Assessing forward progress…

“What has been the most difficult part of your transition?” asked a friend in a shaky voice.  Her tone underscored her status.  She sounded on edge.   My guess was that she was reeling from yet another setback.    Ever been there?  I was momentarily silent in response to her question.  Which  parts?   In my mind several were vying for the preeminent spot…most difficult.

Isolation.  Failure.  Financial uncertainty.   Uncertainty in general.  Other people’s reactions –  mostly negative by the way.  Guilt.  Long term career impact.  Silence.  Need I go on?

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While it felt good to write that list I don’t think it’s actually fair.   Failure, or fear of failure, has been hands down the most challenging element of my transition.   I view failure as taking many forms, a changeling just like that seen in my son’s beloved Star Wars movies.   My one victory in all this is that my ability to handle failure and all its associated baggage has changed markedly during my transition.

My transition has progressed in stages, different from but in parallel to the transition process espoused by William Bridges author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (Summer Book Review #2).    For Bridges, the primary process for transition is  “an ‘ending’; followed by a ’empty zone’ or ‘neutrality’; followed by a ‘beginning.'”

My experience also has three phases: the great unwinding, the science experiment, and further refinement.  The great unwinding held for me a lot of endings a’ la Bridges but a few critical breadcrumbs that looked like beginnings too.

I stopped my full-time job.   I physically recovered from years of 7 x 24 work demands and traveling long distances over short time periods for work.    I attended to personal business that I’d deferred for too long like finally starting physical therapy for a yoga-induced shoulder injury that had occurred 4 years earlier.   I started networking.  I did some consulting.   I started to talk out loud about transition in person and via Novofemina.com.

The science experiment started almost 2 years in for me.  It began with my ability to finally articulate a possible path forward.  A first draft of my new self-created identity.   An initial hypothesis.   With it I initiated a series of experiments intended to validate or invalidate the hypothesis.    Most were not fancy.  A Skype call arranged to gather information on an issue was deemed an experiment.    So too a paid consulting gig.   I designed all manner of activity in search of greater certainty around my core hypothesis.

My current phase I’d call further refinement.  In this phase I’ve re-imagined my hypothesis again and again.   By the way, I’m reaching for bigger things than I let myself explore in the earlier phases.  My approach is exactly the same though.  Experiment.  Learn.  Really learn.  Experiment some more.

Here’s the surprise.  I think that fear of failure gated my willingness to reach even when I told myself I was dedicating time to transition.  So now in the 3rd stage I’m less fearful and willing to reach bigger.  Here is a story I keep in my heart, particularly on bad days.

A dear friend shared with me that her dad ran for political office in the D.C. area.  I can’t recall if it was for the US House or for a state-level representative seat.   It doesn’t really matter.  The punch line is that he didn’t win the race.  Despite this disappointing outcome for her dad she went on to describe how people treated him differently from that moment onward.  The fact that he had stepped forward to act in a way that was meaningful to him made all the difference.  Could he have done more had he been elected?  Probably.  Maybe?  Her message to me was that failure was really irrelevant.  Her dad’s willingness to accept risk made a significant difference for him from that point onward.

What role does failure play in your transition?   Early on, failure related to financial stability created all sorts of gates for me, particularly as I was thinking about ‘viable’ work.   Until I could clearly state was my hypothesis it seemed that I was buffeted about by the vagaries of the day everyday.

Here’s how I know I’ve made progress.   During my great unwinding The Boston Globe carried a feature story about some long-time friends who happen to run a dynamic Boston-based company.    Reading the article sent me into a complete spin.  It went something like this…..  “How could I make such poor choices?  I can’t believe I’ve wasted my career.  On what really?  Nothing I was doing, nor would ever do, would merit such recognition.   Why do I make this so hard?  How about just putting my head down and earning money?”

Wind the clock forward.  The company was just featured again in The Boston Globe.  My reaction this time?  Excitement for them.  Not a blip on the screen for me.   The difference?   I’m well into my science experiment…my hypothesis provides me with an impenetrable ballast.  Also, I’ve exited Bridges’ earliest stage, ending.  Most of the ‘should have beens’ and ‘could have beens’ exited with it.

Failure.  Yes, the most difficult part of my transition.  Not for the fear it instills but rather for the unrecognizable limits it sets.   Failure has pivoted for me. Now I seek it out to understand what gates it is silently erecting for me.

How about you.  Are you ready to assess its influence?

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