Adding more….

“We’ve arrived at this process in an additive way,” offered an articulate woman at a dinner I attended earlier this week.  We were talking about a key process for a finance organization while perched high above New York’s East River in a gorgeously appointed pre-war apartment. “We started with a good focus but kept adding items as people joined.  Each ‘add’ was in response to an issue raised by a new participant.”  The result?  An unwieldy thirty step process that arguably undermined the original goals.   Have you ever experienced something like this?  Additive.    

At my transition’s outset I was buried deeply in ‘additive.’  In the five years prior to that moment I had added several things to my mix.  A second child.  A widowed parent.  A new job in HR,  a new function for me, in an industry that was also new.   Need I go on?  I could.  But, my sense is that you get the picture.

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Amidst this swirl it didn’t dawn on me to step back and re-assess.   Time for transition?  Not on my radar screen.   I saved transition until I was utterly spent, teetering on the edge of a breaking point.   That moment when I had no where else to turn was my transition’s trigger.

When I started talking with women about transition most scoffed a little and remarked something like, ‘mine was different.’  Over time my response grew to….really?

I’ve come to believe that transitions have an anatomy.   Two simple parts: a trigger and the process of transition itself.   I’ve learned that there is great power to isolating and understanding each.    If not…one risks getting duped by the trigger and never starting the transition.

Eight women joined me at a recent Focus Group.   I asked about their triggers.   Their responses ran the gamut.  A job loss after seventeen years of employment.  A miscarriage.   A realization after many years and much toil that a PhD pursuit and a career in academia wasn’t all that interesting.   A realization that, ‘I can do anything’ and not knowing which way to go.

These same women shared the emotions – the adjectives – that accompanied these triggers.   Surprising.  Scary. Embarrassing.  Liberating.  Funny.  Awkward. Uncomfortable.  Peaceful.  Quiet.  Anxious.  Exhilarating.  Frightening.  Exploratory.  Financially Debilitating.  Empowering.  Shameful. Confusing. Unstructured.  Urgent.  Stressful.  Isolating.  Freeing.

Immediately following my transition – my breaking point moment – I was borderline worthless.   I attended a breakfast here.  A coffee with a big thinker there.  All in all these actions simply gave me the comfort of motion.  They didn’t help me manage the emotions tied to my transition’s triggers.  In fact I held many of the adjectives listed above.  Or, should I say they held me.

My dinner colleague from earlier this week went on to offer a solution to our unwieldy thirty step process.  “We should go back to identifying the two or three or five hypotheses that are really critical to our efforts.  Forget the list of thirty.”  She seemed to be saying….let’s agree on a few key questions we need answered and then direct all of our other efforts at testing these.  We can then respond to what we learn and determine how to proceed.

Here’s the odd coincidence…I wasn’t able to get beyond my trigger’s emotional clutches until I had a working hypothesis for my transition.  Somehow this simple step let me pivot my focus to testing and retesting and restating instead of parachuting in and out of guilt or sadness or fear.

I’m not one of those cautious people who think carefully about adding things to my mix.  I add too much.  Others are great at saying no.  Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum I encourage you to add structured thinking about transition to your mix.

At a minimum here’s what you need to think through: isolating the emotions tied to your transition’s trigger; and beginning your hypotheses.  Dream.  Imagine. Envision. Reach.

I know it’s difficult to think about adding more to your already overly committed life.  But…can you really afford not to?

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