Transition’s creative barrier…

“Have you started cleaning closets?”  asked a business school classmate of mine immediately after I started my transition.   She shared that another classmate, who had been a high-ranking executive in the financial services industry, did exactly that for two months following her acrimonious departure from an employer.   My friend viewed this activity positively, a cleanse.  Was it?   Is cleanliness or organization an accompaniment to transition?


Last weekend I finally made sense of my friend’s cleanliness query within a framework that focused on its corollary, messiness.  I read, “It’s Not ‘Mess.’  It’s Creativity.” (Sunday NY Times, 9/15/13, pg  SR12).

Before I go on I have to disclose two points.  First, my closets border on disaster despite almost three years in transition.   Second, the term ‘messy’ has been on my radar screen because it was brought up frequently by participants in Novofemina’s Research Jam.

Back to the NY Times piece…Kathleen Vohs, professor at The University of Minnesota, researched “Messy or tidy: which is better?”   Unbeknownst to me it seems that our current views on cleanliness hail from more than 50 years ago.  Did you know that at the time researchers linked concepts of ‘cleanliness’ to ‘moral righteousness.’  Later the terms were expanded to mean “upholding societal standards.”  (Mess, Creativity)

Vohs and colleagues were interested in the connection, if any, between creativity and messiness.  Their query was prompted out of concern about cleanliness’ potential to tamp down innovation, an issue of growing national importance.   The researchers fashioned a funny experiment using ping-pong balls which should, at a minimum,  be part of your next survival plan for any holiday that includes difficult relatives.  (Mess, Creativity)

Here’s what they learned.   Messiness leads to ‘more creativity’ and ‘greater creative output’ than cleanliness.  Hands down.

Should transition take anything away from this research?

Marina Keegan, a Yale grad who penned “Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” concluded that fear of ‘messiness’ is a true and formidable barrier to transition.  Novofemina’s The Universal Barriers of Transition” featured this Yale grad’s treatise in which she explored our willingness, or lack thereof, to follow our passions.

For the record, Keegan doesn’t call her classmate’s activities ‘transitions’ but it is difficult not to.  Here are some of the barriers to transition Keegan identified:

a) Fear or aversion to sloppiness:  Why do we retreat to clean, sometimes soul-less, lines?  “Searching is messy and confusing and we’re often afraid of dealing with that mess.”  (Even Artichokes, Yale Daily News)

b) Readiness or credential adequacy:  Ever question the readiness of your skill set prior to embarking on a new path?  Kevin Hicks, former dean of Berkeley College, Yale ’89, lamented in Keegan’s piece that soon-to-be college grads were simply searching for, “the next opportunity for extrinsic validation. If McKinsey says you’re okay, you’re okay.” (Even Artichokes, Yale Daily News)

c) Desire for prestige or validation.  Keegan remarks of her classmates’ choosing finance and consulting, “it will make us feel like we’re still successful.”  (Even Artichokes, Yale Daily News)  Keegan refers to ‘external validation’ often in Artichokes.  Novofemina’s Summer Book Review #9 Working Identity noted that some of the most difficult barriers can be “our (own) preconceived notions about viable work.”

Should you put closet organization on your transition to do list? I now reason that my classmate who tackled her closets used it as a refuge, a peaceful anchor amidst her transition’s messiness.

For me there are many days in which I view favorably a retreat to a soul-less pursuit.   Those days are fewer thanks to my sampling of the energy that awaits me once I traverse the difficult, messy terrain of transition.   The process is unfettered. Circuitous. And invaluable.   Tell me, are you ready for the trek?

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