The Dragon Slayer in You
“Transition is the natural process of disorientation and reorientation that marks the turning points in the path of growth…transitions are key times in the natural process of self-renewal.” William Bridges
When I returned to work as a speech-language pathologist after 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, I was dismayed by the fear and hesitation that blasted me like a fire hose.
“What happened to that brave person I used to be?” I wondered. My mind flitted back to the days when I offered speech pathology intervention to critically ill patients at a fast-paced, tertiary care teaching hospital. My hand poised to knock on a new patient’s door, I’d think, “I don’t know what to expect and I don’t know if I’m the one to help here. But let me see what I can do.”
Fast forward a decade-plus, one husband and two children later. My identity has shifted. As I gazed at the job application on the kitchen table inviting me to embark on a new adventure, I felt a conflicting pull to stay put and the undeniable urge to move forward. And I wondered, “Have I lost my professional mojo?”
Just contemplating this change knocked me off my axis. I was plagued with worries and visions of worst-case-scenarios.
“Am I still qualified? Do I have what it takes for this – and do I still want to do it? Will I lose all flexibility with my time? Will my marriage suffer? Will I become a permanently grouchy mom? Will we all start eating junk food?”
With all these imagined threats to health and happiness, I was sorely tempted to retreat back into the known world of carpools and Costco runs. Why even attempt this new challenge?
“Our deepest fears,” wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, “are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure.” Getting to “Why” is key to taming those dragons and moving forward with a growth mindset rather than a constrictive one when confronted with an important change. Examining your Why allows you to make decisions that are informed by your logic and your passion, not by your fear.
Know this: Contemplating a big change that takes us outside our comfort zone conjures resistance. There is a scientifically sound reason for this. The part of our brains that is concerned with survival perceives change to the status quo as a threat to our very existence. Our instinctual resistance serves to inhibit our investigation of new territory. Self-imposed deterrents might come in the form of:
- Fear: “No way. I can’t do this.”
- Ennui: “I don’t have the energy.”
- Procrastination: “Yeah, great idea …maybe I’ll look into it later.”
- Minimization of one’s dreams: “It’s not really that important.”
- Perfectionism: “I’m not qualified/organized/young/old/fill-in-the-blank enough.”
- Distraction with other activities: “My schedule is too packed to pursue another opportunity.”
I now know that the trepidation I felt was normal, a predictable phase I needed to go through. If you are anticipating a change or in the midst of change, be assured that questions, anxiety, overwhelm, and a dash of hopeful excitement are all part of this passage.
“It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” William Bridges
William Bridges, a respected authority on change and change management in the workplace, distinguishes between change and transition. According to Bridges, change is external, related to our circumstances (a promotion, job loss, a move to another state, etc.). Transition is internal, a psychological re-ordering we go through to accommodate an external change (“owning” our new position or identity). Change can be fast. It might be wanted or not wanted. Transition, on the other hand, takes a long time. It is internal. Transition requires us to go through a restructuring of our psyches. In order for any change to be successful, we have to make a successful transition from what used to be to what is. Change without accompanying transition will fail.
|Environmental shift||Psychological re-patterning|
In Bridges’ model, the three stages of transition are:
- Ending, Losing, Letting Go. This is a time of saying good-bye to old ways and to an old identity. We cannot move forward until we acknowledge and let go of what was.
- The Neutral Zone. Here, we are in uncharted territory where the old is no longer there for us but the new isn’t yet established. This is an anxious time. This stage that cannot be rushed. Bridges describes it as a winter, during which spring’s growth is taking place underground. It is here that we begin to cultivate our new identities.
- The New Beginning. Finally, we step into our new identity. At this stage, we experience hopefulness and a surge of energy. This infusion of optimism and confidence fuels us to do the work required to make the change successful.
Each stage can overlap. And we can regress back to an earlier stage, for example feeling sadness about the loss of our old role even as we embrace our new one.
Studying Bridges’ model, I could not help but be struck by parallels with the hero’s journey described by Joseph Campbell. When Joseph Campbell studied the myths of the world, he found a common theme among them, which he described as The Hero’s Journey. The three main stages of the Hero’s Journey are:
- Departure: The hero is called from home because of an external or internal change (Bridges’ Ending, losing letting go).
- Initiation: The hero embarks on a quest marked by trials, battles with known and unknown forces, and discovers untapped resources to meet these challenges (Bridges’ Neutral zone).
- Return: The hero emerges from the quest a changed person, with a gift to share (Bridges’ New Beginning).
You are embarking on your own journey into a new professional realm. Equip yourself with tools to support you through the inevitable challenges you’ll face along the way. The most important piece of equipment to guide you is your compass, or your core values.
When we keep our values front and center, it helps us stay grounded through the ups and downs of transition. We get in the habit of looking at our actions and attitudes in the context of how they measure up to our values. Following are some ways for you to identify and bring to the forefront your own core values.
Values Exercise 1 – Values List
Find 10 minutes to do this crucial, foundational exercise. Your answers will serve as a guidepost for your next actions. Take out your journal or a blank piece of paper. At the top, write: “My Core Values.“ Answer these questions:
- What values are most important to me?
- What do I want to make sure is always included in my life?
Don’t censor your responses, Write down whatever comes to mind, the serious and the frivolous. This is a brain dump.
- Whittle your list to 5-7 core values.
Some of the values that I hold dear are integrity, creativity, intellectual stimulation, humor, and connection. And in my life I always want to make room for contribution to my world and good health. I had a coach who listed chocolate as one of his core values. Now why didn’t I think of that?
- Look at each value and ask yourself, “What about this is important to me?” For example, if wealth is one of my values, I might note that having money makes me secure that I can pay my living expenses and it gives me the freedom to take vacations. Security and freedom, then, are two of my core values.
- Finally, choose one of these values and look at your week through the lens of that value. Notice where your actions and attitudes honor that value and where that value is getting stepped on.
When I looked at my week through the lens of integrity, for example, I asked myself throughout each day, “How am I respecting my value of integrity of right now?” I was fascinated to see how this value played such a pervasive role in so many aspects of my life, from whether or not I got up to exercise when my alarm went off to how much time I allotted to develop my business each day
Values Exercise Two: Best Possible Self
This is an exercise developed by Dr. Laura King of the University of Missouri. In her 2001 study, she found that students who spent 20 minutes a day for four days writing about their “best possible self” experienced more positive affect and better health than their peers assigned to control groups who wrote about neutral subjects.
Here are her exact directions:
Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all your life dreams. Now, write about what you imagined.
As you look over your writing, note what you see in multiple domains – relationships, finances, career, personal development, fun and recreation. What values do you notice? Examples might be: Health, Service, Balance, Adventure, Financial Security.
This exercise helps us solidify what is important to us, further enhances our knowledge of our core values, and helps us to connect with our vision for what’s possible in our lives.
As SLPs and audiologists, we are pros at setting goal for our students, patients, and clients, right? Surprisingly, I’ve found with my coaching clients that we are not always so good at applying this skill to our own lives. I know I wasn’t, at first. But you, my friend, can be more organized in your own transition.
Using the vision exercise, above, identify one to two long-term goals that bring you closer to your ideal life. Then create doable short-term goals that bring you closer to your long-term goals.
As an example, when I went through this process one year ago, my vision included contributing to and supporting my colleagues in the field of communication disorders. A long-term goal that supported that vision was to design a workshop for navigating professional transitions and to present it locally, at the state level, and nationally. My initial short-term goals – for one week – were to connect with my vision daily (three minutes of quiet focus), peruse the SHAV website for info on paper submissions for the state conference, and brainstorm a rough outline of salient points to share with my audience.
Writing down our values and goals is the difference between living on autopilot and taking ourselves and our dreams seriously. Invest in yourself over the next week. Try these exercises and see what you discover. Not only will you be energized by your vision, you will be able to identify your core values and the character strengths you have to achieve your goals.
Re-connect with your values. You are the one and only you this world has. From the essence of who you are, show yourself and the world what you have to offer. It’s a great way to live, you dragon-slayer, you.