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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
January 2004

My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.

    In this issue, you'll find:
  1. Dealing with Transitions and Change
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops
1. Dealing with Transitions and Change

January is named after the Roman god, Janus, the god of gates and doors who was pictured doubled faced with one face looking forward and one looking backward. His name was chosen to mark the calendar transition from one year to the next, a natural time to look back on previous transitions you have made and to ook forward to improving how you will navigate future transitions.

Transition expert and author, William Bridges, makes the distinction between change as an event or situation and transition, the process a person goes through to adjust to the change. Changes include having a baby, getting a job, getting married, losing a loved one, or moving. The change itself might happen in a day but the transition may take weeks or months of preparation and follow-up to complete. For example, if you move within the same locale, one day you live in one place and the next day you live in the next. Whether you hire professional movers or bribe several strong friends with the promise of pizza and beer, the move takes one day.

However, the transition for the move takes much longer. It starts with the reason for the move, maybe a new job on the other side of town or a new marriage or increasing or decreasing your family size. In the example of the new marriage, you might have known your new husband for several years, dated for two, been engaged for one. You might have shopped for a new house and put your old houses up for sale. You may have held garage sales and cleaned out the basements. Even after the wedding and moves are complete you are not finished adjusting to the change. Getting used to a new commuting pattern, changing your address on all your accounts, sleeping with new house noises, deciding where the furniture and knick-knacks go are all part of the transition.

Navigating Transitions
If you reflect on transitions completed you will notice elements common to all of your transitions and elements unique to each one. When William Bridges left his academic job teaching college English, he was clueless about what he was going to do next. As he observed his own transition, the teacher in him was calling him to offer a workshop for people going through transitions. Not only did his workshop provide support for its participants, but it shaped the next twenty years of Bridges' professional life. As he listened to people's stories, he began to extract the elements common to all transitions. He discovered two insights that have changed the way therapists and coaches help people with transitions.

The first insight that Bridges discovered was that, contrary to popular belief, transitions do not usually start with a new beginning like moving to the new house, they start with an ending like deciding to leave the old house. This distinction is very important because one of the common traps people get into during transitions is to rush into the new thing without taking time to let go of the old. The Roman temple of Janus had one door facing East to catch the beginning of the day and one door facing West to catch the ending of the day. The Romans believed that the ending of one day had to come so that the beginning of the next would arrive.

Bridges also discovered that even when the change of a situation appears to happen quickly, the transition of adjusting to the change takes a longer time and includes a lengthy middle time between the ending and the new beginning, a time he called the "neutral zone."

As you reflect on transition you have navigated, think about whether this story fits how you felt. Imagine that you are leaving a dock in a small row boat. You are excited about the adventure of leaving but a little intimidated by it as well especially since the river has some rapids in it and a fog has settled in just enough to block your view of the other side of the river. Perhaps initially, you row out a way still tethered to the dock trying to see to the other side. You know you can explore a bit and still return to the safety of the familiar dock. The dock is a bit rickety but at least it is familiar.

Eventually, the rope breaks and you must paddle to the other side of the river. Still you imagine you could return to the dock but then a storm comes up and the current washes away the rickety old dock. Now you have no choice but to paddle to the other side while the fog is getting so heavy you can hardly see the rapids in front of you. You know you must paddle straight across the river because further down the river is a waterfall that would be disaster to you and your boat.

The trip across the river is confusing and scary and you wish you had never left the safety of your dock. But then you remember that that dock has disappeared and was not safe when your boat was tied to it. The more you paddle the more disoriented you become. You are no longer sure which direction you are paddling in. Very gradually, the storm passes and the fog clears. Rather than finding yourself out in the middle of the river you are very close to a beautiful, sturdy dock on a land lovelier than the one you left. As you tie up your battered rowboat, you see an envelope taped to the side of the dock with your name on it. The envelope contains directions to your new home and key to its door. Recovering from the bumpy ride across the river, you wobble up a small street to find a large mansion at the address you have been given. As you open the door, servants greet you and take you to your gorgeous quarters so you can rest up and then dress for dinner, a sumptuous feast with all your favorite foods exquisitely prepared. All expenses are paid and you have all that you need. Only now do you realize that you are glad you left the old rickety dock.

Let's go back through the transition journey to see study those elements common to all transitions and develop some tips to help you navigate the transitions in front of you better. You may be one short voyage across the river to a new life.

Leaving the Dock: Endings
Some typical transitions are:

  • Losses of or changes in relationships
  • Changes in home life
  • Personal changes such as puberty or menopause
  • Work/financial changes
  • Inner changes such as those resulting from spiritual insights, personal growth, or psychotherapy.
Transitions often start with endings rather than beginnings because of two reasons:
  1. Something old must go to make room for something new.
  2. Space must be cleared for the new beginning.
If you reflect on transitions you have made you might see your style.
  • Do you dread the change and hold on with great pain?
  • Do you rush into the change before you even know what change is needed?
  • Do you move through the transition abruptly or slowly?
  • Do you take a proactive role or are you passive, letting circumstances and other people determine the eventual outcomes?
While there are no right ways to do endings, you may find that the style you have used in the past has not served you well and you might wish to make some changes. Most people approach event transitions in ways similar ways to their developmental transitions those transitions that mark the growing up process such as leaving one school to attend the next level of education or leaving their parents' home to be out on their own. Often a developmental transition involves some practical ones at the same time such as when someone leaves their parents' home because they are going away to college.

Some tips for dealing with endings:

  • Take time to grieve - even exciting new beginnings mean the loss of something familiar.
  • Notice how your identity is changing. For example, after a marriage when you choose to change your name, you may still answer with your maiden name for awhile.
  • Decide what goes and what stays. A career transition might involve throwing out office files that will no longer be needed. It might also involve a way to stay in touch with former bosses who could become clients in your new business.
  • Give yourself time to react. If you rush, you might foreclose on exciting new options.
  • Ritualize your good-byes. Have a party. Scatter something that represents the "old you" on the ocean.
Out in the Middle of the Rapids: The Neutral Zone
This is the most difficult stage of transitions. While Bridges names this stage the neutral zone, you will feel anything but neutral.
  1. Expect emotional upheaval with feelings of excitement about the changes mixed with feelings of confusion and distress. This will especially be true if the changes are ones that you are choosing.
  2. Change the old structures. While it makes sense to minimize all other changes during a transition, sometimes old structures must give way for new behaviors to become easier. When the dock is no longer available to paddle back to, things actually get easier because the ambivalence of hanging on stops.

    When coaching client Mary Ann's job was eliminated at the office, she continued going out with her old work friends on Fridays for TGIF lunch. Looking for a job was such a drag that the lunch became the highlight of the week. When she tried out my suggestion that she skip just one lunch she realized two things. One, the lunch allowed her to keep from cutting loose from the old dock and was keeping her stuck with her old identity. Two, she got more done the week she skipped, so she decided to skip the lunch another week. By the time she went back, she was bored with the same old office politic complaints and knew the job loss was a good kick in the seat of the pants to try some creative career directions. Handling the job transition gave her the courage to complete the transition of her divorce legally final five years earlier. She stopped going on vacation with her ex-husband which she had continued out of guilt about her children loosing the continuity of family vacations.

  3. Use ritual to symbolize the middle. In my years as a Girl Scout Leader, one of the annual highlights was a "Bridging ceremony" in which the Brownies walked across a bridge to Junior scouts. Rites of passage such as Bar/Bat Mitzvah, confirmation, or puberty rites in island cultures represent the crossing over of a child to adulthood. All of these transitions involve taking time to train and reflect during the neutral zone between places.
  4. Get social support. If you are out of work, consider a career exploration group at a career center. If you are pregnant for the first time, childbirth classes can provide support during and beyond the transition to parenthood. Consider working with a coach trained to help people sort out the muddle of the middle.
  5. Try out new identities in low risk ways. Drop in to a professional group you are thinking of joining. Before committing to a move across the country to your place of ideal retirement, visit one week each season to experience the reality of all the weather and cultural changes of the area.
  6. Take time to sort things out. Bridges says that middles are times of inner reorientation. "Things end, there is a time of fertile emptiness, and then things begin anew." Enjoy the time of fertile emptiness.
The New Life: Beginnings
You can learn a lot about beginnings by studying the ones you have already done. How would you answer this question? "A new chapter of life began when..." Where did you get the ideas for their new beginnings?
  • Seeing someone else do something.
  • Being encouraged by an idea from someone helpful like a teacher or family member.
  • Discovering a deep longing. For example, if you were gone tomorrow, what music in you has not been played yet?
  • Reading about a place, job, or role that sounds either interesting or sounds like the solution to a current problem.
  • Recognizing a good idea that pops into your mind.
Some tips for dealing with beginnings.
  1. Take your time to design some experiments to try out the beginning. One couple, trying to decide to have a child of their own, volunteered to baby sit for their nephew. "We know he's not ours and we can always send him back but we're seeing how we manage his schedule and ours on a typical Saturday."
  2. Be goal oriented and stay focused. It is easy to get distracted by anxiety about the unknown. Keep moving forward in small steps. To see if you like a new beginning, you don't have to commit to the whole new beginning, just the next small stage.
  3. Once you are sure of the direction, identify with the final result. Introduce yourself as if you already have the new identity. For example, during a career transition you might get new business cards printed reflecting your new identity. Greek philosopher and coach, Epictetus, said, "Know first who you are. Then dress accordingly." Transitions are a great excuse to buy new clothes that fit your new life. Just make sure your new salary can pay the bills.
  4. Expose yourself to new ideas. Subscribe to magazines or journals in the new field. Visit a place that represents the change. One law student began to have lunch at a place near the county courthouse where attorneys met before going home. She got to eavesdrop on "lawyer talk," met some good contacts, and heard about some job leads.
  5. Be good to yourself. Eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep. Transitions take energy and you need to be at your best for the new beginning.
Row, row you boat across those transitions with ease.

Susan Robison

Reference: William Bridges. "Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change"

2. BossWoman Coaching

About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a professional coach, speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach women who want improvement in:

  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life, give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching session.

She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations on the topics of:

  • leadership strategies for women,
  • relationships,
  • work-life balance,
  • change.
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session because she knows that workshops don't work.

Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar needs at Susan@BossWoman.org or at 410-465-5892.

3. Up and coming workshops

Susan Robison will speak on "How to Use Romance For Better Business"
Sponsor: Baltimore City Rotary
Date: February 10, 2004; noon - 1 lunch; program from 1:00-1:25
Place: Belvedere Hotel; Chase and Charles
Fee: Free and open to the public.
For more information call: Mary Ann Richebarger 410-661-5000 x124 mar@CILC.com

Drs. Susan & Phil Robison speaking on "Will You Be My Valentine?"
Sponsor: St. Joseph Catholic Parish, Sykesville, MD
Date: February 13, 2004; 7:30pm - 9:00
Place: Parish Center, Liberty Road, Sykesville
Fee: Free and open to the public.
For more information call: Denise O'Connor 410- 552-5402.

Dr. Susan Robison will speak on "So You're Busy, But Are You Happy"
Sponsor: Executive Women's Network Roundtable Dinner
Date: February 18, 2004; 5:30pm
Place: Timonium, Sykesville
For more information and fee call: EWN office 410-653-5067.

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BossWomen e-Newsletter is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Coaching should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.

Copyright 2004 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without my permission.

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