This morning as I was walking our dog I found a painted rock by the side of the road. It had an inscription that read, Think Outside the Box. The unexpected treasure is a part of our town’s kindness project. Up until this chance encounter I didn’t really ‘get’ the program. Now, I have a different opinion. I smiled brightly when I found the rock. The inscription felt as if it was meant only for me. Yes, outside the box is a place I inhabit comfortably. I’ve been amazed at the goodness I’ve met there. What awaits you outside of the box?
Oddly enough, some out-of-the-box-thinking led me to a surprising realization last week. It popped into my head as if I had known it all along. I credit two sources with this aha: a process that I created for transitioning; and a crew of beta testers who unselfishly helped me test it last Monday.
Background: Before I get to the realization, let me set some context for the process and the beta testing.
When I started my transition journey I didn’t know what was happening to me. I didn’t understand the word transition nor did I know anything about the process of transitioning. Short of Caitlyn Jenner’s physical and emotional transformation, what happens when we transition? Who knows was my answer in 2011 when it all started.
After a two-year roller-coaster ride of ups and downs that didn’t get me anywhere but feeling frustrated and more alone, I started my formal research in January 2013. From there things accelerated. The research gave me the confidence to realize something I already knew. Transition occurs when there is a shift in what holds value or meaning to us.
What does that mean? It means that we change our opinion of things we always thought were important and true. Anything can be on the list – people, things, jobs, religious affiliations, and so much more.
All of a sudden one day I felt as if the ground fell out from underneath me. The things that I’d held up as important for so long – like upward career progression and titles – fell away.
Thanks to this shift I was unglued but not because I was mourning those things that went away. What was so hard was the void when I looked forward. It was as if I was saying, ‘Ok. Not that. But what?’
Enter 2017. I now consider myself the ranking expert of adult transitioning thanks to some astonishing take-aways from my research; a 5-star rated Amazon book; and my day-job of speaking, advocating and writing about transition.
I am about to add workbook to this exciting new profile. For the past sixteen months I’ve been developing and testing a self-paced workbook for transitioning. The workbook introduces a seven-step process for anyone who faces an uncertain path forward. It is full of exercises that are engaging and proven to work. Here’s the kicker, the exercises lead us to unexpected and yet perfectly-fitting new places. I’ve seen it time and again. Last Monday it happened for me.
My realization: For the past several years, I’ve operated under the assumption that my trigger occurred on a business trip to London while my daughter was in kindergarten. There was a childcare meltdown. Things unraveled. All was quickly rectified but I was left in ashes wondering where I’d gone.
A workbook exercise changed my perspective on this trigger. The exercise relies on a simple assumption: how we define a problem influences our view of the possible solutions. This dictum is the trick of mindfulness exercises. With them we re-frame a challenge or opportunity which in turn opens the aperture on possible solutions. I use this type of pivot throughout the workbook. Last Monday the beta testers and I used it to look differently at triggers.
The exercise asks that we bring our awareness to why we are exploring transition. Many – like myself – answer the question first by listing external triggers, like an empty nest or a childcare snafu. Then the exercise leads us beyond our initial answers.
As I went beyond I realized that my transition was triggered by a deep desire to engage with people emotionally, particularly those closest to me. Here are the facts. Something happened about four months after my childcare snafu. I was still at Iron Mountain. My family went on a one week vacation. It was July, the first break we’d had in months. Our whole family needed to exhale. My daughter finished kindergarten in June and we were all still processing the loss of our beloved long-term nanny who had left us almost a year earlier. While we had kept it all together, the year had taken its toll.
“What’s wrong with the kids?”
It was a question asked by a longtime family friend who happened to be vacationing near us. She was right. Something was off. The kids seemed to be operating as if under a pall. Gone were my bubbly happy little beings. What was the matter?
I was struck by her comment. And thankful. I was also immediately aware that I hadn’t seen it. I had no emotional availability to engage or even to recognize what was happening around me. I was completely depleted by the professional environment and circumstances I had created for myself. Yes, we’d kept the wheels on the wagon. But there was so much more…..
I returned from vacation and told my boss I was done. It took many months and a few corporate shenanigans before I was finally able to exit but a process was underway.
Thanks to last Monday, I now recognize that my trigger as a broader and more dynamic issue related to but not solely a childcare snafu. It is aligned with who I am at my core – a desire to be emotionally connected and available to people – particularly our two littlest stars.
If I think about my trigger in this fashion, it all of a sudden makes more sense to me why transition has influenced more than my professional choices. It touches everything. It gives me the ballast to bring more of who I am forward in every situation. It is a process. Still on-going.
I am sure continued Out of the Box Thinking will help me shape the void that I am traversing. One thing to note, I do so smiling and ever more engaged.
What thinking waits for you outside of the box?
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