out of the blue a note arrived a few days after our lunch…. Continue reading

The start….

“It was who he was, not what he did,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo of his late father in a eulogy earlier this week.   Mario Cuomo, himself governor of New York from 1983-1994, died on January 1st.  I have long been an admirer of Mario Cuomo’s.  Not so much because of his politics or any specific cause he trumpeted.  I loved hearing him speak.   He was one of the best orator’s I’ve ever heard.  If you aren’t familiar with him he is a guy who spoke of gun violence not with statistics but a heartfelt lament.  “Too many children hear the sound of gunfire before ever hearing the sound of a symphony.” (DNC 1992)   Andrew was right, there was no separation between what he did and who he was.  You could just tell – his gift served as a mouthpiece for his soul. Continue reading

Your gift….

Passion.  These days I think the word is grossly overused.  Society has toggled on  its meaning for me over the past decades.   When I was a kid I was first introduced to the word though Catholicism as it was used to describe the experience of Christ in the days between Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday, as in the passion of Christ.  Later passion was linked to intimacy.  And more recently passion is referenced everywhere as the expression of our heart’s truest voice.  Our bliss. Continue reading

Reframing

A torn little scrap of paper. Hot pink if you must know. It was once a post it note. The adhesive is long gone. I found it in the rubble that constitutes the contents of my day bag.  In spite of its humble origins and slightly dog-eared presentment it was a life saver.   A simple gift. Continue reading

A special gift….

Yesterday we froze while sitting at Gillette Stadium for the MIAA State Championship game between Holliston and Wahconah.   There were six games being played, all match-ups of division rivals of winning Massachusetts High School teams.   We were there to see my nephew, a sophomore, who played in the final minutes of the game.  While I am sure it was thrilling for him to be down on the field where the Patriots play my take on the game happened on an entirely different level.   I was focused on the contributions of one of his teammates whose efforts seemed extraordinary.  Almost magical. Continue reading

Walking with thanks…

“Thank you,” I wrote in an email last Friday.  The recipient was one of a group of women who have graciously offered to read early drafts of my book.   I complete chapters and ship them off for review and critique.   I wait on pins and needles to hear their response.  What comes back always requires me to do a lot of re-work.  While humbling this couldn’t be a more energizing experience.   In the moment that I wrote that email I realized just how inadequate the phrase ‘thank you’ seemed.  Thank you. Continue reading