Nearly everyone is managing a transition (or two or three) at work right now. This is true whether you've been furloughed, got laid off, graduated into the current economic downturn, are commuting to a workplace that requires strict new attention to safety, or had to trade your quiet commute and your ergonomic desk setup for working at the dining room table in odd moments between homeschooling sessions.
In recent months, as those of us in the United States navigate changes related both to COVID-19 and persistent calls for racial justice, I've been returning to many of the ideas in adrienne marie brown's Emergent Strategy. She writes (on p. 69): "Many of us respond to change with fear, or see it as a crisis. Some of us anticipate change with an almost titillating sense of stress. We spend precious time thinking about what has changed that we didn't choose, or can't control, and/or thinking ahead to future stress. Often this is because we aren't clear or committed about our dream destination, so instead of moving towards anything in particular we are in nonstop reaction."
Another author, William Bridges, has written extensively about the distinction between change and transition. We've all been thrust into an in-between space during these last few months by a particular change in our public health circumstances. Change is often sparked by an event, which might be within our control or not. Transition, though, is the psychological process of dealing with the change. Transitions are a "liminal" space, a place between your departure and your destination. This space has its own qualities, its own shape, its own norms. Bridges calls this the Neutral Zone, and it's the place we all want to skip over because it's uncomfortable and uncharted. But to successfully realize the energy of something new, we have to spend time exploring the in-between-ness of the Neutral Zone. It's a space that can be creative and curious and opportunistic.
Imagine, for a moment, that you want to plant a garden. You’ve got a big weedy patch of ground. You measure out a rectangle and dig it up. Now you have a blank canvas. Does it look rich and fertile with lots of worms, or do you need to feed it compost for a few months? Do you want flowers or vegetables? At this point you can plan for what the new garden will look like, maybe you can even plant seeds, but you won't all of a sudden be harvesting your next meal or cutting a gorgeous bouquet for your table. Getting from the bare earth to the bouquet takes time. You don’t have the weeds any more, but you don’t have what you want yet either. That in-between space, where you can see possibility, that’s transition. (If the garden image didn’t work for you: Airplanes, car rides, a train... your commute maybe used to be a space like this.)
So what does this mean for you? Whether you get to plan for a transition at work or not, there's always grieving and letting go and re-envisioning what the next step will bring. This is true even if you're leaving a job you hate and starting one you think you'll love. And if you've been thrust into a big change like getting laid off, or a smaller one like losing your commute and your ergonomic desk setup in your office, the sense of loss is heightened and it can be hard to find the bright spots or even a familiar way to say goodbye.
If you're in a job transition, particularly one you didn't get to plan for, you might be experiencing as a loss of security, a loss of identity, and a loss of familiar networks. Gathering support around you, both personal and professional, is critical. I used to advise that you should go out and print a business card, ASAP... but now that's not so useful. What I do recommend is that you refresh your LinkedIn profile so that it becomes an easy way to share who you are and what you're looking for with people who can help you. (Here's some great advice from another coach about how to do that.)
What's different about this transition is that we don't know how long the in-between will last, its shape keeps changing, and it's hard to envision the other side. The information we might use to shape our future at work, and what work-life fit will look like, is evolving. Whether we're job-hunting or not, we're also dealing with multiple kinds of change, each of which requires ending the old, dealing with the in-between, shaping the new. So it's a much slower, more iterative, process than it might be otherwise. Still, I think a lot of the same kinds of principles apply. Here are four things I recommend.
- Say goodbye. You might have to create your own way to say goodbye or thank you or I miss you. You might write a series of notes to people who were important colleagues, or throw yourself a party, or plan a year-end happy hour.
- Take time to consider what your Neutral Zone looks and feels like -- even if it's just a few minutes in the shower in the morning. Write in a journal. Think about it on a walk around the block. If you can, put an hour in your calendar every week that is only about being in-between.
- Keep refining what you want your destination to look and feel like. Draw the shape of it. Write a story. Jot words on sticky notes. Imagine who else is with you. Make it tangible for yourself. That will make it easier for people to help you reach the place you want to end up.
- Reach out to your networks -- in the ways that our more physically distant present allows. Schedule virtual coffee dates. Spend a few minutes posting something thoughtful on LinkedIn. Send a thank-you note. People in your network will want to help you.
Interested in a related topic or resource? Tell me in the comments. In a transition, and want some personalized support? Reach out for a conversation through my contact page. Thanks for reading!