When you make a significant change in the way you live or work, like selling the business you founded, moving to a non-executive career or changing to a very different role or career that is more meaningful for you, there is a period of adjustment, of inner transition that you go through as you move from one way of being to another.
This often takes longer than people expect and being in no-man’s-land for a while, between the old way and before becoming fully established in the new way, can cause a level of uncertainty and temporary loss of identity and clarity that can be more challenging than people expect.
Given the potentially choppy waters of this transition, how can you navigate this as smoothly and painlessly as possible? What helps?
1. Being patient
The first thing that helps with a smooth transition is patience. Most people vastly underestimate how long it takes to go through the psychological transition of a significant change.
A major change in how you work can be particularly challenging for successful or high achieving people. They are used to being smarter and doing things quicker or better than most people. They’re used to taking action, pushing through and making things happen. And because they normally perform at such a high level, they assume (often subconsciously) that any change will be quicker and easier for them than other people. But that is rarely the case. This transition phase, especially when things don’t happen as quickly as they thought, can be very frustrating for high achievers. It can even knock their confidence or they can even feel like they’re failing at times.
While there are many things you can do to help this transition along, it can’t be forced or coerced into your particular time frame. And it almost always takes longer than people think – often twice to four times as long.
Knowing this means you can take the pressure off yourself a little, and be more patient with both yourself and the process (not normally a key strength of entrepreneurs and other high achieving, successful people!).
2. Seeking support
Being honest, going through a major change in the work you do can also be a lonely place. People often don’t want to share their doubts, fears, frustrations or worries that it might be taking longer or be harder than they expected.
It can feel too vulnerable to do so, or they might want to show a positive and confident face to the world. How can I find the next thing that’s right for me if I’m telling other people I’m worried I won’t find it? How can I appear confident to others when I’m worrying about how long this is taking?
But it doesn’t have to be lonely. And the whole process can be so much easier, and sometimes quicker, with support. Enough support, as well as the right kind of support. Again, it can be hard for high achievers to admit to themselves that they could benefit from support as they’re used to relying on themselves or being the most competent person in the room most of the time.
However, as you go through this transition you might benefit from some practical help or information of some kind. Or you might be helped by having someone to listen and support you as you go from one way of living, being or working to another.
This might be a friend, colleague or ex-colleague, a mentor, or someone you respect or trust, or perhaps someone who’s already done what you’re thinking of doing – who’s ahead of you on the path. You might find it useful to have someone who allows you the space to talk things out and figure out things yourself without them taking over and telling you what you should do. You might get support from joining a particular group or network of like-minded people, perhaps people on a similar path. It might be a professional coach. It might be a really good headhunter who specialises in your area, who really ‘gets you’ and wants the best for you.
It could be all of the above. It could be some of the above. But it’s unlikely to be just one form of support.
You might also find you need different types of support at different stages, so it’s worth paying attention to what you really need at any point in time and then actively seeking it out.
3. Remembering your ‘why’
The final thing that helps if you are in the exciting, but often unsettling, period of transition is to keep coming back to why you are doing it. The reason you’re doing what you are doing. What you want to be better or different. Even if you didn’t choose the change, it is an opportunity to do things differently, make some changes, or grow and learn – so focusing on this makes a big difference.
It can be really helpful to write this down at the beginning when you are more likely to be in the initial excited or honeymoon phase of having just made the change or decided to make the change. You can then re-read it to you remind yourself of this if you ever get impatient or doubt the choices you’ve made. You can also ask others to remind you of this too.
Coming out the other side
As you can see, the inner transition that goes with major change isn’t always quick or easy, but it is a wonderful opportunity to make different choices and choose a path you truly want.
It’s also a time of significant growth and learning for most people. To become closer to the person you really want to be. To discover strengths or skills in yourself you may not have been so aware of. And to create new connections or relationships with people you might not have otherwise.
Just like bringing a baby into the world, when you are going through a major change, you are birthing something new. So allow yourself time. Be patient with yourself and what’s happening. Be kind to yourself and seek the support you need. And remember ….
“It’s better to look back and say ‘I can’t believe I did that’,
than to look back and say ‘I wish I did that’.”