We coach a lot of people in transition. Transition coaching, helping people move from one role to another, is a distinctive niche in the coaching market.
Some transitions are relatively straightforward. The person knows what they do, knows what they are looking for. They just want to find another similar role in a different organisation. We call this ‘lift & shift’ – another accountancy job in another accountancy firm, another competition lawyer role in another firm, another head of marketing in a different agency. For the person concerned, of course, these changes are extremely important indeed, and we take their concerns very, very seriously.
Having said that, most transitions are more complex. They become complicated when the person doesn’t know what they want, or realise they don’t want to be where they are, but have no idea what the alternative might look like. Transitions become complex when the person feels they’ve completely run out of steam, reached the end of the line in the organisation they are in, in their profession, or in the discipline they were trained for.
Transitions become even more complex when one phase of a person’s life reaches a low point, and it’s clear something has to change. Radical transitions, major pivot points and serious reinvention often require deeper thought, more sustained questioning and, let’s face it, a much more incisive coaching process.
Managing plate tectonics
If straightforward transitions are lift & shift, radical transitions are ‘plate tectonics’, made from numerous moving parts. Radical transitions demand a way to hold all these moving parts together without constraining any of the options, and the factors involved often hang precariously in the balance. A simple list of pros and cons often ends up with necessary yet complicating weighting factors. It feels like there are no fixed points, no clear certainties on which to begin building enduring strategies.
Sometimes people get lucky. Their dissatisfaction about where they’ve been makes them open to the serendipitous, the chance encounter, and they bump into something that turns out to be exactly what they’re looking for. A chat with a neighbour, a small piece of local news, a book picked up at an airport, an item on TV, something just falls into their path and magically mushrooms into a new second career, one so good that it eclipses the early pleasures of the first. What a fortuitous accident! It isn’t just serendipitous but positively synchronous – what the Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung called an “acausal connecting (togetherness) principle,” “meaningful coincidence“, and “acausal parallelism.”
Having said that, most of the time people have to create their own luck. They know what they don’t want: more of the same, drifting into another role because it’s easier than having to think, and much easier than having to think new thoughts. They know that to forge something new they have to do some radical thinking first, put themselves out to encounter the thing that will become their second life’s work. As
George Bernard Shaw said:
“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them, make them.”
People looking for a radical shift need help. It’s tough, it’s lonely, it’s often disheartening, it’s sometimes even demoralising. But, as Parker Palmer puts it in his book ‘Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation’, “Each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up.”
How will you know if something is right for you?
In a state of plate tectonics everything is moving. It feels like there are no fixed points. That’s when you need the help of a career coach most of all, someone who will help you take stock, make sense of your experiences, determine what the deeper themes of your life are about, help you discern the narrative that has run through it all, and analyse the experiences you’ve had. The French Philosopher, Paul Ricoeur talks of each of us ‘emplotting’ our lives. This is the moment to recognise that Act 1 has drawn to a close and Act 2 has not yet emerged. Act 2 is yet to be created… by you.
What are you drawn to?
There is no substitute for doing the hard work of emplotting and re-emplotting your future. But when you do you’ll come up with a set of criteria to determine whether the options you are considering will work for you. We’ve drawn up a sure-fire way to test each option,a highly effective checklist of ways to interrogate every potential option or role.
We call these our seven secrets. Here they are:
- What do you believe in? Does this role, this organisation, this sector, represent something you can be proud of? For something to be great for you, there must be a higher sense of purpose. As Abe Maslow of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs says, “Without the Transpersonal and the Transcendent, we become apathetic, nihilistic, sick and violent. We need something bigger than we are to be awed by and commit ourselves to.“
- What are you interested in? Or, better still, what are you passionate about? Does this role allow you to work on or with something you inherently enjoy?
- What’s the nature of ‘the day-job’? What will you be spending your day doing? Minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-in, day-out, what activities will fill your time? If the actual job is intrinsically interesting, it’ll suit you well.
- What relationships will you have with other people? How will the day job work in relation to others? Will you need to look after others, and if so do you want to do that?
- What are your contextual enablers, and will the role include most of them? A contextual enabler is your terroir, all the environmental factors that affect the particular crop’s phenotype. It includes unique environment contexts, the micro-climate, the soil chemistry, farming practices and a crop’s specific growth habitat. Collectively, these contextual enablers have a distinctive character, and terroir is the word that captures them. Your terroir is all the things outside yourself that you need to function well, whether it’s being on a team, being able to travel, having clear goals and so on.
- What hygiene factors do you need to support the first five criteria? Frederick Herzberg developed his two factor theory of workplace motivation by interviewing lots of people. He found that some things motivated people powerfully, for example responsibility and recognition. But hygiene factors like status, job security, salary, fringe benefits, work conditions, good pay, paid insurance and vacations don’t give positive satisfaction or lead to higher motivation, even though dissatisfaction results from their absence. What about you? What do you have to get right to stay happy at work? The length of your commute? Your salary? The physical location?
- What is your exit strategy? It might seem odd asking yourself this now, but it’s the question all VCs and Private Equity houses ask of an investment – how do we envisage getting out?
You don’t need to be religious to hear the wisdom in American novelist and theologian Carl Frederick Buechner’s thinking when he says:
“By and large a good rule for finding out is this: the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. … The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”
Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC.
Your best place in the world is where your deep gladness meets the world’s hunger.
If you feel like you need to do something different but have no idea what, or where or how, please get in touch with us. That’s always a good first step.