I was working at home one day when I decided to take a lunch break.   As I sat down with my ham sandwich and cup of tea, I switched on the television, hoping for half an hour of escapism, so I would be mentally refreshed for my afternoon coaching clients.  What I didn’t expect was to come across a powerful metaphor for navigating the uncertainties of transition…

As I flicked through the channels, having skipped the news channels with their tales of doom and gloom, the repeats of ‘Friends’, and the endless makeover shows, I ventured into the unknown territory of the Diva channel.  Now some might say I can be a bit of a Diva myself (though I would dispute that) so maybe it was an appropriate place to linger.  But it wasn’t the name of the channel that caught my attention but the subject of an item on the Oprah Winfrey show.  The topic was about de-cluttering and, as my small study was at that very moment in desperate need of a clear out, I paused, hoping for a dash of inspiration and maybe a few practical tips.

The show featured a de-cluttering expert, I didn’t catch her name, who was going into the homes of different families and helping them to de-clutter.  I have seen similar features on various TV shows before and at first the tips were familiar but suddenly one thing she said struck a chord.

The expert said that without exception, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, when she helps a family to clear space in a room, if there are young children in the family, the children will run into that space …and dance.

How great is that?  It  reminded me of how important it is to give ourselves space when we are navigating change.  When we are in transition, any type of transition, be it a mid-life career change, the transition to a senior leadership role, adjusting to a major lifestyle change precipitated by retirement,  moving overseas, or a diagnosis of serious illness, we need to progress through three phases.  Successful transition requires letting go of the way things used to be and taking hold of the way they will become – a new beginning.  Between these two phases is the neutral zone.  Here things aren’t as they used to be but not yet how they will become.  Here things are uncertain and a little scary but the world is also full of possibilities so it is an exciting and creative place.

Bridges - 3 phases of transition

From ‘Transitions’, William Bridges

But to navigate this stage successfully you do need to give yourself time and space.  It is tempting, particularly for those with high-flying careers who are used to operating at a fast pace, to try to rush through this phase, impatient to start their new career or life.  But if we don’t linger here for a little while there is a danger that we merely look for a carbon copy of our previous life or job and miss the opportunity to question what we really want or even who we really are.  Now maybe it’s because my hobby as a child and teenager was ballroom dancing or because I’m a big Strictly Come Dancing fan these days, but the idea of thinking about the neutral zone as a space to dance really appealed to me and I hope it will resonate with some of you too.

Of course in order to make space for yourself you will need to let go of certain things associated with your former life and self.  So, for any of you facing a major transition, I urge you to ask yourself this question:

“What do you need to let go of right now?”

How can you psychologically ‘de-clutter’ so that you can enter the neutral zone unencumbered, free to take your time, listen to the music of your inner self …and dance.
So, take a sheet of paper and a pen and, being really honest with yourself, make a list of things that you are hanging on to from your past and that you need to let go.  Once you get them down in paper you may find it easier than you think to let go of them.  Good luck and do let me know how you get on.

Book recommendation

If you wish to read more about transition I recommend this classic book by William Bridges
“Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes” 

Finally, if you need support along the way do consider if you should hire a career coach.  I regularly work with people who are considering a move between the sectors or other major career or life transitions.  To arrange a free informal chat call me on 0118 9612715 or complete my enquiry form.