It has been a long time since I fought back tears to get through a day. Have you ever had one of those days? Or weeks? It seems as if I am holding on by my finger nails of late. What could possibly be going on? And more importantly, why is this happening now?
Before I say more let me give you a flavor for where I’m at. I am on Cape Cod, think sea gulls, ocean breezes and sand. My location and the fact that I am here is one of the most tangible signs of my transition. Since 2013 I’ve worked remotely in the summer from a 600 square foot shack in the dunes of the Outer Cape. Conference calls and Skype can happen anywhere. Blessedly.
More importantly, I look forward to working here all year-long so that I can finally begin some longer term projects. This summer’s project is book #2, a transition story that features some of the perspective that I’ve gained thanks to the thousands of people with whom I’ve interacted since my first book was published.
Sounds dreamy, right?
Not so fast. All sorts of chaos is ensuing around me.
In the last few days alone my little shack has lost its hot water, its internet, and its working stove. Relatives keep appearing – the most recent group stealing away six hours of working time I’d allocated after days of dealing with plumbers and other service providers. My son has fallen in love with his half-day basketball camp, a camp that requires me to spend nearly twelve hours per week in the car transporting him to and fro. Of course my daughter has other activities, each of which require more driving – just in different directions.
What was I thinking?
“I am so behind,” is my new mantra. I feel as if my laptop is dangling in front of me just out of reach.
Thankfully my work with transition has taught me a fair amount about how to navigate what feels like a cacophony of distractions.
First off, I recognize all that is happening collectively as a barrier. Barriers are circumstances, people or events that impede our progress in a desired direction. Participants in my ongoing research identify a wide variety of barriers that they encounter in their transitions. Here are a handful of those I’ve heard recently.
One of the most common responses to a barrier is deferral. For example, a person might say, “I need to educate my children so I will start <fill in their dream> when my youngest finishes college.” Even though this approach is incredibly popular, it misses one of the key learnings from my research. Barriers are always present – in some form or another. Once the kids finish college, another barrier will pop up. Deferment isn’t a solution.
Instead I’ve learned that we need to learn how to proceed in the presence of the barriers. My work favors a handful of techniques that can help us continue to move forward in their presence.
One of the most basic techniques is bringing voice to barriers. This technique asks us to bring our awareness to those circumstances, people or things that may be present for us. Is there something that is serving to foil your progress? Write a list down. Once you have a complete list, give the list a headline.
How should I headline my barriers? Could time be it? While valid it seems too trite. Could there be something more?
A more advanced technique that I use asks us to bring our awareness to what the barrier may be teaching us. I use this often when I facilitate groups of people who are working through all manner of transitions. Even though this technique seems too easy to be useful, I am always amazed at what it yields.
I was reminded of the technique over the weekend when my son asked me a question. He saw me really struggling as things unwound last week. “I can always go to full day camp next week.” He offered in hopes of relieving some of the pressure I felt to get some undisturbed hours of work in. His generous offer reminded me that I cannot do it alone. Even his offer to help changed the dynamic for me.
There is likely more that I need to do to understand this ‘alone’ issue and what it means to engage others in my work. For now, the mindfulness exercises gave me room to generate new ideas on how to move forward so that tomorrow can already begin to be different.
The net of this story is that barriers are still present for me four years into an incredibly enlivening transition experience, an experience that I would describe as optimistic, surprising and freeing.
Thank you for staying with me through my silence – an unintended consequence of a barrier rich spring.
Over the weeks ahead I wish for you warm summer breezes and a moment or two for self-reflection. I hope you arrive at the place I am – understanding that the energy and power that resides within each of us is unbeatable even against what feels like the most intractable barriers.
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