“I got a sense of breathing for the 1st time,” said Shannon Breuer, a former Sunoco executive who shared with me her truly inspirational journey through transition as part of Novofemina’s Voices of Transition column. “I had no idea how much I was going to grow…I feel so fulfilled.”
“I’d seen the handwriting on the wall,” shared Shannon. Sunoco had announced its intention to downsize. Significant numbers of employees would be affected. She had served 29 years. Her roles had been impressive: lobbyist; employee communications; employee development. As the event drew closer invitations to critical meetings never arrived; meetings with new leadership – like a new boss or the company’s new CEO — hadn’t gone as well as she’d hoped. Needless to say she wasn’t surprised when she was asked to walk down the hallway to a conference room on the day that her transition officially began.
“We choose how to react in every situation,” said Shannon now the human capital and operations lead at the Wiley Group of Philadelphia. She landed this opportunity only 14 months after her transition began thanks to a combination of choices exhibiting focus, tenacity, humility and grace.
It is impossible not to get consumed by the positive energy that emanates from her. I’ve tried to capture it in a list I’ll call, ‘Shannon’s Transition Tenets.’ Here they are….
a) Learn everyday. “I enjoy what I learn from others. I get energy from other people,” bubbled Shannon as she retold stories of her daily learning adventures. Practically she had this advice: “learn a little every day. Use the interactions that you have with others to learn something. Ask that 1 extra question.” Have you taken such an opportunity? Coincidentally just this week I asked one extra question of a mom whom I’ve known casually for several years. It turns out that her field of interest is family law and aide to women in under-served communities. It got us onto an entirely new tangent. One extra question.
b) Give more than you get. “Giving is my dopamine,” said Shannon, referring to the neurotransmitter that influences cognition, attention and pleasure. She operates under the guise of ‘be helpful to others.’ It reminded me of our friend Boot Boutwell, who practiced gratitude (Novofemina’s Leading With Gratitude, December 2011) and found ‘giving’ his most consistent and exercised attribute.
c) Re-chart your use of time - regularly. Shannon described transition as a constant state in her life with both a dormant and an active phase. While dormant, we need to invest time to develop a network of people who can engage with us and expand our thinking. This area needs constant attention. How much time do you invest here? Is re-charting necessary?
d) Embrace change. Shannon acknowledged the emotional side of change during our conversation. You may know this territory…a vortex of anger, disappointment, or maybe shame. “I’ve found it’s best to get out of the negativity spiral and move to a state of action,” said Shannon. I took from her remarks that it’s ok to feel these emotions but dangerous to let them define you. “Don’t let yourself be your own enemy,” she intoned.
e) Honor two levels of activity. Shannon remarked that transition triggers two parallel processes – soul-searching and researching. Each requires its own processes and milestones. Ignoring one or the other is folly from her perspective.
Shannon’s remarks about choice and the incredible self-reliant mode that she possesses reminded me of the final scenes in Dreamworks‘ Kung Fu Panda 2. The movie’s main character, a panda, faces a truth told to him by a shaman-type ram. The ram says something like (I’m paraphrasing), ‘your story may not have such a happy beginning but that doesn’t make you who you are. It is the rest of the story – who you choose to be — that matters.’
“You choose how to react to every situation.” For Shannon her choices led to a 14 month evolution, a new role and a new life outlook. She is unwilling to compromise on her belief in learning & in giving. Do you know the choices that are ahead of you in transition, be it active or dormant? Maybe Shannon’s Tenets are a good place to start your learning.
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