‘I’ve got young children,’ recounted a slight teenager as he retold of a pleading woman’s request as he worked to untangle her from the rubble of last week’s garment factory disaster at Rana Plaza, Savar, Bangladesh. 400. The number of workers, largely female, who won’t be returning to waiting children or siblings or spouses. $37. The average monthly wage that makes a difference there. Great hopes relinquished all for another tee-shirt. Great hope…despite tremendous personal risk.
In April ’11 I stepped forward into Novofemina, a risk that pales in comparison to that above. I thought, albeit naively at the time, that I would share with you a relatively finite process, a transition. I had left an executive role cold turkey. My young family was in a state of disrepair, largely due to the demands of my professional life. Twenty years of business travel had effectively walled me off from many friends and family. Get the picture? Maybe this will help….
Do you remember the I Love Lucy Chocolate Factory clip where Lucy and Ethel work the line wrapping chocolates? I’ve arrived at this as my favorite visual summary for my last 4+ years of work pre-transition. At one point early on in the episode Lucy turns to Ethel and says, ‘this is easy.’ ‘Yeah,’ replies Ethel, ‘we can handle this ok.’ I agreed vociferously.
As the line speeds up the ladies lose control and all manner of stop gaps fail. From my rear view mirror I can see that I was doing everything possible to keep my line moving. Truth be told I was blind to the sheer hilarity of thinking that it was working. Or, maybe it’s better to ask for whom was it working?
April ’13. I’m humbled by the understanding I now have two years later about transition. My starting notion ‘a la project manager’ of a finite transition process has long been debunked. I now think about transition as a ‘re-definition of our notion of self.’ Non-linear. Energizing. Boundaryless.
I no longer believe that transition is about integrating my professional self into something. Rather I now think about transition as alignment and a new self-created identity. Quite simply….I want all parts of me to show up everyday.
To celebrate Novofemina’s 2nd anniversary I re-read all 106 posts. If nothing else I’m convinced that I need a better way to group posts of similar topics to make them more easily accessible to visitors. Beyond that I’ve found a few themes repeated over and over.
- Dream. Imagine. Wonder. Gloria Steinem noted, “without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of the possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” (Novofemina Valentine’s Day and Transition: a common link) What is the biggest thing you can imagine? How much of your day is comprised of activities aligned with that dream? Do you know that the founders of Google didn’t start out to create a search engine? They were curious about how to index ALL of the internet’s pages. (Novofemina’s Curiosity & Transition: Are these related?)
- Don’t fear standing alone. “I urge you to do whatever you do for no other reason than you love it and you believe in its importance,” said David McCullough Jr., an English teacher from Wellesley High School in his commencement address to graduates last June in Wellesley, MA. (Novofemina Summer Book Review #16: Confidence) By simple definition the answer for each of us is individual. Rough road for most ladies since we’re acclimatized from an early age to fear isolation.
- Stay with it despite choppy waters. Transition is accompanied by all manner of challenges. Failure. Guilt. Anxiety. Fear. Silence. Wavering confidence. Real & imagined barriers. As William Bridges shared with us, “for those willing to pursue a transition ‘renewal,’ ‘revised purpose’ and ‘energy’ will be the outcome.” (Summer Book Review #2: Transitions Making Sense of Life’s Changes)
In transition…real risk?
Unbeknownst to me my transition started several years before I knew it. Five years earlier, in fact. How could I have missed it? In rapid succession I had two children, lost my dad and sold a company that I had started and run. I was commuting to Dallas from Boston. Clearly something had to give. I changed jobs. Less travel. Declare victory. With these changes I thought I’d addressed the full scope of my needs. Until of course I was at a breaking point.
At the point I understood it was time for transition the only real risk was not beginning. If you are considering transition I hope you…..
- Explore your passion: Has the fog of exhaustion or achievement impeded your ability to answer the passion question? Not to worry. Create a hypothesis and think about some experiments that can help you validate it. Even if you only have 1 hour at 11 pm on a Tuesday evening. Start. What is your heart’s mission? If you like tools, visit the Personal Elevator Pitch tool at HBS.com.
- Reach out to people. “We tend to swallow up into ourselves in challenging times, missing opportunities to leverage’ people,” shared author Sandy Anderson. (Novofemina: Summer Book Review #12: Women in Career & Life Transitions) Establish new connections. Exchange Ideas. Disagree. “Women need a willingness to engage even or especially when the outcome is unknown,” shared a veteran entrepreneur and Research Jam participant. (Novofemina Transition: Necessary Anxiety) How many people have you engaged with in the last thirty days?
- Failure is the real opportunity. No matter how embarrassing, hurtful or disappointing, failure is not a stopping point but a beginning. Clay Christensen, the guru of the Innovator’s Dilemma, noted in How Will You Measure Your Life, “93% of original strategies fail.” He went on to say that companies that win do so not because they had a brilliant initial strategy but because they “iterated quickly.” (How will you measure, pg 49 and 87) It’s ok if you get it wrong…the only failure is letting it stop you from advancing.
I cannot imagine the horror of being a young child standing near the rubble of a collapsed building waiting for my mother to emerge. That image convinces me of two things. First, our problems are small. Most readers, thanks to WordPress’ global statistics, live in the West and benefit from many advances that we often take for granted. If you don’t have an impetus enough to act on your transition consider the workers who gladly headed into an unsafe building just for their chance.
Second, dream the biggest dream you can imagine. Follow your curiosities. Get some blinders so that you see beyond that which may have stopped you before. You have the ability to do anything you set your mind to….on your own terms, in a way that is uniquely yours.
Thank you for listening as I talk out loud about transition. I am eternally grateful for your patience and thoughtful remarks. I look forward to continuing to learn with you.
I hope that you can look at transition’s risks and walk confidently in a direction that matters for you. Please remember…’it is the unknown with all its disappointments and surprises that is the most enriching.” (Novofemina’s Summer Book Review #13: A Gift from the Sea)
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