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 by Frits Ahlefeldt – Founder (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. 

Breaking the Spell

I was feeling pleased with myself. had finally figured it out. We needed to reposition and extend our product portfolio and my team and I had put together a plan for the next 18 months. We had a bit of a lead in this new technology and our major customers were demanding some products they could use now. Although not big in revenue terms, it was strategically important to stop these customers talking to other suppliers.

It had been approved, I had started to line up some of the resources to make it happen. First products would hit the market in 9 months, with a steady stream of new products and enhancements over the rest of that financial year. But now it was August and I was looking forward to  going on holiday to rest and refresh myself, knowing that would set me up for a full-on spell when I got back.

Then I got a call. There was something that had to be done before I went.

“We need your forecasts for next year” the man from Finance told me.

“What now, in August?” I asked.

“Yes, we’re starting the process early this year”, he told me.

“But I can’t forecast what will happen next year”

“Why not”

“Well, we haven’t built the products yet. They won’t start to come on stream until the second quarter, and that’s if things go well. It’s a totally new market, we don’t know the demand, the pricing, the sales cycle – we don’t even know what the products will be like, in detail.”

“Well, that’s your problem, I need your numbers. By the 12th of the month.”

“So, hang on. You want me to give you numbers for sales that won’t happen for another six months, at least; for products I haven’t built yet in a market we’ve never operated in before – in fact, one no-one has operated in before.”

“Yes. And make them realistic”

“What do mean, realistic?”

“Well, they are going to be incorporated into your Profit and Loss, which you’ll be accountable for. Your appraisal and bonus will depend on how well you hit your numbers, so make sure you’re realistic about it. And don’t low-ball them, we’ll be scrutinising all the submissions and they might be revised upwards.”

“Look, there’s no way I can come up with ‘realistic’ numbers. There’s nothing to judge them against. They’ll be guesses, at best.”

“Do what everyone else does, work from previous sales and extrapolate.”

“No, you don’t understand. There aren’t any previous sales. This is new technology, we’ve never done stuff like this before.”

“Well, if you can’t forecast the revenues, perhaps we shouldn’t be doing this.”

“Listen, the board’s committed to customers that we’ll do them and I’ve been tasked to deliver them. So they are happening. Period.”

“Well, you’d better forecast some revenues then”

“But I can’t, I can only make some guesses.”

“We want proper, justifiable numbers, not guesses.”

“OK, OK, this is stupid. Look, what if I don’t tell you that they’re guesses that I’ve just made up?”

“Will you get them to me by the 12th?”

“You can have them this afternoon.”

“Fine. Bye”.

And that’s when the curtain was drawn back and I saw the wizard as he really is.

The futility of this exchange, the pointlessness of the exercise, the complete lack of utility in the work being done is symptomatic of a fantasy world. One where the normal influence of rationality and logic does not apply. The corporate world is not one of efficiency and effectiveness, as we are led to believe. Rather, it is a make-believe world of magical thinking and mind-bending perceptions. It is an enchantment.

In the corporate world, we believe we can predict what will happen in the future. In my case, it was the future for 6-18 months but the corporate planning and budgeting process pretends it can predict the next 5 years. This, really, is a type of madness.

This is only one example of the alternative reality that we are gripped in. It also affect us and our behaviours. It’s why we think it is OK to spend time at the office or away on business rather than with the ones we love. It’s why we push ourselves to extremes for the corporation, incurring stress and ill-health. It why we think neglecting our well-being, being unfit and overweight, just comes with the territory. It’s why we drag ourselves to our work when our bodies are failing and in need of time to rest and repair. It’s why we drive ourselves to burn-out without questioning the destruction we leading ourselves into.

When I was on the Mothership, I thought I was rational and logical and my choices were entirely sensible. I thought I was coping relatively well with the situation, I was doing OK. Now I have left the enchantment and it’s spell has been broken, I wonder what the hell I was thinking. How could I not see the madness? How could I fail to recognise the damage I was doing to myself? What made me think I was coping and ‘doing OK’?

I couldn’t imagine going back to that world now. I hear stories from others about how they behaved and what they put themselves through in their corporate careers with a mixture of bafflement and horror.

But I remember that when I was there, when I was under the enchantment, then I did similar and thought no more off it.

Leaving the corporate bubble means you break the spell, you lift the enchantment. It is very disorientating at first because all the certainties you once held on to have now dissolved, the truths you held have been exposed as falsehoods. It is part of your transition to go through this period of uncertainty and anxiety. The reward is that you will create a new reality, one that is much more connected with the real world and that will endure for the rest of your life.