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Leaving and Leading

By this time – many years into solid research on transitioning – one might imagine that I’ve learned all there is to know about the topic.  I was reminded after my recent trip to San Francisco of how untrue this line of thinking really is.  I am happy to report that I returned from California dry-eyed and excited. For those who missed Remarkable Choices, I spent three-weeks in San Francisco this summer on a writing vacation. My goal was to work unimpeded on my second book. I am happy to report that by the time I checked in for my return flight, I had an entire manuscript drafted, from introduction to final chapter.

That said, the new manuscript isn’t the entire story. The trip yielded something even more special, a broader perspective on my work. This expansion starts in a place with which we are all familiar, a decision to leave.

Early Morning View

We leave all sorts of things. We leave in big and small ways. We leave family gatherings and political rallies and baseball games. We leave marriages and employers and friendships. We leave one opportunity for another more promising one. We leave anger and guilt and self-doubt for hope.

When do we leave ourselves?

Another Cafe, Pine St, San Francisco, CA

What a question, right?

San Francisco brought this question to light for me.

An Approach

Those who know me personally know that I am a process wonk. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise anyone that process was on my mind as I readied myself for the trip. Ok, it wasn’t until I was on the airplane heading west that I created a plan. But it was an important step.

Would I follow the same writing process I used with my first book? Or try something new? In the intervening years since my first book was published, a friend gave me a great book that talked about a radically different approach to story development than the one I had used earlier.  I toyed with adopting it but I was hesitant. The last thing I wanted to do was waste my time fooling around with something that would be unproductive. But what about taking a creative risk? What might be possible under that scenario?

I settled on the unproven new approach. The process had three basic steps: to create a one page description of the book’s theme; to develop a detailed chapter outline; and then, and only then, to write chapters.

In spite of my hesitation, the new process proved to be surprisingly useful.

Chinatown, San Francisco, CA

 

A Broader View of My Work

After nearly seven years writing, advocating and teaching about transition, it was very humbling to sit down and attempt to articulate a one page theme. I spent days on this. I edited and re-edited. I walked the hills of San Francisco when I got stuck. I started to get concerned that it was taking too much time. How would I make progress if I spent all my time on the earliest step?  Here is what emerged from my inelegant labors:

My work is about choice or the difficulty many of us have – including me – in making significant choices or major life decisions.  I was – after all – introduced to transition thanks to a personal calamity that left me struggling with a choice of what to do next.

By focusing on choice, I realized that transition is not an end in-and-of itself.  Transition is a process that enables growth. Our own growth. Nothing requires us to transition. It is a choice we make. We choose to grow.

We encounter many many invitations for growth over the course of our lives. Oddly, we ignore most of them. In fact, we live in a growth-phobic society. Our social norms teach us to look the other way, tamp down or create distractions when faced with an opportunity to grow. These norms leave us busy – sometimes exhausted – but no further from a growth perspective.

Once we recognize the opportunity for growth and the capacity for growth that transition offers, we learn that the secret sauce lies in ‘how we respond’ to all of this. Our progress forward relies heavily on our ability to rewire our response to a transition’s trigger or the barriers and emotions that accompany them.

Triggers or the circumstances that lead us to choose growth vary widely. Divorce, death, job loss, marriage, the birth of another child, gender re-assignment surgery or a recognition that something isn’t quite right. Transition doesn’t concern itself with differences among triggers. The common denominator in all of this is a shift, a shift in what holds value and meaning to us. The shift occurs when we re-examine our assumptions about who we are and how we make meaning in the world.

On a practical level growth is simple: we need to turn up the volume on those things that hold value and meaning to us. These things can be anything on the planet as long as they engage us at the core. By giving voice to these things that matter to us, we allow ourselves to see the path forward in an entirely new way. With this as a ballast, all of a sudden options that were hidden from us come into full view.

What About Leaving and Leading?

When most of us think about transition, we think it involves leaving something. Leaving a professional identity or a marriage or a dysfunctional familial relationship. San Francisco taught me that this departure thinking is incorrect.

Transition and growth are about leading with who we are….ourselves…in all the circumstances of our lives. Not just at work. Not only on the playground or in the kitchen or with a sibling or a dear friend. Leading with you. Your beliefs. Everywhere. Even if this involves a struggle to recalibrate who we are thanks to a previously unrecognized departure from ourselves.

This type of leading may involve leaving but it doesn’t have too.

I remember one very funny exchange I had with the CEO of a women’s fashion house that asked me to talk at their annual meeting. “Will they all leave?’ asked the CEO in a concerned tone when he learned that the my topic would be transition. I replied, “If I do my job correctly, they will bring more of who they are to the job. The exact opposite of leaving.”

If we decouple leading with leaving, transition and growth become universally available.  Through this lens, transition cannot get waylaid by the mortgage or a un-supportive boss or an overbearing family.

We get to decide how we show up every day. You don’t need to leave to lead in this way.

The converse isn’t as kind. You can leave – repeatedly – and never make a dent in transition nor growth. You will miss all of the benefits of transition and growth if you leave something but do not use your departure as an opportunity to bring up the volume on those things that hold value or meaning to you.

Leaving is often hard. Imagine if it yields nothing related to our own growth….

Leading Forward

Transition has allowed me to grow in ways I never imagined. I now operate with a connectedness to who I am that I never knew was missing and yet I can honestly say that it completes me like nothing else ever has. It is an awakening that makes me feel as if I am breathing from every pore on my body. Energetic. Joyful. Free.

May you see opportunities to add who you are to every moment that you are alive. May you respond to the invitation for growth with an open heart and begin a remarkable journey whose destination while unknown is irreplaceable. May you realize that you can have all these things by simply leading with who you are. Today.

 

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Want to talk ‘live’ about transition and growth? There are two ways you can join me for informal chats. For those in and around Boston, join me at a free drop-in series In Transition at the Winchester Public Library on the second Thursday of every month from 7-8:30 pm. Free coffee and refreshments are served. Our kick off for this season is Thursday, September 11th! Hope to see you there.

For those unable to join in person, watch for my inaugural podcast, Destination Unknown, starting this fall. Will you join me to talk about your transition? I am scheduling guests now for twelve-minute appearances. Email me if you are interested. I’d love to add your voice to our conversation. linda@womenandtransition.com.

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Copyright © 2018 Linda Rossetti & NovoFemina.com.  All rights reserved. No content on this site may be reused in any fashion without written permission from NovoFemina.com.

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No Clear Path Forward

I’ve learned over the past four years that the word, ‘transition,’ is a loaded term. We use it to describe everything from the vital first efforts of a new presidential administration, a.k.a. a transition team, to the heavily scrutinized transition of celeb, actress and athlete Caitlyn Jenner.  What does transition mean for you?

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Terrible, Awful, No Good Barriers

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?

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How we engage others

“You’ll be one of the best next year,” offered my son. Unprompted.  He is eleven.  We were in the kitchen.  It was Sunday three weeks ago.  I’d just decided to not participate in a sprint triathlon, an event for which I’d been training for months.   A quirky injury sidelined me.  I was crushed.    In the grand scheme of things this was minor – hardly a blip.   If I was still pre-transition, I would have simply gone on that day and not said a word about it to anyone.  Instead, my transition inspired me to give voice to my disappointment.  I was struck by my son’s humanity and emotional intelligence.  Our typical exchanges are single words conveyed over an electronic device.   His pivot made me reflect on how much of myself I can bring to interactions with others.   It is my choice just like it was his.  I can mimic the sentiment of his single word responses or his deft comment.  How much of my voice do I choose to engage? Continue reading

Knowing

“I don’t know,” said my twelve-year-old daughter earlier this week in response to a benign question I asked her about choosing a movie.  Her tone was light-hearted if not a little distracted.  My heart fell as I listened to her response.  How could she not know?  I hoped we’d avoid this unknowing if only for a few more years.  Have you ever heard yourself say a similar statement?  I don’t know. Continue reading

Is transition for me…

“How do I know I am ready for all of this?” asked a woman who attended a talk I gave on Tuesday evening at our local independently owned bookstore. Picture folding chairs tucked in and around narrowly arranged aisles of books.  Her question was an honest one.  Transition seems like a big undertaking. Full of risk.  Is it for everyone? Continue reading

Invisible Standards

“We need your voice,” I said in closing a workshop with about a dozen women on a Saturday in early September.  I was making a connection between an exercise we’d done on developing our own voices and the needs of our national economy.  I view the development & expression of women’s voices as fundamental to our country’s long-term economic well-being.   For me it’s an easy and obvious linkage – although I won’t bore you with the details here.  What surprised me in that Saturday moment was the reaction I got.  The attendees were honestly touched.  My comment seemed to elevate our work.  It connected every one of us to something greater.  Our voice work was instantly relevant.  Meaningful. Continue reading

The shame of should

A grad school classmate of mine and I were at dinner last week with another friend, Tricia, who had an undergraduate degree from UPenn.   Tricia mentioned that she’d recently attended an informal get together for women from her graduating class.  She’s been out of school just over twenty years.  “Shame” she offered in summary of the get together – immediately capturing our full attention.   “Many women weren’t doing anything because they were ashamed that they hadn’t done more since leaving school.”   I understood her remarks to mean that negative self judgment played an enormous role for many of these women.  It impacted their choices and their beliefs about success or failure because they hadn’t done what they ‘should’ have done.   Wow.  This discussion left me wondering, what role shame?   Continue reading

A Transition Solstice Celebration…

Who wouldn’t give their right arm for more hours in the day?   When faced with the prospect of newly available time, most of us instantly think about what we could do.   The possibilities are endless.  Think about it.  An important ‘to do’ for work.  A laundry list of actions in support of children, spouses, or dependent elders.  A few minutes for long deferred personal care or even a personal interest.   Maybe even a few moments dedicated to a long overdue job search.  What would you do with ‘found time?’  Would wishing make it to your list?

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Time was on my mind this week as we enjoyed the Summer Solstice. Celebrated on June 21st, the day marks the true start of summer for me.  It is our ‘longest’ day of the year in the Northeast, offering six more hours of daylight than its astronomical opposite on December 21st.   It makes me think about time and how I choose to spend it.  A concept, I might add, that I rarely thought of pre-transition.

Solstice derives from two Latin words; sol, or sun, and stare, to stand or stop.   Early astronomical observers believed that on the solstice the sun stopped its progression in the sky.  Its literal translation is the day when the sun stands still.

The solstice’s definition caught my attention this week because I’ve been noodling a presentation I gave earlier this month.    On June 9th I hosted a luncheon ‘dry run’ of the key messages from my upcoming book, Women & Transition: Reinventing Work and Life (Macmillan Nov 2015).   The outset of the conversation was standard fare: transition’s definition, its anatomy, and an overview of a process that I created to help women navigate transition.

What really caught my audience’s eye was a list at the end of my remarks about what surprised me most in my research.   For those unfamiliar with my research, I spoke with two hundred women in various forums about transition over an eighteen month period.

Before I share the surprise, let me give you some background.  It’s a bit of an  oversimplification so please bear with me.

Thanks to my research and my own circuitous path, I found that transition requires us to navigate an iterative two-stage process.  The first stage is ‘envision,’ during which we develop a hypothesis of what ‘might be’ possible for us.  It goes by many names.  A dream.  A wish.  A personal strategy.  You can choose the vocabulary most comfortable for you.  This stage asks us to think beyond our assumptions about what we could or should do – staring down boundaries set by ourselves and by other’s expectations of us.

The second stage is ‘validate,’ a stage during which we test and retest and learn about our ‘envision’ hypothesis.  This stage is experimental and flexible – progressing in increments designed to fit our own circumstances.  At the end of all this you get a refined wish and real life experiences to give you the confidence to move in that direction.   I referred to the transition process’s cycle at the June 9th lunch as the dream/do loop.

The surprise I shared on June 9th?  I’ve witnessed again and again that women shortchange the work in the dream stage, preferring instead to do.  The work of thinking – wishing – is difficult, non-linear and uncertain.   Let’s face it most of us would rather clean the refrigerator on a sunny day than undertake such a task.

Wishing seems fanciful.  This is only partly true.   Here’s what I’ve learned:  Dreaming requires us to trust our instincts – and most importantly to dignify what we hear.   There is a competency we build up in the process – we learn to quell the negative internal voices that instantly pop up to extinguish whatever those instincts may be telling us.

In the summer weeks ahead be aware of the shortening days as we begin the long cycle towards the Winter Solstice.  If you find yourself with a moment or two, dream.  I’ve found it’s the most useful do you can do.

Copyright © 2015 NovoFemina.com.  All rights reserved. No content on this site may be reused in any fashion without written permission from NovoFemina.com.

 

A simple step: reframe

Last week my ten-year old son and I watched the replay of the first game of the NBA finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.    We were rooting for the Golden State Warriors, his stand-in team given that his beloved Celtics will sit this one out.  Thanks to his interest, I stumbled onto a terrific example of one of my favorite transition tools  – reframing.

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