Finding your feet

It’s a glib phrase that we trot out when someone asks us “How’s it going”. “Oh, you know, I’m still finding my feet”, we reply, whilst actually looking at them and shifting uncomfortably from one to the other.

It’s a lot easier than saying “Actually, I have no idea what’s going on, I don’t feel like I know what I am doing and I am in a whole world of pain and confusion” and it won’t make them run away quickly and point at you from the other side of the room.

It can be hugely disorienting when you leave the Mothership. Suddenly, all of your familiar anchors are gone. Instead, you spend most of your time doing things that are new, that you don’t understand and that you feel an incompetent beginner at. Because you are.

In time, you will resolve some of these. You will master these new skills, you will develop a new routine, put some anchors back in your life and get some sense of control. You will find your feet.

Or rather, you will stabilise yourself. You will achieve some sort of equilibrium, find some sort of halfway house between your life on the Mothership and your new life outside. However, still tied to the past and not yet committed to the future, you will not thrive and grow.

The problem is, you don’t need to find your feet. You need to find yourself.

Only then can you start to move forward and build a new chapter of your life.

It’s OK to feel scared

When you have left the Mothership and are starting out as a post-executive, you may be feeling a bit scared. I want to tell you that’s OK. Actually, it also OK to feel lonely.

And confused.
Behind the curve.

And upset. (this is just my list – feel free to add your own).

All these feelings are completely normal. Everyone feels them at times, even if they don’t admit them. It’s a natural response to the change you are going through as you re-invent yourself.

Let’s look at that process, using William Bridges’ model of transition. I like it because it is simple and only has three stages, which are:

  1. Ending. Losing and Letting Go
  2. The Neutral Zone
  3. The New Beginning

The first step sounds really easy but is  often more of a challenge than we expect. You’ve been on the Mothership for a long, long time and have got used to that environment and it’s seeped into your bones. It is hard to walk away from what has become your comfort zone and accept that it is really over. You have to go through a grieving process for what you have lost.

As you break free, you move more and more into the Neutral Zone. This is a period of uncertainty, confusion and frustration. Nothing seems to be working. The tried and trusted ways of the past no longer apply, whilst the new approaches come awkwardly to you and you are still struggling to master them.

Gradually, the New Beginning emerges and your confidence and energy increase. Your skills grow and you start to see some success as you move confidently towards your new future.

The thing is, there’s no time limit on the process of transition. It takes you as long as it takes you, from a couple of days to a couple of decades (yes, really). Whilst you are moving through these stages, you will feel all the things on the list above (and any others you have added). This is a necessary part of the process, without feeling these emotions and acknowledging them, you cannot progress.

This is not a process of change, which is external to you and, in any case, has already happened. You have left the Mothership, after all. This is about transition, your internal psychological process to come to terms with that change.

It is about our emotional and psychological journey and our feeling are central to that. Unfortunately, many of us have been socially conditioned to suppress our feelings, and our time on the Mothership has probably re-inforced this. Emotions are often unwelcome in the workplace and seen as a sign of weakness, so we push them down and ignore them. This denial is totally counter-productive and will block us, keeping us in the process of transition for far longer than is necessary.

So it’s OK to feel scared. In fact, it essential that we do and that we acknowledge it and all our other emotions. It’s a sign that you are making progress, that you are on the path to re-invention.

Choose your wall

There’s a Stephen Covey quote that I often refer to that goes

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

I use it when I am being assailed with another empty exhortation to ‘be in action’ or ‘JFDI’. I use use it when working with my coaching clients too when they get frustrated with process and want to run off and ‘do things’.

After you leave the Mothership, you are in a state that we all hate – uncertainty. We have been so well trained to do things, to execute plans, to implement strategies that we are not used to having to spend time thinking, reflecting, looking inwards. We are so used to being busy, to being active and goal-driven that we are often all at sea when the activity subsides and the only pressure and demands come from ourselves.

It at this point we think about our careers and start to wonder if we had the ladder up against the right wall. All that effort, worry, sacrifice and pain and what do we have to show, apart from the money? That money has helped us do things, it’s enabled to use look after those we care for and provide for our family, perhaps, but what has it done for us? When you weigh it all up, was it worth the cost?

Well, now it’s different. Now you get to choose the wall you put your ladder up against. In the midst of all the uncertainty, that is one thing you can guarantee. It’s going to be your choice. So take your time and choose wisely. Treasure the opportunity because it is a gift.

And choose the right wall for you.