Tag Archives: Transitions Making Sense of LIfe’s Changes

Reaching

“It is unrealistic.” said my son to his long-time pediatrician. She was asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He’s fourteen. She reminded him that at last year’s physical he said, “I want to be a professional basketball player.”  I like her because she stops to ask him these questions. In spite of the cloying requirements of insurers that beg her to quickly move on, she lingers. Listens. Before saying anything more, he looked at me as if to say, ‘Should I tell her?’ Then he added calmly… 

Ring of Kerry, Ireland

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Big and Small Victories

“Be who you are in big and small ways,” said Colleen DelVecchio, Director of Alumni Engagement at Smith College.  She spoke at the close of a two-day Leadership Conference, a conference that had invited me to speak about my book!  She challenged all of us there to bring our voices to every stage on which we find ourselves – from paying for coffee at a local independent coffee bar; to landing a sought after contract; to shepherding a child through the college admissions process.  To her the size of the stage was irrelevant.  What mattered was bringing ourselves to every situation. No deferring or diminishing or denying our voices.  She implored us to bring them forward…in countless ways.

 

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She wasn’t aware of it but Colleen DelVecchio was talking about an important element of transition: exercising our voices.   She – like so many of the people I encounter – overlooked transition.  Or, was it that she lacked insight into this important topic?

As I listened to her I immediately felt the distance that I’ve traveled in transition.  A journey that is underscored today by an incredible milestone, Novofemina’s fifth anniversary!

To those of you who have walked this journey with me, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  For those who are newer to our conversation, I thank you for choosing this topic.  To both camps, I am thrilled that you’re here with me.

When I began Novofemina I thought transition was a process that would allow me to reconcile conflicts between my professional and personal lives.  I approached it like a project management challenge.  I expected tasks and phases and gates and a final – albeit uncertain – deliverable.   A new job?  A new way of working?  I wasn’t certain what transition held for me but I knew that something had to give.

Today thanks to the voices of hundreds of women with whom I’ve spoken about transition my work is focused on a cause that engages my entire soul, a cause that I believe has positive implications for women.  The cause?  Transition.  Or more specifically, I am on a crusade to increase the capacity for transition in women – everywhere.

Transition occurs when there is a shift in what holds value or meaning to each of us.  It is a process that we choose when faced with the need to change.  It requires us to re-examine our assumptions about who we are – our identity, our capacity, our values.  The choice part is important.  A person can undergo hundreds of changes in their life and never transition.  The choice is ours.

I’ve concluded that transition is widely misunderstood in our society.  Few know it as a normal part of adult growth and development.   This mismatch leads many to misinterpret transition’s earliest stages as failure.

Women’s response to this – very often – is to draw inward.   This response can fuel feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, a treacherous cycle that can cause women to stall, disengage or retreat from living the lives they imagine.

I remember vividly the earliest days of my transition.  It started one day when I crossed an imaginary line – that day the bottom fell out on the meaning of my professional world.   That world was complex and all-consuming. Harvard Business School MBA.  Million mile member of American Airlines’ Frequent Flyer program.  Executive in the c suite of a Fortune 500.  All of a sudden one day I said to myself, “this couldn’t be all there is?” as I looked across the room at my peers – the ceo and the presidents of the company’s geographic regions.

It happened in an instant.

I remember saying to myself, “There must be more for me.”  This glint of possibility kept me going but it didn’t shield me from the instant onslaught of negative feelings.  Failure. Guilt.  Shame.  Isolation.  Fear.

Fast forward to Smith College just before Collen DelVecchio spoke.   I had just finished leading a seminar about transition with 60 women.  Thanks to my book, Women & Transition: Reinventing Work and Life, I get invited to this type of event more and more these days.

That morning a woman who sat near the back of the room caught my eye.  Why?  She had tears in her eyes for a good portion of my talk.  At the end of the workshop she smiled at me and then made her way to the front of the room where I was talking with a handful of other participants.  She interrupted us with a simple emphatic statement, “This was excellent.”

Another woman who had attended that day and also bought my book later wrote me an email.  She shared that she’d been in a difficult transition for more than a decade.   She said,   “This week I have felt better about where I’m at and what I have to work through then I have in a long time. I thank you for opening this door for me.”

These moments – while small – are incredibly meaningful to me.  They fuel me and offer me support as I explore how my transition will continue.  Even though a book and formal research weren’t on my radar screen as my transition began I know that they are not its end.  There is more….

At 5 I am ebullient and peaceful and open.    I’ve traveled an enormous distance.   The fear and uncertainty have been replaced by understanding and by optimism even in the face of more unknowing.  While difficultly is likely ahead of me as I take on more and more of my transition I am ever grateful of the path and its countless gifts.

I hope that soon Colleen DelVecchio and many others become aware of transition.  It is a journey that many of us will find ourselves on during our adult lives.   It is a journey whose course and pace you get to decide.  It is enlivening and energizing and freeing.

The only true risk in it all is that you begin.   An act that can happen in countless ways – both big and small.

Many many thanks…..

 

If you have another moment, please read my prior Anniversary Posts:

First Year:  Learnings & Laughs: One Year In

Second Year:  400 and 2

Third Year:  Three and Counting

Fourth Year:  Four and Foresight

 

Copyright © 2016 NovoFemina.com.  All rights reserved. No content on this site may be reused in any fashion without written permission from NovoFemina.com.

 

 

 

 

A mantra

“You get to decide how you show up,”  I said as I spoke with a roomful of women.  We were talking about transition and the stress that can accompany its triggers.  We’d spent the past ten minutes sharing stories about the obstacles that can get in our way….everyday.  A boss.  A difficult mother-in-law.  A husband who is channeling the 1950’s.  An illness.   An upcoming marriage.  Retirement.  Tons of life events can qualify.  Most of us have experienced at least one of these.  Here’s the tricky part.  What impact have you allowed it to have on your day?  Your demeanor?  Continue reading

Transition: A cop-out?

“Nothing seems to be working,” shared a friend who was describing her job search.  She’d been fully committed to work in the home for close to two years.   Her decision to leave her last employer was a personal one.  She’d had some life issues come up.  An aging parent.   Personal health issues.   “I never thought it would be this hard,” she commented.   She was talking about the difficulty to get back into her profession after an absence.   She seemed incredibly sad.  Unsure.  Could this really be happening?

Listening to this friend I wondered if my pivot to a portfolio career is a cop-out?   Is my transition crusade simply a shield created to protect me from the choppy waters that my friend is encountering?

Let me explain.   Today – almost four years into a transition – I find myself juggling three part-time gigs, aka my portfolio career.    Together their salaries represent a small fraction of my former compensation.    On top of these sit a long list of community volunteering commitments in addition to the growing demands of two active elementary school-aged children.

Have I created this groundswell of activity to simply mute my awareness of the sheer impossibility of re-entering the world I exited?

What do you think?

William Bridges, author of Summer Book Review #2: Transitions – Making Sense of Life’s Changes stated “changes are driven to reach a goal, but transitions start with letting go of what no longer fits or is adequate to the life stage you are in.” (Transitions, Bridges, pg 128)   Bridges introduces three phases to transition:  “ending”; followed by an “empty zone” or “neutrality”; followed by a “beginning”.   “In the first phase of “transition” or “ending” we break our connection with the setting in which we have come to know ourselves.”  (Transitions, Bridges, pg 17) 

I remember being frustrated reading Bridges’ book.  He never really defined transition.  Lately I’ve tried my hand at it.

Transition is a process which requires us to re-imagine our assumptions about identity, capacity or values.   Any one or all three can be involved.  The reality is that each of us has a decision to make when faced with the need to change:  do we change or do we transition?

I’ve found that exploring the elements of transition, like identity, is about acknowledging the entirety of who we are instead of adopting a whole new persona.  That said once the adoption occurs we may no longer resemble our former selves.  Confusing?  Let me try an example.

“Who am I if I’m not me?”  shared a woman as she described her thinking at the outset of her transition.  She’d served as a divisional president at large consumer products company.  Accomplished.  Highly committed.  Hard charging.

Transition surprised her.  She described ‘breathing’ for the first time.  She used words like freedom.  In transition her pursuits became less about someone else’s standards and more about her own.   Transition connected her to new communities in which she was readily able to contribute – something that surprised her at first.

Slide1As I listened to this interviewee and my friend I kept playing an image in my head (see above).    Could it be that transition asks us to acknowledge that we are comprised of many elements – some we emphasize, others we barely acknowledge.   If so transition could allow us to dignify those elements that we’ve previously overlooked or combine elements that we’ve isolated or compartmentalized.

This interviewee went on and on about the emotional connection she’d been able to make with others in her work post-transition.   Any guess?  She derived great joy out of this yet is hadn’t been present in her previous roles.

I can’t help but wonder if my friend who is interviewing needs to listen to a more holistic view of herself.  Maybe combining a few elements – even some previously ignored – could jump-start her thinking about what more could be possible.

I’m not sure I’ve settled on a new identity but I’ve adopted the humility and courage to keep exploring.   The cop-out in isn’t so much in using transition as a shield but in ignoring our instincts that tell us one may be required.

Are you ready to listen, or even better, to begin?

© 2014 NovoFemina.com.  All rights reserved. No content on this site may be reused in any fashion without written permission from NovoFemina.com.

 

Assessing forward progress…

“What has been the most difficult part of your transition?” asked a friend in a shaky voice.  Her tone underscored her status.  She sounded on edge.   My guess was that she was reeling from yet another setback.    Ever been there?  I was momentarily silent in response to her question.  Which  parts?   In my mind several were vying for the preeminent spot…most difficult. Continue reading

Pivot Points…..

“I broke my rule only once,” shared coach Kelly Nicholson of the Orleans’ Firebirds.  “I let a player have a cell phone on the field.”  Every kid present, roughly thirty-five of them, had their eyes glued to this commanding gentleman.   What could possibly drive such a rule departure?  It seems a player, Greg A., was awaiting a call from the president of San Diego State University.   Coach Kelly described Greg as a Rhodes Scholar finalist.  The call would alert him to his standing and next steps.  Lucky kid or something more? Continue reading

400 and 2

‘I’ve got young children,’ recounted a slight teenager as he retold of a pleading woman’s request as he worked to untangle her from the rubble of last week’s garment factory disaster at Rana Plaza, Savar, Bangladesh.  400.  The number of workers, largely female, who won’t be returning to waiting children or siblings or spouses.  $37.  The average monthly wage that makes a difference there.   Great hopes relinquished all for another tee-shirt.  Great hope…despite tremendous personal risk. Continue reading

Transition: Necessary Anxiety?

“I’ll probably head to the Caribbean with some friends,” remarked a recent college grad during a quick conversation we had over chips and dip at the graduation party of a mutual friend.  Imagine.  No responsibilities for a few weeks or a month.  Wow!  What would you do? Continue reading

Permission?

“Medicine is gray.  It is rarely black or white,” conceded Dr.  Maher Tabba, the  fellowship director at a local teaching hospital.   We were discussing a challenging medical case.  A patient’s diagnosis eluded Tabba and his team.   He sought certainty.   But like so much…..informed instinct combined with knowledge and experience would have to lead the way. Continue reading

Does transition ever end?

I remember hopping into taxi cabs terrified that my broken portuguese wouldn’t suffice in communicating my desired location.  After a few lengthy and circuitous rides around Sao Paulo, Brazil I reverted to taking the local bus.  Much to the horror of my work colleagues I might add.   These taxi escapades introduced me to the colorful ribbons that dangled from the rear view mirrors of almost every cab in the city.   On each read the phrase, BonFim, and it’s originator the Church of Nosso Senhor do BonfimBonfim simply translated means, good end.    If ever there was a wish for transition…. Continue reading