Giving Ourselves Permission

“I gave myself permission – thanks to being a part of this group ,” said Stephanie.  She was crediting a multi-session working group that I put together to help me develop a workbook, a companion to my book, Women & Transition.    Over the course of our sessions together we learned that Stephanie had been laid off a year earlier from her job as a research and development manager for a tech behemoth, a job that she’d held in some form or another for almost twenty years.  We also learned that our work together helped her dignify a small voice in her head that kept leading her away from R&D and tech.  She was excited and scared about her new path.  I was really struck by her words.  I felt as if she and I were in the same place.   How could this be?   My transition is farther down the garden path than hers.   Isn’t  it?   What was it about permission that spoke to me?


To answer that question let me tell you more about what I heard from Stephanie and what it helped me understand about my own journey.

For those who are new to transition I’ve learned a lot about it thanks to my transition and to the many women – like Stephanie – who have supported my research by sharing their transition stories with me.  Here is a quick refresher:

  • Transitions occur when there is a shift in what holds value or meaning to each of us.  It can happen in either gender and at any age – 22 or 72 or never.
  • Society has taught us to think about transitions as events or circumstances.   A sudden change in health status, a geographic move, welcoming another child, facing retirement or divorce, or even, boredom.  These ‘transitions’ are everywhere.
  • Only here’s the rub.  None of these events or circumstances are themselves transitions.  They are merely triggers.  Triggers deposit us at an opportunity to make a decision.  One option for the decision: transition.  The choice is ours.
  • For those who choose transition it requires us to re-examine our assumptions about identity, capacity and values.  It asks us to envision our fullest selves and to work through a process of experimentation and learning to bring that vision into a reality.

Early in Stephanie’s career she’d been involved in the specialty foods industry.  For loads of reasons  – including her beliefs about the viability of a career in that industry; expectations about what it meant to be a female graduate of a prestigious science program; and a new marriage – she didn’t go there.  She thought she needed to do something else.

Sound familiar?

At fifty she found herself newly divorced and on the receiving end of an unexpected down-sizing.  Of transitioning she said, “The envisioning really worked for me.  It gave me permission to explore things that I passed over before.”  In Envisioning, the 1st step in the transitioning process, we bring our awareness to the boundaries we’ve explicitly and implicitly set for ourselves.

Envisioning doesn’t give us an answer.  It simply encourages us to ask questions.  Earnestly.

Stephanie responded to Envision’s challenge by creating two parallel job searches; one in R&D, the other in specialty foods.  She quickly realized that Envision isn’t only about the outwardly visible activities – like job searches.    It also required her to rethink her lifestyle choices, her relationships, and success.

Her query deposited her at the doorstep of her financial security, a major barrier for her.  She asked herself hard questions.  How much did she need to live?  Could she take a temporary cut in pay?  Even if she could, should she?  What would it mean for her retirement given her age?

As I worked with Stephanie and the others barriers took on some new dimensions for me.

Long time readers may recall ‘time’ as being a major barrier for me.  Prior to my transition time served as a shield, as in “I don’t have time.”  It kept me from initiating transition – from asking really hard questions of myself – for close to a decade.  Way back then I held an executive role in a Fortune 500 and had two children under the ages of 5.  My life was planes, trains and automobiles all vectoring around evening tuck-ins and the occasional pre-school play.   Time, or my lack of it, stood rigidly as a fortress to all else.

Today time is still active for me but it presents itself differently.  From a work perspective I am 100% dedicated to women & transition and a not-for-profit that I founded to increase the capacity for transition in women.  I love the work and hope to educate millions of women about this important and powerful topic.

In the last six months the activity level related to this work has grown exponentially (Hooray!).  Curiously I’ve also seen an increase in activities related to my children, my family and my community.  All of which take time.

As I listened to Stephanie and her ‘permission’ I couldn’t help but wonder if my non-book  commitments – the family, children, and a never-ending list of community commitments – are serving as another barrier?   Each takes time and in aggregate reduces the amount of time that I can invest in my work.

Why do I over commit to these activities?  Am I using time again as a shield?  Does it have something to do with my fear of advancing on those things that I’ve begun?  Or is it something else entirely – like something undone about parenting and my work?

What is it?

While I don’t have the answer I can tell you that I now think about permission as a repetitive requirement in transition.  I need to give myself permission again.  It is not just something we need to grant ourselves to ‘begin’ transition.   But something we need to keep granting ourselves – to explore, to do, to fail, to dream. Again and again.

This summer I hope you can grant yourself the permission to explore, to reach, to dream.  I also hope that you have the courage to take one step forward in whatever direction your heart leads.

Happy 4th of July.


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