Transition’s initial step…..

“Don’t do that when I’m not around,” said my eight year old son.   “I like to learn when you’re on the phone,” he continued.  We were talking about what I do when he is at camp.   I told him that I held conference calls almost constantly while he was gone.  His comment surprised me.  I always perceived my work as an imposition on our time.  In fact I try desperately to manage work around my children’s schedules.  In a million years I wouldn’t have guessed that he would arrive at such a place.  Powerful concept. Learning.nyc_yacht_club

This week I kept bumping into learning as I dug through the Novofemina Research Jam‘s 1:1 interviews.   One interviewee, Holly, a 32-year-old former academic, shared her thoughts on transition.  Hers began with two triggers, a partner’s geographic move and a growing sense personally that something wasn’t quite right.

Holly was incredibly honest.  Her post college identity had been all-consuming and singularly threaded.  She dedicated herself to becoming a scholar.   Life was good.  Or was it?

In her re-telling Holly’s transition was an iterative multi-year process.  Through several interim jobs and broad investigative work she arrived at the creation of a highly personal self-created identity.  Not an adoptive one… tenured professor or auto mechanic or accountant.  One that would speak to her, individually.

I asked Holly if there were any learnings from her transition.  She thought of two:

  • Trust signals:   “I ignored feelings that I wasn’t happy on that path,” she said.  “I did not pay attention to signals I was sending myself.”   She viewed her transition as an abrupt change because she hadn’t trusted her instincts for quite some time.  By the time she finally listened to herself there was a breaking point.  “The messages where there. I ignored them.”
  • Lay groundwork:   Holly, like so many transition veterans, believes that she will transition again.  “I’ll be prepared a little more.  Strategic in simple ways, like making connections to people. Explore what might be.  Educate myself.”

Holly’s comments resonated with me.

Lay Groundwork:  I’ll never forget a funny exchange I had with a transition coach right when I started my transition.  I had just left my swanky corporate role, a member of the CEO’s inner circle at a Fortune 500 company.  “What do you want to do?” he asked.

My response was largely unformed but I did get out that I was interested in designing a portfolio of activities that would mimic a full-time job but provide me flexibility to embrace other parts of my life.   We talked a bit about what might be in the portfolio.  At one point I shared, “I’d like to serve on a board or two.”

He listened politely but tripped a bit on that last point.   The idea itself wasn’t too outlandish.  The timing of it was.   He said something like, “it would have been easier to hop onto a board if you were ‘currently’ serving in an executive capacity, not ‘formerly.'”  He went on, “Why didn’t you initiate this while working?”   My only reply……I hadn’t laid the groundwork.

Trust Signals:  Holly’s remarks about trusting signals are more significant.    Carol Gilligan, author of Summer Book Review #25: Meeting at the Crossroads shared, “Women distrust or modulate their voices in order to maintain relationships.  Connections with others, or relationships, are a ‘central organizing feature in women’s development.’” (Crossroads, pg 3)

I’m not sure that I’ve ever linked my instincts to any sort of relationship maintenance.  I am, however, fascinated by Gilligan’s research.  Have you ever not listened to your signals?  Ever wonder why?

Holly noted that transition was, “harder than I thought it would be.”  She continued, “I was surprised at how personal it was.  It was more complex than I had thought.”

I don’t think anyone ever arrives overnight at a transition-inspired self-created identity.  My sense is that it’s an outcome.   An outcome whose very first step has to be learning.  About ourselves.  Our possibilities.

The only real question is….are you ready to take that initial step?

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