“What is transition?” asked a woman who was giving me feedback on one of my project’s just prior to the end of last year.  Her question was sincere.  It’s a question that I get often.  It always gives me pause.  Transition.  How would you define it?

Everywhere I look right now I see media coverage about New Year’s resolutions.  Loose a few pounds.  Get a new job.  Find a spouse.  Leave a spouse.  Buy a new house.  Get control of that unsightly <fill in the blank>.  Are any of these transitions?

Fireworks Display, Italy 2008

Fireworks Display, Italy 2008

After nearly three years in transition my answer is that any of them could be.   The answer is really up to you.  I’ve come to believe that transition is a decision we make when facing a triggering event – a job loss, a new baby, a divorce, a marriage.  Here are two quick stories to underscore what I mean.

“She’s fine,” said my husband’s voice on my cell phone as soon as the line engaged.  She was our five-year old kindergartener at the time.  “What do you mean she’s fine?” I responded on the edge of panic.

When my phone rang I was stepping through the door to a trendy, gorgeously appointed restaurant on the banks of the Thames River in London, England.     I was with twelve of my colleagues, a mixture of executives from our International and U.S. businesses.  Mostly men save for me and one other woman.

I was at the rear of the group talking with a colleague so it was easy to excuse myself to take the call.   I slipped back out onto the sidewalk.  The street seemed silenced by a long distance behind me.  The Tower Bridge stood regally in front of me in the late afternoon light.

My husband went on to inform me that it was an early release day at my daughter’s school.  Early release, the bane of most working parents, is a day dedicated to teacher development during which children are released from school earlier than regularly scheduled.

I was instantly happy that I had had the good sense of telling her teacher that I would be in London for the week.  A simple step amidst the swirl of reminders for Dad, the new nanny, two different schools, various neighbors, and Peapod – our local supermarket’s delivery service.  Get the picture?

Our five-year old stood there with her Angelina Ballerina back pack waiting.  No one arrived.

After the rest of the class had been picked up the teacher and his charge went to the office to call my husband.  He in turn tagged our nanny who arrived with our younger son within ten minutes to get our daughter.  All was well.

Or was it?   In that moment, standing in the shadows of the Tower Bridge, with a cell phone in my ear, I knew it.   I was done.   But with what?

The true extent of my decision was unclear at that moment.  The emotions were driven by exhaustion, guilt, boredom, and possibility.

Five years earlier a similar albeit less dramatic situation occurred.   I had two children under two.  I was commuting for work between Boston and Dallas and points beyond on American Airlines.   Thankfully I had Mary Poppins for a nanny and a working spouse who was engrossed in a new start-up he had founded.    Amidst this all I lost my dad.

Time for transition?  Not hardly.   Instead of rethinking some basic assumptions my reaction was, “I need a new job.”   I reasoned that I needed to eliminate travel or at least spontaneous travel.   All else would fall into place.

In hindsight I look at these two events very differently.   If I’m being tough on myself I say I missed my first opportunity to transition.  But in reality that is incorrect.   I wasn’t ready then.

In the earlier ‘missed’ event there were triggers everywhere.  A new job.  A relatively new baby.  The death of a parent.   But triggers only represent decision point:  to change or to transition.  What I really missed at that juncture was an opportunity to begin…..exploring, thinking, imagining.

Transition – at it simplest – requires a willingness to examine possibilities.   What would you hear if you let your curiosities or passions or interests speak louder than the judgments of what you should be or could be doing?   You can be 29 or 49 or 69.   One more thing – transition requires a commitment to testing those possibilities.  Even the smallest test counts.  Inaction doesn’t.

So how did I miss the opportunity to begin at the earlier juncture?  I stopped possibility exploration entirely.   Those things that I personally loved  — networking, board involvement, a walk with a friend — ceased due to my flawed rationale for self-preservation.   I was too busy.  My family needed me for the few hours that I wasn’t working.   All reasonable.   But I couldn’t see that I was trying to stay afloat but puncturing the very raft I inhabited.

Merriam-Webster’s defines transition as a noun “, a:  passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another:  b:  a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another.  C.   an abrupt change in energy state or level (as of an atomic nucleus or a molecule) usually accompanied by loss or gain of a single quantum of energy.”

From my perch transition is a verb, a decision to re-assess our underlying assumptions when faced with the need to change.  What assumptions?  Our identity.  Our values.  Our capacity.  Our sense of purpose…..

Does this definition ring true for you?

As you look forward to 2104 I hope that you take a moment to dream in an unfettered way.  To re-imagine.   I hope that you conjure the courage to dignify whatever you hear – if only by a simple act.  To begin.  Happy New Year!

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