Have you ever missed an opportunity to transition? Knew that something wasn’t right but felt it wasn’t the right time to address it? Or better yet, ignored the signs? Or maybe you were oblivious to the signs entirely. If I’m honest I completely missed an opportunity to transition about five years prior to my current one. It wasn’t so much that I ignored the signs. I was aware that I needed a change. What I didn’t get was the enormity of the change required. I can’t help but wonder if I’m not alone in this borderline clueless category.
Transitions seem to come at us from all angles. On occasion transition arrives unexpectedly. An exciting new opportunity presents itself. A sudden job loss. A change in the health status of a parent or loved one. Transitions can also arise intentionally. An early retirement. A divorce. A decision to switch careers. Regardless of how it presents itself, a triggering event really only represents a decision point for women. To change or to transition.
I blew it the first time I was faced with this decision. I chose change and honestly wasn’t even aware that I needed to consider something more.
Here’s the scoop. I had two children within sixteen months of each other right around my fortieth birthday. I lost my Dad. And I found myself working for a Texas-based company that had acquired a start-up that I had founded and led. The start-up part had always been my dream. So, on top of it all, I had to process how to dream again…or dream differently. In reality the processing rarely took precedent over a quick nap or a night of uninterrupted sleep.
Would it surprise you that my response to all this was, ‘I need a new job.’ I didn’t know the word transition at the time. I reasoned that a job change was all I needed. My priority? Eliminate spontaneous travel. Not all travel mind you. Just the trips that required my presence at a meeting half way across the country on 24 hour notice. What was I thinking?
Roll the clock forward several years. I’ve somehow gotten myself into the c-suite of a Fortune 500 company. On an intellectual level my days were filled with engaging questions like, ‘How should we enter a new international market?’ or, ‘How can we think about our talent if our growth rate slows or turns negative?’ On a practical level I integrated, or so I thought, two toddlers, elder care issues, and a growing list of life projects that were placed on the permanent deferral list.
Given all of this are you surprised I got to transition the second time around? I was. In fact it took a minor crisis to instantly jolt me into thinking on a different level.
Long time readers know the story. My young daughter was left waiting with a teacher at an early release pick up from school one day. I was unaware of this until my husband called me in London to let me know. In an instant on that call I knew. I was done. Another unclear path, different entirely from the one I had been on, stretched before me.
That moment held a lot for me. Resolve. Exhaustion. Guilt. Hopefulness. Fear. Excitement. Relief. Possibility.
I asked Focus Group participants from the Research Jam a question along similar lines. ‘What adjectives would you use to describe your transition?’
“Scary and embarrassing” shared a woman as she told the story of her unintentional transition. She added “exhilarating and empowering but also confusing.”
“Liberating. Funny, funny that I’m not more upset than I am. And uncomfortable or awkward. “
“Quiet. Peaceful because I’m alone and my last position was very stressful.”
“Who am I to do this? I’m too insignificant to be a business owner. I think exciting, exhilarating, frightening, I couldn’t think of an adjective but it feels like it’s grandioser than what I’m meant or allowed to do.”
“I’m exploring. It’s exciting. But I still have the safety of full-time work….It’s exciting but it’s unnerving. And in my worst moments I feel like I’m all alone, who’s going to take care of me now. That’s my worst moments. And my best moments, I feel like I’ve got a lot of different options.”
It’s amazing to me how similar women’s experience of transition really is. The difficulty I think is in retaining our perspective as we wade through a sea of emotions that accompany our transitions.
I wonder too…how can I detect more accurately a need to transition in the future?
At the moment perspective is my new favorite answer to the question. I was reminded about it this week when I read about a quirky scientist named Michael Dickinson, (Curiosity Takes Flight, NY Times, 10/8/2013, D1). A MacArthur Genius Grant awardee he is credited with studying the basis of behavior in the brain. His approach? He focuses on the function of the whole being which requires the integration of biology, physics, physiology, neural computational theory, ecology and energetics. Most scientists isolate specific issues versus this holistic approach. The outcome? Dr. Dickinson sees the big picture instead of being dragged into narrow deconstructed solutions. The value of this perspective? He’s made countless breakthroughs as a result….
It’s funny. My ‘change’ detour brought me a wealth of invaluable experiences that I am grateful for. But one that I rarely recognize is the notion that without it I wouldn’t have had the courage to embark on this scary, humbling and empowering path. Is this a perspective you share?
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