“Oh, I can’t do that,” shared an interviewee with a soft laugh. We were talking about the internal barriers to transition. Have you ever heard a similar voice in your head? She’d transitioned before. She could easily see – in hindsight – the walls erected by her own assumptions. Those walls restricted her ability to envision what ‘might be.’ She went on, “I knew that I had to stop doing what I was doing. I didn’t know where I’d end up.” She seemed stalled by the simple question, ‘What’s next?’
Many of us arrive at transition simply knowing something needs to change. What I think we miss is that it’s just as common to arrive at that moment without a clear answer to the question, ‘what’s next?’
Our biggest risk at that moment isn’t our inability to answer the question but the risk of letting that uncertainty stop us from proceeding.
Once we let ourselves begin to think about what’s next..our challenge becomes opening the aperture on the possible. To dream. To reach. To believe in something broader than our current notion of self.
Early in transition I was fortunate to participate in an exercise that was intended to challenge my assumptions about what might be possible. It was incredibly valuable.
“Tell us about your WOW moments, the moments in your life that you loved,” asked Dan, one of two facilitators. The pair was part of a transition coaching team from Essex Partners in Boston, MA, an executive coaching gift from my prior employer. Truth be told I was highly skeptical when I walked into the room.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” played in my mind as they queried me at the session’s outset. I’m not very new age-y and I didn’t really understand transition fully at that point.
The technique, known as Appreciative Inquiry, was derived from a corporate organizational development construct. Dan Shepard, then a leader at Essex, dedicated his graduate work to leveraging this technique for personal or career usage.
The technique had a simple construct. Once a list of special moments was created we mined it for themes. Themes were then used as a back drop to brainstorming a list of what might be.
My moments had expected things – like the births of my children – and unexpected things – like a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal that got published ages ago. Interesting.
The list of themes was short and powerful. This led to a laundry list of potential ideas for me. The surprise? Most of what was on that list hadn’t been on my radar screen prior to walking into the conference room.
Many of us – me included – assume that the real work of transition is found in trying to figure out how to express our passions. I’ve found that there is equally difficult work at transition’s outset – defining what’s next or understanding our dreams, our passions.
Despite the difficulty don’t defer or skip this step. Let’s face it…it would have been easy for me to cave early on and simply go find a job. Any job. One that could somehow fit my needs and the ever-changing needs of my family. Somewhere along the way I became convinced that if I trusted the silence more was possible. At my truest I longed for the possible – for its excitement, its energy.
I hope that you have the courage to broaden your view of what could be possible and to not let the uncertainty of those moments overwhelm your opportunity to look forward – boundaryless.
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