Last week as I joined the nation in listening to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee a woman whom I met years ago popped into my head. She was a classmate of mine at a one-day seminar sponsored by the Op-Ed Project. The organization works to expand the range of voices in the media. They believe that Whoever tells the story, writes history. My friend was very young, a year or two out of undergrad. She was smart and deeply thoughtful. Over the course of the day, the class learned that she was the victim of an aggressive sexual assault. The experience was consuming her. She couldn’t get beyond it. She felt as if she was treading water. Every once in a while it seemed as if she dipped below the surface. She was full of disbelief. Shattered. She hoped the seminar would teach her how to use her voice to contribute to a broader dialogue about change. She was game. But her experience gave her pause. She wondered if anyone was listening? Continue reading
By this time – many years into solid research on transitioning – one might imagine that I’ve learned all there is to know about the topic. I was reminded after my recent trip to San Francisco of how untrue this line of thinking really is. I am happy to report that I returned from California dry-eyed and excited. For those who missed Remarkable Choices, I spent three-weeks in San Francisco this summer on a writing vacation. My goal was to work unimpeded on my second book. I am happy to report that by the time I checked in for my return flight, I had an entire manuscript drafted, from introduction to final chapter.
That said, the new manuscript isn’t the entire story. The trip yielded something even more special, a broader perspective on my work. This expansion starts in a place with which we are all familiar, a decision to leave.
We leave all sorts of things. We leave in big and small ways. We leave family gatherings and political rallies and baseball games. We leave marriages and employers and friendships. We leave one opportunity for another more promising one. We leave anger and guilt and self-doubt for hope.
When do we leave ourselves?
What a question, right?
San Francisco brought this question to light for me.
Those who know me personally know that I am a process wonk. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise anyone that process was on my mind as I readied myself for the trip. Ok, it wasn’t until I was on the airplane heading west that I created a plan. But it was an important step.
Would I follow the same writing process I used with my first book? Or try something new? In the intervening years since my first book was published, a friend gave me a great book that talked about a radically different approach to story development than the one I had used earlier. I toyed with adopting it but I was hesitant. The last thing I wanted to do was waste my time fooling around with something that would be unproductive. But what about taking a creative risk? What might be possible under that scenario?
I settled on the unproven new approach. The process had three basic steps: to create a one page description of the book’s theme; to develop a detailed chapter outline; and then, and only then, to write chapters.
In spite of my hesitation, the new process proved to be surprisingly useful.
A Broader View of My Work
After nearly seven years writing, advocating and teaching about transition, it was very humbling to sit down and attempt to articulate a one page theme. I spent days on this. I edited and re-edited. I walked the hills of San Francisco when I got stuck. I started to get concerned that it was taking too much time. How would I make progress if I spent all my time on the earliest step? Here is what emerged from my inelegant labors:
My work is about choice or the difficulty many of us have – including me – in making significant choices or major life decisions. I was – after all – introduced to transition thanks to a personal calamity that left me struggling with a choice of what to do next.
By focusing on choice, I realized that transition is not an end in-and-of itself. Transition is a process that enables growth. Our own growth. Nothing requires us to transition. It is a choice we make. We choose to grow.
We encounter many many invitations for growth over the course of our lives. Oddly, we ignore most of them. In fact, we live in a growth-phobic society. Our social norms teach us to look the other way, tamp down or create distractions when faced with an opportunity to grow. These norms leave us busy – sometimes exhausted – but no further from a growth perspective.
Once we recognize the opportunity for growth and the capacity for growth that transition offers, we learn that the secret sauce lies in ‘how we respond’ to all of this. Our progress forward relies heavily on our ability to rewire our response to a transition’s trigger or the barriers and emotions that accompany them.
Triggers or the circumstances that lead us to choose growth vary widely. Divorce, death, job loss, marriage, the birth of another child, gender re-assignment surgery or a recognition that something isn’t quite right. Transition doesn’t concern itself with differences among triggers. The common denominator in all of this is a shift, a shift in what holds value and meaning to us. The shift occurs when we re-examine our assumptions about who we are and how we make meaning in the world.
On a practical level growth is simple: we need to turn up the volume on those things that hold value and meaning to us. These things can be anything on the planet as long as they engage us at the core. By giving voice to these things that matter to us, we allow ourselves to see the path forward in an entirely new way. With this as a ballast, all of a sudden options that were hidden from us come into full view.
What About Leaving and Leading?
When most of us think about transition, we think it involves leaving something. Leaving a professional identity or a marriage or a dysfunctional familial relationship. San Francisco taught me that this departure thinking is incorrect.
Transition and growth are about leading with who we are….ourselves…in all the circumstances of our lives. Not just at work. Not only on the playground or in the kitchen or with a sibling or a dear friend. Leading with you. Your beliefs. Everywhere. Even if this involves a struggle to recalibrate who we are thanks to a previously unrecognized departure from ourselves.
This type of leading may involve leaving but it doesn’t have too.
I remember one very funny exchange I had with the CEO of a women’s fashion house that asked me to talk at their annual meeting. “Will they all leave?’ asked the CEO in a concerned tone when he learned that the my topic would be transition. I replied, “If I do my job correctly, they will bring more of who they are to the job. The exact opposite of leaving.”
If we decouple leading with leaving, transition and growth become universally available. Through this lens, transition cannot get waylaid by the mortgage or a un-supportive boss or an overbearing family.
We get to decide how we show up every day. You don’t need to leave to lead in this way.
The converse isn’t as kind. You can leave – repeatedly – and never make a dent in transition nor growth. You will miss all of the benefits of transition and growth if you leave something but do not use your departure as an opportunity to bring up the volume on those things that hold value or meaning to you.
Leaving is often hard. Imagine if it yields nothing related to our own growth….
Transition has allowed me to grow in ways I never imagined. I now operate with a connectedness to who I am that I never knew was missing and yet I can honestly say that it completes me like nothing else ever has. It is an awakening that makes me feel as if I am breathing from every pore on my body. Energetic. Joyful. Free.
May you see opportunities to add who you are to every moment that you are alive. May you respond to the invitation for growth with an open heart and begin a remarkable journey whose destination while unknown is irreplaceable. May you realize that you can have all these things by simply leading with who you are. Today.
Want to talk ‘live’ about transition and growth? There are two ways you can join me for informal chats. For those in and around Boston, join me at a free drop-in series In Transition at the Winchester Public Library on the second Thursday of every month from 7-8:30 pm. Free coffee and refreshments are served. Our kick off for this season is Thursday, September 11th! Hope to see you there.
For those unable to join in person, watch for my inaugural podcast, Destination Unknown, starting this fall. Will you join me to talk about your transition? I am scheduling guests now for twelve-minute appearances. Email me if you are interested. I’d love to add your voice to our conversation. email@example.com.
Copyright © 2018 Linda Rossetti & NovoFemina.com. All rights reserved. No content on this site may be reused in any fashion without written permission from NovoFemina.com.
Tears come easily today. I wonder about them. I am sitting in San Francisco thanks to a long-awaited three-week writing vacation. I am house sitting while a friend and her husband travel. I am writing my second book, a non-gendered view of transition. My teenage daughter helped me create a calendar with daily writing goals. My son promised to FaceTime daily with a few good jokes. I hope to make real progress. But the tears? Where are they coming from? Have you ever had a day when emotions reigned unchecked?
I have two theories about the tears.
The first is all about fear. Am I afraid of the work or of not being able to make progress? Possibly.
By being here I’ve removed nearly every barrier that I believe gets in the way of my writing. Here there are no meals to prepare; no scraped knees to comfort; no laundry; no conference calls; no carpool coordination; no driving a child here or picking another one up there; and no elder care responsibilities. There is a market on the corner and a breakfast joint a block away. I’ve made a note to ask tomorrow if they deliver.
In spite of barrier-less living, fear is very real. Am I afraid of what I can do? Or afraid of what I cannot do?
My performance fear may stem from the fact that it takes me a long time to write. For years I was told that I was a lousy writer. This messaging happened repeatedly from high school through college and into my early working life. It seems to me that this characterization had more to do with the topics I was asked to write about – like the gross margin performance of a business – than my desire to write. Whatever the reason, the negativity of this descriptor has had a lasting impact.
That said, I do not think that I can credit fear for my tears. My second ‘tear’ theory is related to my transition’s current state.
Let me catch you up on what has been happening. I’ve experienced what I can only describe as an awakening in what may be my 2nd or 3rd full cycle of transitioning since I started this blog. All of a sudden I have a heightened awareness. I feel as if I am breathing from every pore in my body. The words of His Holiness the Dali Lama all of a sudden make sense to me:
- “When, at some point in our lives, we meet a real tragedy,” he said, “which can happen to any one of us, we can react in two ways. Obviously, we can lose hope, let ourselves slip into discouragement, into alcohol, drugs, unending sadness. Or else we can wake ourselves up, discover in ourselves an energy that has hidden there, and act with more clarity, more force.” (Escape from the Land of Snows, Stephen Talty, pg 245)
My new status has brought with it peace but it has also hit some very emotional chords.
When my trigger first occurred, I had no vocabulary or understanding of transition. I recognized that there was a mismatch between what occurred – a childcare snafu while on a business trip to London – and how I felt. I felt as if the ground fell out from underneath me. I tried to hit the re-set button which would allow me to just keep going. It did not work. Nothing did. I felt ashamed because I didn’t know what was going on; I was engulfed in self-doubt thanks to the enormity of what I was feeling; and I felt alone. Very very alone.
It would take hundreds of hours of conversations with others who were going through significant changes for me to realize that I was transitioning, a normal process of growth and development that is available to all. Here is the kicker. We grossly misunderstand transition in our society. Transitions occur when there is a shift in what holds value or meaning to us. It can happen at 22 years of age or 72 years of age. Or never. In fact, the great majority of adults look to distractions to keep themselves away from this very real opportunity for extraordinary growth.
At its core, transition is about choice. Choosing to grow. What will we do when faced with the need to change? Some cling to the status quo, some retreat to an earlier more comfortable state, others pursue all manner of changes. Still others decouple from all or part of their known identity and walk forward into uncertainty. These hearty transitioners make the choice to explore more of who they are. It is an act of courage that offers an ever-expanding opportunity to engage who we are with the world.
Over the past six months I am all of a sudden aware of the role that emotional connections play for me. I have a deep desire to be connected to others. What if my feeling alone all those years ago had nothing to do with my trigger and more to do with the emotionally vacant environment I’d excelled in for decades? Did I mention that for nearly 25 years I thrived in a business world where I was rewarded for silencing emotions?
Back to the tears. Somewhere deep down I know that the way forward for book #2 is the tell the story of transition through my emotions. I think the tears are related to standing at a cross-roads: I can rationalize what I need to do, but I still need to re-direct the anti-emotional patterns so long-established in me. How will I dismantle the last remaining pieces of the force field I’d built over so many years?
Today, I feel as if I am making a remarkable choice. I am deciding to continue. To trust the process of transition as I re-examine my identity through emotions and my connection to those around me. I am uncertain where it will take me but I know that it will engage my voice in an entirely new way.
Wish me luck as I try to conjure that part of my spirit that wants to celebrate this unique opportunity to write. Say a little prayer that I give in to the creative process without judgement or filter.
What choices will you make today?
Thank you for walking next to me through this process. Your presence is an incredible gift and one that I rely on more than you know. If you have comments or ideas, please comment below or send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2018 Linda Rossetti & NovoFemina.com. All rights reserved. No content on this site may be reused in any fashion without written permission from NovoFemina.com.
How many times over the past week have you said to yourself I’m not, I can’t, I don’t know, I could never…? Maybe the words were spoken silently in a lament for a dress size you can never seem to achieve, or for the absent support of a boss or co-worker, or for an internal struggle that seems overwhelming. What would happen if we took all the energy it takes to process these thoughts and redirected it? Continue reading
How connected are you? In my world, technology greets me first thing in the morning – thanks to a handy app that logs my sunrise exercise routine. It also bids me good night – thanks to my trusty laptop and the emails that always stand at the ready for my attention. I temporarily changed this all-encompassing connectivity a few weeks back because of our family’s April school vacation trip. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive about unplugging. I hoped that patterning this behavior under the watchful eyes of my two teenagers would be worth it. Truth be told, I would go to any extreme to suspend access to Snap chat or FortNite. Here is the real shocker of my tech hiatus. Unplugging did not yield what I sought. It yielded something unexpected and surprisingly important to my understanding of transition. Continue reading
I had five minutes to myself Sunday morning. The dog wasn’t awake yet and my two teenagers were still snoring. I sat down to read the newspaper. It was pure pleasure. I feel like the only person on the planet who still reads a physical newspaper. The digital versions always leave me wondering if I’ve read all the day’s news. I spread the paper out flat, just the way I remember my dad reading it when I was a preschooler. He read the paper on the living room floor amidst all our toys and games. This morning I never got past the headline. It reminded me of one of the most important assets we each possess, our voices. Continue reading
“How do you do it?” Claire asked through exhausted eyes. Her usual all-put-together self, the spirited one that donned mini-dresses and fringe halter tops, was absent. Missing too was her energetic smile, her hopeful demeanor. In its place sat a woman who was perched in a chair at what looked like an uncomfortable angle. She asked me to sit close to her. I held her hand. Yes, I would be the one who got to go home that day. She would stay in this place, wondering. Continue reading
Are you making plans to re-set something in ’18? Exercise levels? Career goals? Relationships? Your look? Last week I observed a quick moment that reminded me of the very real opportunity we all have as we begin another year. The opportunity isn’t found in the newest exercise app nor in the latest color palette for our homes. Instead it is something that resides in each of us. Continue reading
The best presents do not come in boxes. My picture with Gloria Steinem is testament to this very statement. This holiday nothing in a box or with a fancy ribbon will compare to the moment captured in the photo. For nearly forty-years I have admired Steinem’s work for its ability to shape a meaningful public conversation. I even use her journey as a model for my own work.
She was more gracious than I expected. And kind. She embraced me strongly as if her own force could encourage me to continue my efforts. It was a tremendous gift, a gift borne out of a choice I made several years ago. With the holiday season upon us, I want to encourage us to think about our choices and the gifts we receive as a result. Continue reading
It struck me this morning as I reviewed my shopping list for tomorrow’s feast that I’ve learned a thing or two about Thanksgiving. It isn’t hidden in my special recipe for Bourbon Sweet Potatoes. Nor is it found in the holiday meal preparation guide that I’ve read and re-read in the Food Section of the New York Times. It is found in the work that I do everyday, work that more and more looks and feels like a ‘how to’ guide for navigating the emotions our lives.
Tomorrow when you reach across the table to pass the cranberry sauce, I hope you keep in mind two important perspectives from our work together in transition. Continue reading