Alignment and Transition

“It was nice meeting myself again,” stated the twenty-fifth respondent to the Research Jam’s online survey.    This person had served more than ten years in a corporate role before an unexpected job transition caused a new route into independent consulting.   The respondent offered a perspective on the 5th anniversary of this new journey….”the impact on my life (and my family’s life) has been overwhelmingly positive.   I have met dozens of fascinating individuals whom I likely would not have met if my head was still buried at a corporate desk. I have also learned, and continue to learn, a lot about myself.”

Is a journey back to somewhere contained in this person’s perspective?  Nice to meet myself again?  Or is the respondent saying that their passion had been rekindled or realigned somehow through transition?  I’ve always thought transition allowed for a step forward untethered by prior definitions.  Or would it be better said…a step forward untethered by that which doesn’t align with our passions or dreams?

Herminia Ibarra author of Working Identity (Novofemina Book Review #9) strongly debunks the notion of finding the one true self through transition.  She posits that transition is most beneficial if experimentation leads us to places of interest and passion.  Very Steve Jobs-esque, don’t think?   From his 2005 Stanford Commencement address I learned that curiosity although unruly, nonlinear and inelegant leads to energy, renewal and brilliance.  Where might your curiosity lead you?

Renewal?  Brilliance or better, light?  Did you know that these traits are part of the centuries old traditions of the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, a 15-day celebration that began last weekend?   The festival’s conclusion is marked  by the Lantern Festival.    Lanterns used during this festival can symbolize people letting go of their past selves and getting a new one for the upcoming year’s journey.


In the early 2000’s I served on a board of trustees of a math and science charter school in Massachusetts.  My guess is that the students weren’t entirely committed to math and science.  More likely their parents sought an alternative to the vast and often inconsistent performance of the public school systems in surrounding towns.

The school began by offering a Kindergarten through 8th grade curriculum.  Surrounding communities, many of which sent students to the school, offered enrollment structures serving K-5, K-6, 6-8, and even 7-12.  Each of these formats introduced complexity for our families and challenges for our students as they returned to schools in their home town after the charter school experience.

After a lengthy strategic planning process the school decided to adopt a K-6 format.

What followed surprised me.   Over the summer the school implemented the transition from K-8 to K-6.   They chose to ‘flick the switch’  by cutting off the 7th and 8th graders entirely starting the next September.  That meant that some children learning of the change at the end of 7th grade would need to change schools for the 8th grade and then change again when they entered high school, or 9th grade.   For those unfamiliar with 12-14 year olds…suffice it to say that this frequent change can be devastating.

From my perspective the school under-served its families with this transition approach.   It could easily have let the 7th and 8th graders stay to complete their experience while not accepting any new children into those grades.  All complexity around this cycling was solvable.

Why didn’t we do this?  Was it ignorance? Laziness?  Bandwidth?  As I look at that event I think the biggest failing was not articulating our guiding principles right up front.    The families who chose the school for their children were the backbone of the community.  Their referrals were our best marketing dollars.   Had we aligned our actions with this simple fact a group of energetic, enthusiastic 7th graders would have graduated with the august title of the last 8th graders to do so.

So what does a charter school have to do with transition?   If we had kept our purpose straight, to serve families, and aligned our actions against this….we could easily have gotten this right.

What acts as your guiding purpose during transition?   Remember purpose? Clayton Christensen championed it in How Will You Measure Your Life?  (Novofemina’s Summer Book Review # 15)  How many of your recent decisions have aligned against this purpose?

Thanks to alignment around a few simple statements, and a lot of unruliness, my transition so far has led to incredible energy and the confidence to pursue topics of interest to me.    Maybe the 15 day cycle of the Spring Festival can serve as a timeline for reaffirming guiding principles for transition.   Once complete….alignment seems easy.

Got a few minutes to read more?   How about connections between Transition and Valentine’s Day?  Take a moment to read 2012’s Valentine’s Day and Transition:  A Common Link

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