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The Middle Place of Change

Change is hard.

Even when we want it desperately, and especially when we haven't chosen it.

All around us are stories of people leaving their work, making moves, getting laid off, starting businesses, upending their norms.

This period of time has many people, myself included asking, "wait, do I want to do things differently!?"

Seeking change, designing change, and making change is a perplexing part of the human condition. We both desire it and fear it. We move towards and away from it. (If this sounds like you, check out a workshop I'm running in November, Immunity to Change, details below.)

Even when we make a change, the complexity of our own responses may take us by surprise: Why do I still think about something I wanted to leave? Or, this thing is no longer mine to have...why am I holding on?

You may find yourself surprised that you’re a little sad to leave a job that’s been driving you crazy, or feeling some generosity towards the boss that didn’t support you, or compelled to engage with a potential client on work you've committed to move away from.

There's a middle space between the end of something and the start of something new - what Edward Bridges calls the Neutral Zone - a period of transitioning, a period most of us skip over, rushing as we do.

That middle space is the place to honor, make sense of, and ultimately release what's ending so that can we can walk into the new with clear eyes.

That middle space is where I work with so many people upon whom change has been thrust, or who have activated change in their own lives.

We try to work with a more intentional, purposeful way of easing between stages, setting ourselves up for a better experience of leaving, transitioning, AND starting.

Here are some ideas I'm noticing help when we're navigating the middle place of change:

Be a friend to yourself

The mess of feelings can confuse us.

A client has made a successful internal move in her organization, finally able to relocate to her preferred city after a year of working on this. Suddenly, surprisingly, she feels loss over the team in her home city. She misses the certainty of what constituted 'good work', she misses understanding where she fit in the team structure. She misses her boss, with whom a year ago, she had an absolutely average relationship.

Some days, these feelings overpower the excitement over the new role.

What the heck is wrong with me, she wonders?

Nothing, it turns out. She's navigating the middle space.

There is a balanced way to experience the complex feelings associated with change without overwhelm.

  • Be gentle with yourself. Let's not make things more complicated by judging ourselves further. Letting yourself experience feelings won’t set you back - on the contrary, experiencing those feelings will free you so you can go forward.

  • Share those complex feelings with those you trust – most of us have been there. Once again, let's leave behind the idea that hard times must be navigated quietly and privately.

Create the Meaning

There's a scene in a Beautiful Mind where the brilliant scientist John Nash is struck by the tedious, daily tasks of adult life (taking out the trash, specifically), and he says to his wife: "Is this what people do?" And she says something like: "This is life. You add the meaning."

I think about that line a lot, the responsibility and the invitation we have to understand what the activities, the people, the good and hard times in our lives mean to us, what we learn from them, release from them, how they help us grow into ourselves.

This middle space I'm talking about is a place to make meaning, to understand what something meant to us. It may turn out to be enormous in our life story, it may be a blip, but let's find out.

By reflecting in the middle space we may learn that we made mistakes, grew in leaps and bounds, discovered a new passion or talent, made a friendship worth preserving, never want to talk to that person again.... all useful.

My favorite tools for this won't surprise you: Pen, paper, conversation.

Every. Single. Time.

Signal the End, Signal the Beginning

We're in a season full of ceremonies and traditions in the US... Halloween costumes, Thanksgiving festivities, holiday decorations.

We participate in these traditions because they ground us, bring us together, allow us to pause and recognize the passages of time, create a change in pattern of how we spend our days and weeks...they are signs.

It's not NOTHING to end a job, or a relationship, or a residence. I'm seeing more and more that we can give ourselves the gift of recognition, denoting a beginning and an end through ceremony, small or substantial.

That ceremony becomes part of that transition, the middle place.

  • The client above, leaving her job with some surprising remorse, created a ceremony of hand-written notes of appreciation to the people who had shaped her experience there.

  • Another client ending a long corporate career before moving into her own consulting practice wrote an essay she published online about the greatest learnings from her years in organizational life.

  • After a long tenure in one organization, I bought myself a beautiful box to store momentos, notes, trinkets from conferences... all the things I wanted to hold on to from an office full of memories. The box is now put away, but it still serves as a visual and tactile reminder of something that mattered to me deeply in one season of my life.

There are dozens of other ideas we can lean on to help us manage change. What works for you? I'd love to know.

I post on LinkedIn multiple times a week, with thoughts on The Great Resignation, change, work and so much more. I'd love to see you there.


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