We are in a moment of transition that is unprecedented in many of our lives. Is that too strong? Maybe. Maybe not. Time will tell. What I do know is that we are transitioning into a period of time that no one really knows what to expect. Anyone who tells you that they know what is coming is fooling themselves. They are because most prognosticators base their predictions on past patterns. I do that too. I look at patterns of behavior of people and organizations. What I know is that nothing makes sense right now. And nothing about the past fifty years, hear me, nothing, is sustainable. Nothing is going to last. I don’t necessarily see this as bad. It is a subject of concern.
People talk with me about the transitions that they are experiencing all that time. My assistant Sara Lawrence and I are working on a book about the transitions that women in particular are experiencing. It has been a fascinating topic to research. Two things to note about the transitions that people are experiencing. One is that it focuses their attention on their identity. It is interesting to see how much we know of ourselves is based on other people’s opinions or circumstances in the world. Two is that these transitions seem to be leading people into places that they have never been before. For these two reasons, personal development should be a singularly high priority for people right now.
The lesson to be learned is that we should pay less attention to what is happening in the world, and more attention to our own sense of who we are and the life we want. For this reasons, I’m providing a selection from my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change. I hope it helps focus your attention on what is important and gives you some energy to embrace the positive transitions that are present. I’ll have an additional comment at the end.
Personal Change—From Transition to Transformation*
It was never my intention to become an expert on change. Yet at each transition point in my life, I discovered something about myself that made the experience of change beneficial. Even in situations of change that followed failure or loss, I found that change was like living in a large house. It comes to us when we cross a threshold to enter a new room. The house is our whole life. Each room represents a part of the life that we have lived. All the rooms are our rooms, even when they seem different from one another.
Immediately prior to beginning this book, the room of my life that I had entered was one of hard, final endings. It was a time when the worldwide recession brought an end to my consulting business. I was fired by the nonprofit organization that I led, which then shut down its operation. In the midst of this, my marriage of thirty years came to an end. I remember thinking the day I moved out of the house, “Everything is ending.” As I drove away, from somewhere deep within me, I thought, “Something must be beginning.”
I know many of you have experienced similar difficult changes in life. You look back with regret, sorrow, and feelings of guilt. You may feel that life dealt you an unwinnable hand. Anger and bitterness have become a constant presence because the life you desired has not happened. The old saying that misery loves company we find not to be true.
These moments of change show us that life is a series of transitions. Some changes are marks of advancement. Others are a recognition that the conditions that we thought would remain constant throughout our lives have not.
The transitions we experience represent a way to understand the passage of individual changes that we go through in our lives. We are born. We go to school, transitioning from one grade to the next. We enter the workplace. We learn new skills, take on new responsibilities, and possibly move from one company to another. We marry, have children, and then they grow up, marry, have our grandchildren. We retire, as a new cycle of life begins.
Along this line of change are transition points that are milestones that help us make sense of our lives. Some change is welcomed, like the birth of a child or being hired for our dream job. There are also the changes that are a random, unwelcomed, confusing disruption of our life.
Avoiding change does not enhance our lives. It limits it. If we resist change, we can easily fail to see the potential that we have for making a difference in the world. The Circle of Impact developed as a model for understanding change because of the transitions that people and their organizations were experiencing. If you are in a life or work transition now, it can help bring clarity and direction to your life. One of the purposes of this book is that we learn that change is a transition and that, with intention and initiative, it can become transformational.
Transitions in life are not a series of moments in time. They are not like a collection of pictures in a photo album that we nostalgically remember. Our lives are much more like a long documentary miniseries. Each episode is one story within our life-long story of change and transformation. If we are not different, or better, by the end of the story, then we’ve missed something.
Seeing our lives as a film instead of individual pictures enables us to see the continuity that exists even in the midst of change.
When I went through my season of loss, as I came to call it, there were moments of joy and ones of sorrow. Each one helped me see that my life was not defined by the externals of owning a business or being married. It was my values, expressed in my desire to be a person of impact that guided my self-perception. Even when I was at my lowest point, there were good things taking place. Years later, I look back and can see that the hard, emotional moments were showing me what I really wanted in life. And what I didn’t. These moments of transition had the effect of purging me of the illusion that I am entitled to a happy, carefree life.
Similar to seeing our lives as a long film, we also experience it as a long, unfolding story. Each chapter contains its own story. We are the main character. Our story reveals a picture of who we become in the situations that we encounter. It is a picture-story of our transformation as people of impact throughout our life.
If we can’t see that long, grand story of our life, the Circle of Impact can guide us to create it. Each situation we encounter becomes its own Circle of Impact story. We encounter stories of need, problems, opportunities, and conflict where our personal initiative is the dramatic arch of the story and impacts the climax. With the foundation of our values, our life’s story takes on meaning that transcends the moment of action. From these stories our legacy is formed.
The people in our story present relationships where our character is revealed. People see it when we take personal initiative to make a difference that matters: when we interact with them, work with them, have conflicts with them, solve problems together, or begin great ventures together. Our relationships are a central part of the story of our lives. Our family and friends see who we are. Sometimes they celebrate and other times they cry because we are not acting as our true selves. Some of them are our collaborators or coaches. Others may be our arch nemesis at work or an investor who helps us to grow our business. How we approach these relationships is critical to the outcome of our stories. Each chapter is a story of discovery, of challenge, hardship, and success. Each is a new story of opportunity to be our true selves.
By seeking to align our lives with the three dimensions of leadership, we are opening ourselves to solutions or resources that need to grow towards our potential. The Circle of Impact model of leadership provides us this kind of universal guide to help us create today’s story.
When we see change as transition then we can see our lives as a whole, not as a collection of individual moments in time. Each story brings a lesson learned, a lesson to be remembered for another time, another story. The life we live can make sense to us. Change is not the enemy. It is simply a context in which our lives are lived.
Once we see that we are in transition, we can identify how the changes we go through can transform us from the person that we were to the one we desire to be. This has been my experience.
I wrote those words back during spring of 2017. It is tempting to think that once you have made a public statement about transition that you have reached point where all of that is in the past. Stability and constancy has become the ‘new normal’ as people phrase it. Well, not so.
In the two and a half years since the publication of the book, the experience of transition still dominates my life. First, it was the realization that my life of searching for answers about leadership was done. It was now a time to lead through new ventures of writing and training. Out of that has come relationships in Africa that will be a primary focus of my life for the rest of my life. With that comes a revision of my book for African audiences that will be released later this year.
Second is a new publishing venture that I began last year in response to being couped up at home because of the pandemic. The Transition Chronicles grew out of the stories, questions, and comments that people have been making to me over the last couple years. I published the first five of these short books in August. The next three will be published in March. Other publishing opportunities in Europe and China are in development.
Third is the most unexpected. Last summer, the real estate market in Jackson Hole became so over inflated in value that it would have been foolish not to sell my home. The implication is that it thrust me into another move far sooner than I would have expected. Now I find myself back in North Carolina living in the foothills of the mountains in Wilkes County. The best part is now being closer to my children and their spouses, and to my two sisters and their families. After the transitions of the past decade, it is clear that I am not done transitioning. I embrace the transitions to come with expectation and determination
As I said to many of you, “We are all in transition. All of us. All the time.”