“I got a sense of breathing for the first time,” said a dynamic woman whom I interviewed early on for Novofemina’s Voices of Transition column. Prior to being laid off she was a multi-decade employee of a large corporation. She was also the parent of several children, one of whom she lost to a rare childhood illness. She got herself another job within a year of her termination. She described her transition as enlivening. She was energetic and peaceful when we spoke. I will never forget how I felt as I listened to her tell me her story. Awful might be an exaggeration – but not much of one. I remember thinking, ‘how did I ever get myself in this predicament?’ Her confident, delighted state seemed a million miles away from where I sat.
Years separate me from that interview. Today I would describe my own transition using similar adjectives – empowering, energizing, free. Since this is my fourth anniversary post, I’ve been thinking all week – what’s different?
A story in The New York Times helped me coalesce my thinking on the difference. Maybe you saw it? “Counting Up the Hidden Costs of Low Pay,” by Patricia Cohen. The article featured research published by the Berkeley Center for Labor which found that 3/4 of people helped by public assistance programs – like food stamps or Medicaid – are working people. In an instant the report helped me re-frame a familiar topic. It broadened my understanding. It brought forward elements that I had previously not considered. The wage research concluded that employer decisions to pay low wages amounted to taxpayer subsidies – a provocative new lens. A re-framing…..
I hope you don’t interpret my illustration as advocacy for wage equality – I know that you’ll reach your own conclusions there. Instead I hope that you see the usefulness of framing or frameworks and the role they can play in helping us re-see, or really see, the familiar.
In the past four years – with Novofemina’s guidance – I created a transition framework which has taught me an enormous amount about transition and about my response to it. My transition framework is comprised of three parts; triggers, decisions and the act of transitioning itself.
None of us goes through life avoiding triggers. They are events that occur all around us. Marriage. Job loss. Remarriage. Divorce. Childbirth. An empty nest. Boredom. The sudden diagnosis of an illness. The loss of a parent or child. The realization that more is possible. Ever experience any of these?
Thanks to the transition framework, I now see each of these as an opportunity – an invitation to make a decision. What will you do when faced with a trigger?
For some, triggers initiate a change. For example, a job loss can lead to a new job or enrollment in a certificate or graduate program. Either option can have real impact on our lives.
That same job loss can lead to a full retreat. I remember a cousin of my mother’s who lost her job. In response she pulled back from the workforce altogether. She never re-engaged in work outside of the home despite wonderful skills and real economic pressure to do so. A decision. A choice?
That very same job loss can also lead one to choose transition. This decision involves a re-examination of how we make meaning in our world. In it….assumptions about identity or capacity or values get pressure tested. In the process a woman may update her assumptions and make visible changes. It doesn’t really matter how much the assumptions change – if at all. What matters is that she makes the choice to re-examine. That is transition. An opportunity to rethink, realign.
I experienced several triggers – like my dad’s death or the birth of my children – before deciding to go the transition route. With each trigger, I responded almost identically. I changed jobs. When finally I initiated my transition, I was barely standing. I was completely exhausted from letting my life lead me on a crazy pace that included laps around the planet on airplanes. When I decided to transition, I did so blindly – not really understanding what it entailed but knowing that trying more of the same wasn’t going to be enough.
Slowly – overtime – I began to see the real patterns of transition thanks to my own inelegant experience and the graciousness of many women who shared their stories with me. Our collective experience gave me knowledge, an understanding.
Thanks to the last four years I can tell you that triggers and uncertainty never go away. They go hand in hand with our 7×24 culture. How I respond to them has changed markedly. Transition had give me this perspective. With it I proceed confidently – unencumbered, untethered, unafraid.
Four years ago I never imagined how important this conversation would be. You helped me give voice to something important for me and for many other women. I am eternally grateful for your partnership thus far.
It invites us to question, to explore, to re-align…who we are with how we live. Maybe the best question of all is…are you ready for that type of invitation?
Prior Anniversary Posts:
Year 2 400 and 2
Year 3: 3 And Counting
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