Feel your way forwards, stop forcing it

As well as learning new skills and developing a new mindset when we leave our corporate role, we have unlearn a whole set of beliefs and behaviours. Things that were helpful, or at least functional, in the corporate world simply don’t work outside. In fact, some of them can actually be harmful to us and what we’re trying to achieve.

One of the hardest things I have had to learn is to use my intuition and to trust that answers to problems will emerge if I just stay with the issue long enough. In coaching, we call this ‘sitting with the problem’. It a very uncomfortable experience, sitting in that uncertainty and ‘not knowing’.

Our response to this is to wriggle out of it, reduce the ambiguities to black and white and end the uncertainty by leaping to a solution. These behaviours have been re-inforced in our corporate life, which operate under an illusion of certainty and control. We were constantly challenged to ‘have the facts’, to ‘bring solutions, not problems’ and an admission that you didn’t know the answer was a seen as a sign of weakness.

The solutions we readily grasp for, the familiar ones, are never the right ones. The ambiguities that we try to flatten out hold the very answers that we seek. In a large organisation we see many of these sub-optimal decisions but the organisation continues, albeit in an inefficient and wasteful manner. However, when we are making decisions for ourselves, this approach can be extremely harmful. We don’t have the resources and momentum of a large organisation and poor decisions can blow us far off track.

This over-reliance on rationality is not how we are in the world naturally. Our intuition is deep wisdom, it is the product of our unconscious mind that is far more powerful and rapid than our intellect. We use our ‘feel’ continually in our personal lives, in our hobbies and pursuits, in our daily activities but we have been taught to ignore it in our business and professional life. Re-connecting with our intuition and re-introducing it into our whole lives takes time and emotional labour but its a very necessary step to learning to flourish after the mothership.

Allied to this is the habit of forcing things. In our corporate life we could ‘make things happen’ though our effort, personality and will. We could pressure people to do the things we needed to do, we could influence events and push things through. This was only possible, however, within the hierarchy and rules of the organisation. Once we are outside of that structure, our attempts to bring pressure on people will simply push them away because they are free agents. We have no hold over people or resources and the only authority we have is that which we generate through trust and respect. Forcing simply doesn’t work.

However, so deeply ingrained is this behaviour that we continue to try. We make plans and forecasts for events we have no control over, we make demands of people that they have no obligation to fulfill. Instead of allowing events to take their course and focusing on the things that we can control, we impatiently try to ‘hurry things up’, to push things through. The consequence is that we often sabotage our efforts. Forcing is a rather unpleasant behaviour and it repels people, it reduces the resources that are available to us and it prevents the serendipity and mutuality that will bring us what we want.

The biggest signal that we are ignoring our intuition and trying to force things is when we are looking for short cuts. When we start signing up for courses that will show us the ten step process that guarantees our objective, when we look for some marketing trick to ‘massively grow’ our lists, or try to learn some sales tricks that will have us ‘closing, closing, closing’. When we are desperately grasping at someone else’s formula and trying jam our business and ourselves into it.

This never works. These always prove to be a waste our time and energy and push us further away from our desired objective.

In my experience, every dead-end is disguised as a short-cut. Avoid them and focus on doing the work instead.

The hard lessons that I have learnt are these: Learn to listen to and trust your intuition and use it feel your way forward rather than trying to think it. And stop trying to force things, just let them unfold.

‘Asker’ or ‘Guesser’?

I have some good news and some bad news.

I wrote in my last blog about the universal advice to get a ‘Dream Team’ around you and I talked about the challenges of actually finding the people to be in it. The good news is that the solution is to join a community and get to be known, liked and trusted.

The bad news is that you need to know if you are an asker or a guesser. And if you are the latter, then a difficult challenge just became a whole lot harder.

So what’s the difference between ‘Askers’ and ‘Guessers’, and why does it matter?

It depends on how you have been raised to ask for things.

If you have been brought up in an ‘Ask’ culture then you are taught it is fine to ask for what you want because the other person always has the option to say no. You are not offended if you request is turned down because that’s always one of the possible outcomes. If you were told as child “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”, then you’ve been raised as an Asker.

If you have been brought up in a ‘Guess’ culture, then you avoid asking for something at all costs unless you are pretty certain that the answer is going to be Yes. You are particularly skilled at putting out feelers and dropping hints. Sometimes you are able to get the other person to offer the thing you want, which is a brilliant result for you. If you were told as a child “It’s rude to ask”, well, you can figure out what you are.

The problem for Guessers is that they depend on tight net of shared expectations and that only works with other Guessers. They think that Askers are a bunch of insensitive idiots for not picking up on their subtle signalling and realising what is going on.

If you’re a Guesser, then enlisting people to your dreams and asking them to be on your team becomes hugely difficult. You put an enormous amount of time and energy into putting out delicate feelers that a large percentage of the people are oblivious too and get distressed and frustrated that you can’t seem to get your team together. Meanwhile, the Askers in your group have ploughed ahead and got their support team together in no time at all.

So Guessers have to take a deep breath, pull their pants right up tight, and become Askers. Much to their surprise, they will find most people don’t even bat an eyelid and they’ll soon find people doing exactly what they asked them to do. It turns out that it’s much more acceptable to be an Asker in a business environment than in a social one. (Who knew?).

It’s not all good news for Askers, however. They may think it’s OK to ask anyone for anything but the Guessers are horrified by their presumptuousness. They may feel obliged to say Yes but then will fail to provide the support or even become silent saboteurs due to their resentment.

It’s important, then, to understand where the other person is coming from, not to simply project your worldview on them but to see things from their perspective. There isn’t a right or wrong here, there’s just a difference and you need to understand and acknowledge that and behave accordingly to get the outcome that you want. Even if that means asking for it!

(This terminology comes from a 2007 web posting by Andrea Donderi)

Come and meet some potential collaborators and practice being an Asker at one of our London meetings, or get involved in our private Facebook group HERE 

Creating your ‘Dream Team’

There is a piece of advice that you will find all over the internet, from all the top business coaches and start-up gurus, every ‘how to’ blog about growing your business or even making personal change. (Hell, even I’ve put it in my ebook “Five ways to flourish when you escape the corporate grind”). So what is this ubiquitous instructions, this universally agree wisdom?

“Get a great team around you”

Well, you can’t argue with that, can you? We all know we can do more when we have people supporting us than we can on our own. We all know that we’d do much better if we could focus on what we’re good at and have other people to do all the stuff we’re crap at (and probably hate with a passion, too.)

Some people say this is pretty much ALL you need to do. Get a good enough bunch of people around you and you can do ANYTHING!

It’s seductive. So simple. And it’s reassuring, isn’t it? To think that we don’t have to take all strain by ourselves but can have other people to share the burden with.

The only problem is that hardly anyone tells you HOW you pull together your dream team. I mean, it’s not like people are hanging around on street corners with cardboard signs saying “Genius, at a   loose end, ready to commit myself to your dreams.”, is it? You can’t just drive around and pick up the people you need on your particular bus. So where do you find them?

And even when you find them, why are they going to help you? What’s in it for them? Why would they join your support team rather than someone else’s? If these are good people, then they are not going to be short of options.

Of course, these two questions are interrelated. And the answer is community.

There are some, a lucky few, who have a network they can draw upon that contains the skills they need and people who are disposed to helping them. For the rest of us, we need to find a community where potential members of our team are likely to gather. By interacting, sharing and doing things together, we discover who the people are that we need and at least identify who we’d like onboard.

But then the question still arises, why would they help us? Well, people will work with us when they know, like and trust us. The community has provided one part of the puzzle because they know us but now we have to work on the other two elements – we need to get them to like us and to trust us.

Again, the community provides the context in which we are able to build these relationships. They will see us contributing and engaging in the community and helping others. They’ll see us as whole people, not just in a narrow business or professional context. They will also experience us, get feedback from others and be able to evaluate our social capital. They will be able to make their own mind up as to whether we are trustworthy or not.

We need to show up and take individual actions to prove ourselves but it is the community that gives us the platform to do it, the opportunity to take action. We have to show we area willing to be open and honest, to be vulnerable and to want to contribute and help others. That means we have to willing to be on other people’s teams and support their dreams and ambitions.

The way that we often seek community is by joining a networking group or attending a course (either in person or online). These can work but they are not always a great fit for people who are still trying to determine what they are going to do with their life and the next part of their career. If you do not yet have an established business then you are not ready for networking that is focused around business development and lead sharing. If you are taking a course, the focus will only be on a narrow area and that’s only a small part of what you need.

That’s why I started After the Mothership, to create a space for people who are transitioning from corporate and don’t know what they need or what direction they are going to go in. To create a community of people who are working through the same sorts of challenges, asking the same questions but who have different skills and experiences that they can share with each other.

In other words, a place where you can find your dream team and become part of someone else’s.

Experience some new ideas and new people by coming to one of our our monthly meetings in London. Book your place for our September event “After Corporate Life – What next?” HERE

Or get involved in our private Facebook group HERE 

Finding out what you don’t know

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary during the second Gulf War, once gave a famously oblique response to a question, in which he talked about “Known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns”.

It was a diversion tactic, a deliberate obfuscation to avoid answering the question about a lack of evidence. It’s actually an application of ‘Johari’s Window’,a cognitive psychology tool used to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. The statement brought much publicity to the concepts and introduced them into the popular lexicon.

When you leave corporate life, there are an awful lot of ‘known unknowns’. Setting up your business, doing your accounts, your website, social media, and a million other things. There may also be specific areas of skill or expertise that you need to acquire, such as public speaking, coaching, web development, cooking, carpentry – seriously! It depends on what you decide to do next.

You can address some of these by taking training courses but choosing the right ones can be a challenge. How do you decide where to focus your efforts, which ones to master and which to outsource to specialists? It’s not straightforward but it is possible, with some thought, to decide a course and navigate your way through these ‘known unknowns’.

However, there’s a hell of a lot more unknown unknowns. Things you have absolutely no awareness of, things you have not even heard of, much less understand their relevance to you.

So how do you discover your unknown unknowns? How do you find out these things that will be crucial to your success?

The answer is surprisingly simple.

Firstly, you need to expose yourself to new ideas and people. Get out and mix in some new groups, try some new pursuits, read books and publications that you haven’t before.

Secondly, find some people who have been on a similar path, who have made the transition from corporate or are doing something similar to what you want to do. Ask them for their advice, share your thought and ideas and ask for their feedback (people love to be asked for their opinions). Learning from them will greatly shorten your own learning curve and save from you repeating common mistakes.

I’m trying to make this easier with After the Mothership. Through this blog and the newsletter, through the events, through the Facebook group, I am trying to expose you to new ideas and people; and to connect you to people who are going through this transition, fellow travellers on the path you are following.

There are many other ways you can go about this, both online and in real life. Be open, follow your curiosity, and enjoy your exploration. You never know what you will find!

Which is why they are called ‘unknown unknowns’.

Experience some new ideas and new people by coming to one of our our monthly meetings in London. Book your place for our September event “After Corporate Life – What next?” HERE

Or get involved in our private Facebook group HERE 

When I grow up, I’m going to be…

I often joke that I haven’t decided what I am going to do when I grow up. It’s a way of using my self-deprecating humour to deflect awkward questions about what I am doing. Like everyone else, I am just making it up as I go along but I don’t want to admit that I am winging it.

Like all the best jokes, it has more than a little basis in truth. I really haven’t decided on the one thing I am going to do, the single career, the identifiable profession that can be contain in a neat little box so that everyone can see it and know what it is. The thing is, I don’t think I ever will. I am just not like that.

It’s not that I am scared of commitment, or that I don’t take life seriously, or that I am indecisive (although other may disagree!). It’s just that I like to have variety in my life. I am interested in many different things. My curiosity takes me in many different directions. Just doing one thing, being one thing – well, that sounds like hell to me.

I know you are probably thinking “Uh-oh, a jack of all trades and master of none”, because that’s the normal way we put people down who do multiple things. Such is the cult of specialisation in our society today that anyone who doesn’t go down a single path is seen as deviant, some sort of misanthrope to be pilloried and denigrated. But let’s look at the full quote,

Jack of all trades, master of none,

though oftentimes better than master of one.

You see, having multiple skills and interests is really strength, not a weakness. It’s a strength that’s increasingly sought after as employers look for people who are able to fulfil multiple roles and adapt to meet the rapidly changing requirements of business today.

In fact, specialisation can become a bad thing, a trap for us as we hit the middle of our careers. It’s been defined as ’Over-competence’, the situation where an individual has become so good at their specialisation that they can’t escape it. They are so valuable because of the large revenues they can generate for their employer or themselves that the opportunity cost of doing something else is too high. However, the work no longer challenges them or stretches them and they lack opportunity for personal or professional growth.

So being a ‘Jack of all trades’ is no bad thing. It is a positive virtue that allows for personal growth and development. It is the way to become the ‘best you’ you can be.

What’s more, I am not alone. There are loads of us out there, people who never quite fit into one role, never quite manage to stay in the box that we are given. There are lots of names for us too (no, not those sorts of names. Positive descriptors!).

‘Scanners’ is a term that has been around for some time, originally coined by Barbara Sher, the original advocate of creating your own job (and also promoted by John Williams, author of “Screw Work, Let’s Play”). People who are just too curious to stick to one thing, who have multiple passions and ideas and inspirations.

Or if you prefer, you can call yourself a multi-potentialite, a neo-generalist or someone with a renaissance soul.

Marianne Cantwell, author of Free Range Humans, and someone who I have worked with to develop my own ‘free range’ career, has given an excellent TEDx talk where she talks about ‘Liminality’, this state of not ever being one thing or another but being somewhere in-between. When you are in a group but still seem to have a foot outside. When there always seems to be a bit of you that doesn’t quite fit.

And here’s the thing. Whatever of these descriptions you feel best suits you, you feel a bit ashamed because you aren’t quite what society expects you to be. You are supposed to fit in a box (because that makes it easier for everyone else) but you just don’t, just can’t, just won’t. You are doing ‘grown up’ properly. You aren’t ‘adulting’ in the right way.

This is where it gets really serious and why this is important. That shame that you feel is completely mis-placed but, more importantly, extremely dangerous. It’s corrosive, debilitating and doing you harm every day. Furthermore, it is a barrier to you making the best of your talents, making the best of yourself and bringing your best stuff to the world.

Far from feeling shame, you should be proud of your breadth and spread, your scanning abilities, your boundless curiosity, your multiple passions and interests, your ability to find the spaces in between that everyone else misses. We are the innovators, the creators, the change-makers. We find the connections that others can’t see, we brew up the concoctions that no-one else can cook up, we see a future that no-one else can imagine.

The world needs us to stay young, stay curious, keep playing and keep exploring. We aren’t meant to settle down and stay in a box, we are meant to find new places to play and to live and to grow.

So never grow up. Don’t decide what you are going to do. Decide who you are going to be.

Join us at After the Mothership where we’re all figuring out what to do when we grow up.

Get involved in our private Facebook group HERE 

or come along to our monthly “After the Mothership LIVE!” meeting in London. Book your place for our September event HERE.

Is it change or transformation?

Have you ever made some lifestyle changes to improve your health? Exercising regularly, eating more healthily, giving up alcohol, going on a blitz before a ‘significant’ birthday?

We’ve all ‘been good’ for a while, perhaps done it several times, but we often lapse back to our old ways.

Changes are temporary, it seems.

Changes are also external.

You can be a ‘gym bunny’ for a while, to lose weight or run a marathon, but it doesn’t make you a thin person or an athlete. If you are still a fast food lover or a couch potato at heart, that’s the behaviour that you go back to once you have achieved your goal.

Change is the domain of the yo-yo dieter. The New Year resolver. The January Gym member.

‘Ah,” you say, “but you can have lasting change. It doesn’t have to be like that, people can stick with their new habits.”

And that’s true, they can, but only if they become a different person inside. Only if the way they live their life, the values that they honour, the way they see themselves, changes. That is transformation.

It’s permanent because It’s internal. You don’t revert to your previous behaviour because you are no longer that person.

We go through many changes in our lives but only the ones that are permanent are accompanied by a transformation.

As anyone who has children will tell you, the birth of your first child is a massive change. Your life will never be the same again but it is also transformational. YOU will never be the same again. This often comes as a surprise to new parents. We use change and transformation interchangeably and so we  do not appreciate the difference. The change you feel within yourself as a parent is so unexpectedly strong that it really underlines how different they are.

You find yourself overwhelmed with emotions, knocked sideways by a completely new perspective of the world and your place in it. You are caught unawares by desires to protect and nurture that are suddenly awakened within you. This is transformation. You are now a different person and your behaviour changes permanently.

Transformation, then, can be born from change. Change is the external stimulus but you have to internalise it and make permanent changes to your mindset and your life choices.

So, going on a health blitz and saying no to the chips and beer is a good thing to do. However, to make it permanent, you have to go through a transformation. You have to become the type of person who doesn’t eat chips, who moderates the amount of beer they drink. You know this has happened when you don’t have to make a conscious choice, you just automatically chose the salad over the chips because you prefer it.

The people I work with have been through change, either by choice or circumstance. Often, however, they have not been through transformation. They have left the corporate world but they still see themselves as corporate executives, they have the same default behaviours, the same values, the same perception of themselves and what constitutes normality for them. This is often why they are struggling.

And I completely understand that. It took me a long time to make my own transformation from corporate executive to the person I am today.

However, without transformation, change is often painful. The dissonance we feel between our inner selves the surroundings we now find ourselves in causes us distress and anxiety and can even cause actual physical pain and ill-health.

We can choose to live in that pain, to retreat back to what is familiar by going back into corporate life, even if it makes us unhappy. Or we can undergo a personal transformation that accepts the new reality we find ourselves in and embraces the opportunities it brings.

For many, going back is not an option. We are too old, or do not meet the requirements that companies now have, or are disqualified on some other grounds. Or the cost of living in that world  was too great, it was harmful to us and we needed to escape it.

The choice then is to live in the pain and discomfort of our new circumstances, or to transform ourselves so that we are adapted to this new world and able to thrive in it. This transformation may be difficult, challenging and, in itself, painful. It will lead, however, to a new state where we will be at peace with our world and comfortable in our own skin. It will no longer take effort to cope with world but the world will energise us with opportunity because the changes to our behaviours will be imbedded, they will be permanent.

That’s got to be a goal worth getting.

After the Mothership has been created to provide the environment for you to work out your own transformation, in the company of fellow travellers and with the advice, information and support you need to successful transition to your new life style and career.

You can join us in our private Facebook group HERE

Or come and meet us in person at our monthly ‘After the Mothership LIVE!’ meeting – grab your tickets for September’s event HERE.

Neither fish nor foul

It’s very disconcerting when you leave your corporate career. You have lost your role and your identity and all the anchors of that life have faded away. You know what you were but you don’t yet know who are going to be. You were employed, a career executive, a professional of some description and now you are … well, what?

There’s lots of things that you could become. A contractor, a consultant, a business owner, an ‘entrepreneur’ (whatever that is), or some other things altogether. Or perhaps a mix of things, a portfolio careerist.

But right now you aren’t any other those. You are in-between, neither fish nor fowl.

This is what Marianne Cantwell calls a ‘liminal’ stage. (She introduces the idea of liminality in her excellent TEDx Talk). You are in flux and it’s a time of uncertainty, of not knowing. The problem is that society doesn’t really like this, it likes certainty. If you are not one thing, then you need to be another. If you are no longer a corporate executive, then you have to be someone else.

It’s not OK to say you are ‘in between’. “In between what?” will be the answer. “Are you resting. Like an actor?” they will say, putting you down as a failure.

So we are pressured to jump, to make a choice to be something else. This is not a good idea.

You see, being in between, being in this liminal stage, is a great place to be. It’s the place of creativity, of possibility and of growth. Certainly, we feel the tension and the anxiety but that is also when we can feel most alive. The secret is actually to stay in that place, to relax into the uncertainty and to trust your subconscious to figure it all out for you, in due course.

It’s a very necessary part of transition too. I use William Bridges’ 3-stage model of transition:

  1. The Letting Go
  2. The Neutral Zone
  3. The New Beginning.

This uncertain, anxious but creative phase is The Neutral Zone, the stage where we have left the past behind but still haven’t figured out what our future holds. It’s the part when people often go off into the wilderness on their own for a bit.

If we jump this stage then we take all of our unresolved problems forward with us, which will sabotage whatever we try to do next and prevent making the transition successfully.

We have to be able to resist the societal pressures to put ourselves in another box, to slap a new label on ourselves, and to sit with the discomfort and uncertainty for the time we need to move through this stage properly. This is hard to do by ourselves, by sheer force of will power.

It’s important, then, to surround ourselves with people who understand the struggle that we are going through, who can support us without judgement and who know the value of staying in this space. Others who are neither fish nor fowl either, who get exactly where we are.

This much may be obvious but where to find them is less so. That is why I created After the Mothership, a place where it’s absolutely OK to be an in-betweener, to not know what you do, to be uncertain about what you are doing next but also in the ideal place to figure it out.

If you’d like to join us in our liminal space and share our in-between-ness, join the conversation in our private Facebook group HERE.

Or come and meet us in person at the September ‘After the Mothership LIVE!’ event and grab your tickets HERE.

(Picture: fish-fowl-by-hikingartist illustration (Frits Ahlefeldt – Founder Hiking.org) by Frits Ahlefeldt – Founder Hiking.org (flickr))

When they’re not returning your calls

You were such good buddies when you worked together. You where on the same page when it came to work, never an argument and always a laugh. You thought it would be great to meet up for drinks but they haven’t got back to you…

You’ve sent them a few messages, left a few voicemails, given them a few options but they haven’t got back to you yet…

Sure, you know they’re busy. But you were friends, and friends keep in touch, right?

But they haven’t returned your calls…

She was always a bit of a champion of yours, she was your mentor for a while. You always helped to make her look good too, singing her praises right, left and centre. It would great if she could make a couple of intros for you, a real help. You’ve asked her to meet with you but she hasn’t returned your calls…

You’re sure she likes you and wants to you to be successful. You’ve always felt she was pulling for you, cheering you on. You just want to grab a coffee with her and ask her a few questions. But she’s not got around to calling you back…

She’s super-busy, you know that, but she’s always made time for you before. You thought you were special to her but she’s just not getting back to you…

It seems once you are out of the corporate bubble, you are out in ways you never expected. You are no longer on the Mothership and so you no longer matter in the lives of those who remain. You are simply not in their orbit any more, it’s a case of out of sight and out of mind.

It’s upsetting to find that these relationships are not what you thought they were, to find that the ties that you had were not due to your intrinsic worth but just due to the circumstances of working together. It’s like you were under a spell and that spell is now broken.

This feeling of disenchantment is common when you are in transition. You have literally been in an enchantment, under a spell, that made you see an illusion. What once appeared solid now seems insubstantial and is disappearing fast. What once seemed certain is now gone and there is nothing yet replacing it.

In time you will replace these erstwhile friends, you will find new certainties around which to anchor your life. It could be that you join another organisation, board another Mothership, and enter a new enchantment.

Or you could choose to forge your own path, to create your own circle of friends and relationships. People who are on the same journey as you and who are seeking authentic connections with like-minded and like-hearted individuals. Create genuine and lasting relationships that will support you for the rest of your life.

My aim is to help you find those connections to like-minds and like-hearts and to create those lasting relationships. That’s why I am running a series of events in London to create the opportunity for connection and for community. There’s also a Facebook group to keep the conversation going in between the events, and for those who are unable to get along in person.

Find out more about the September ‘After the Mothership LIVE!’ event and grab your tickets HERE.

Or join the conversation in our private Facebook group HERE.

Even Olympians can struggle with their new life

Gail Emms MBE has been a success. A world-class badminton player and an Olympian who won a silver medal in Athens in 2004, along with World Championship mixed doubles gold in 2006 and two Commonwealth golds.

She’s not in that world anymore and in a searingly honest article she has talked about how she has struggled to establish herself since. It’s an account that has echoes for anyone who has been made redundant or had to change what they do in mid-career.

All athletes know that they will retire one day and they will face a transition but it can be hard to cope with when it arrives. For those of us who thought our retirement would be distant and well-funded only to find we are having to start again in middle-age, it’s more of a shock but no less of a struggle. There are many parallels in what Gail has to say in her article and her subsequent interview with the BBC and the experience of those of us who have come out of a corporate career.

“When you first retire, you go through the whole transition and the whole grieving process, and it’s horrible. You don’t know where you are and you don’t have an identity.”

This is at the heart of the challenge. When you leave corporate life or a career path you are starting a transition process. Part of that process is grieving for the life you had expected that is now not possible. We all have dreams and projections of how life will pan out that based on our current circumstances and so when those circumstances change, those dreams die. That person that we were, that identity (in Gail’s case, Olympic badminton player) also dies.

“I feel ashamed and it’s a massive dent in my pride to admit that an Olympic medallist is struggling.”

Shame is a very big part of the challenge we face. We haven’t been Olympic medallists but we see ourselves as people who are professional and capable, who have achievements and make things happen, who are able to cope. To find ourselves struggling jars with this  self-image and the cognitive dissonance arising from this causes us pain. We are ashamed to tell people about our situation and, hidden away, our shame grows and corrodes our spirit.

Gail has taken a vital first step in writing this article and talking about the shame she feels. Shame hates to be spoken and once it is dragged out into the daylight, it loses it power over us. Facing up to our shame and speaking about it is a hard thing to do but it has to be a first step for us too (and I started After the Mothership to create a safe space to do that in).

“I am feeling lost and with no direction, no purpose, no career, no identity and who the hell do I go to? I want to provide for my family, to be a strong role model and feel like I belong somewhere and be part of a team again.”

Doesn’t this sum up exactly how we feel when we have been chucked on the scrap heap through redundancy or our career has come to sudden halt?

We long for direction and purpose in our lives and we often surrender the responsibility for this to others, to the corporation, for the sake of our careers and the pay check. When we leave the Mothership, our purpose, however flimsy it may have been, is taken away and we have to find a discover a new one and fashion a new direction for our lives but we’ve never been taught to do this.

Gail talks of her identity again and it is not an exaggeration to say that we can suffer an existential crisis as we question who we really are and where we fit in the world. This is an essential part of the transition process but no less disconcerting and disorientating for that. It plunges us into uncertainty and doubt and causes great anxiety and even depression.

She also mentions two other key needs that are affected, our need for belonging and for social connection. As social animals we feel compelled to gather together, which is what caused us to form into tribes back in neanderthal times that became the foundations of our society.

“Everyone assumes you are made for life.”

This is another reason why you feel you have no-one to turn to. People assume you are doing OK, you’re a success. Why would they want to hear your problems? Won’t they just think you are an over-privileged whinger? If you talk to them then they’ll say you should think yourself lucky, just suck it up and get on with it because there are people who have it much harder than you. Why would they be empathetic to you?

When you’ve had a decent career and had a comfortable life so far, people assume that you are going to be fine, that you’re well-set financially and you’ll get another job or find something to do. Besides, you have that big fat redundancy cheque to last you.

It doesn’t occur to them that the reality could be very different, that your commitments are substantial and that redundancy money won’t last long, that your pension pot is not nearly enough to fall back on, either now or when it’s actually time to retire. They don’t recognise the emotional and mental challenge of your situation either. Our default position is to assume that everyone else is doing OK, probably better than us, until we find out otherwise.

So now we feel there is nowhere to go and this adds to our shame. How can we presume to share our problems with others? We should not be moaning to them, we should not be struggling. We tell ourselves that we should man up, suck it up and get on with it.

“It’s not just the financial situation, it’s the mental battle I am facing at the moment. I am usually an optimistic person, but …”

This is something that we really don’t talk about enough and so I am grateful for Gail’s honesty here (she has spoken about her struggles with depression before). This transition is a major psychological challenge for all the reasons I have discussed above.

Financial issues in particular cause us problems because we process them in the amygdala, the primitive part of our brain that deals with emotions. When we face financial pressures we actually react to them as physical threats. That triggers our flight-or-fight response, flooding out body with cortisol and adrenaline. At this point our reasoning mind has been totally bypassed and we are responding emotionally rather than rationally. It is basically making us stupid.

Our normal state is irrelevant in this situation. Gail’s optimism is being overwhelmed by her amygdala and the feelings of high anxiety and high alert it is creating. In a state of permanent high alert, we are looking out for danger and things that could kill us. Again, our response is at odds with our self-image, which causes further distress.

“Another rejection, another ‘not making the interview’, and all my demons come back to haunt me.”

We are in a fragile emotional and mental state so we are hyper-sensitive to any rejection or failure.  This kicks of the scripts of self-flagellation that we all know so well, that we have been conditioned to have running in our minds.

“I am not good enough.”

“I am not worthy.”

“I am washed up, over the hill.”

“No-one wants me.”

“I am irrelevant.”

“I have nothing to offer.”

This is when we need the support of people who believe in us, of people who are empathic and who understand what we are going through. Without these then it is to easy for our demons to return and to drag us down and make us less than the person we really are.

Gail Emms’ situation is one that many, many people will recognise and understand. The struggles that she described, the emotions that she expresses, will be familiar to anyone who is transitioning from one career and lifestyle to another, or going through any other major life transition. Her article and comments certainly resonated with me and my struggles to transition from corporate life.

I applaud Gail for speaking up and helping to start a conversation about these challenges. She has also taken the very first step to solving her problems by reaching out and asking for help. This is an incredibly difficult thing for many of us to do and it takes real courage. She has spoken of her shame and so loosened it’s grip on her. She has opened a door for other to pass through.

“I don’t know where to turn.”

I found this the saddest thing that Gail has to say. How desperate, how dispiriting, how isolating to feel that there is nowhere and no-one that you can turn to, nowhere to take your troubles and get some help in finding the answers.

It’s also one that I can completely identify with. It’s the reason that I started After the Mothership, so that people in this situation would have somewhere to turn to. So that no-one would have to feel that alone and that helpless but instead be able to find empathy, advice and the companionship of people in the same situation.

Get Involved with After the Mothership

There are three specific things that I am doing with After the Mothership to help people through their transition.

The first is to write about the challenges and ways of addressing them, in my blog, newsletter and in articles. You can sign up for my newsletter.

The second is to gather people together and create a safe space where you can work through these issues, connect with some like-minded people and fellow travellers, and get and give support. I am running regular monthly events in London, you can get tickets for the September event here.
(There will be further initiatives to connect people, so sign up for the newsletter to keep in touch with the latest developments.)

Finally, I coach people through this transition process so that they can create a new lifestyle as quickly as possible.

P.S. Since the article, a number of people have contacted Gail with offers to help (well, according to her twitter feed!). There have been some snarky comments too but, on the whole, she had a really positive response.