Our best defense….

“Everyone else, from my dear husband on, and all of my friends, don’t quite get it,” shared a Focus Group participant.  We were discussing the reactions of those around us to transition.   This woman was no shrinking flower.  She had been the chief researcher at a well-known organization.   Early in her career she had successfully transitioned.   This was her second time at the plate.  She wasn’t alone in her sentiment.  All present acknowledged the confusion experienced by many of those closest to them.   She summarized the view from a friend’s perspective, “If that’s how you’ve always identified yourself and (now you) don’t identify yourself…then who are you?”  They don’t quite get it….

Olympic Rings

Have you ever  wondered if those around you are detractors or supporters in your transition?  I’ll be honest other people’s assumptions about me have been a constant hurdle.   Many can’t fathom that I’ve exited the world of extreme jobs on purpose.  Never to look back, I might add.

At least now – a little over three years in — my mother has stopped calling to tell me which distant relative or family friend is ‘surprised’ to learn about my status.  Either she’s realized that her tack isn’t working or she’s exhausted the list….

I remember last spring talking with my brother-in-law about a crazy situation in the local healthcare market.  He is an administrator at a public hospital in Queens.   I’d learned about the issue via the healthcare Board that I serve on.   The organization has >$1Bn in annual revenue – similar both in size and management issues to Iron Mountain, the site of my most recent extreme job.  Those closest to me refer to it as my last formal role.

My brother-in-law looked visibly surprised as I spoke.  ‘What Board‘ he seemed to be saying?  Finally he shared,  “XX told me you were taking it easy.”   Code word for not working.

I toggle between fascinated and furious about other’s reactions to my current pursuits.  I hold three part-time jobs.  Why can’t people see my work?  Is it simply because it differs from what I did for so long?   Maybe I make it invisible…

As the Focus Group progressed another participant shared, “you have to defend yourself.”   Her defense alert was targeted at herself.  She works full-time and is simultaneously charting her course for transition.   She is extremely well thought of in her current job.  Because of this she is constantly questioning herself.  Her logic goes something like – if everyone thinks I’m so good at this maybe it’s what I should be doing.  The only glitch?  It isn’t her passion’s voice….

She admits to backpedaling a bit…”I’m struggling with bringing all the intellectual and emotional integrity to my job because part of me is trying to get to another place.”  She is used to giving ALL.  How do you reconcile this?  Can you ignore Sheryl Sandberg‘s clarion call, ‘don’t leave until you leave’ while you ready yourself for a major change?

The US Women’s Olympic Hockey Team might have a few things to say about defense.   If you missed last Thursday’s incredible heartbreak, the US fell to the Canadians after a combination of late in the game scoring by the Canadians and a series of quirky calls that didn’t break our way.   The last ten minutes of play was some of the most gripping sports play I’ve ever witnessed.

The US Women’s Hockey Team practiced in Bedford, MA for the 8 months leading up to the games.  A neighbor of ours hosted one of the players as did many other families in and around Boston.  She shared a funny story with me.

One of the other host families had baked cookies for the team to share on their bus ride to the airport – departing for Sochi.  When she offered the treats to the athletes they politely scoffed.  “Cookie?  We’re going for the gold.”  They couldn’t be sidetracked by a simple sweet.  Their dream was too clear.  It was a complete defense.  Every part of their existence was aligned against their ultimate destination.

For the mere mortals like myself who aren’t Olympic athletes I reason that my own ’emerging’ redefined identity can serve as a defense.   A strong one.

The best defense?  Cultivate our dreams.  Regardless of the time frame or commitment level we are able to apply.  There’s no substitution.  With it I can look back at my brother-in-law who wants to see through me and know I have a sturdy constitution.

Is there a dream you are pursuing?  At a minimum it necessary armor in transition….

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