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The Difference Between Change and Transition

Diving board in swimming pool - Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

“Lael helps people to be brave.”

A kindergarten teacher once introduced me to her class with these words and twenty-five pairs of little eyes looked up at me from the circle carpet like Big Bird had just walked into a henhouse.

To be honest, teenagers are more my jam, but when my neighbor asked me to speak to her class of little kids about writing my first book, Unscripted, I somehow ended up saying yes. As I drove over to their school that morning, nervously sweating and wondering what I could possible say to these kids, all I could think of was justdontswear, justdontswear, justdontswear.

But when I heard her introduction, I decided to talk about bravery. I told them about teaching kids to jump off the high dive at summer camp because that’s where it all began for me. That’s where I learned that bravery is what happens out on the end of the diving board—in the moments leading up to the dive.  Diving board in swimming pool - Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I shared that mustering was (and still is) my favorite word and watched as they rolled that new word around in their small five-year old mouths for the first time. Muuuuussssttttteeerrriiiinnngg.

If change is the dive itself, mustering is what happens at the end of the board.

There is much talk about change these days—and rightfully so. We like to point to concrete things as evidence of movement—the new business website, the legislation that was passed, the ban that’s been lifted, the weight that’s been lost. But very few of us like to talk about what happens at the end of the board—the sweaty palms, the scared sh*tless moments, the sleepless nights, the rugged inner work that happens when no one is noticing.

The technical word for this is transition. It’s not nearly as sexy or celebrated as change, but ask any woman who has delivered a baby vaginally (yes, I said vaginally) and she will tell you how transition is most definitely a thing.

Transition is about mustering—strength, courage, and gumption.
It’s is about engaging with the uncomfortable stuff–like fear, expectations, vulnerability and the unknown.

It’s also lonely as hell.

If change is a Captain Jack Sparrow swan dive, transition is standing on the high dive at the public pool with everyone in their sun lounger, sipping fancy drinks with little umbrellas, looking up at you in your faded speedo as if you’re the main show.

If change is the published book, transition is sitting on the edge of the bathtub in the middle of the night, scribbling random thoughts on toilet paper while chewing a half-eaten stale Twizzler someone left on the table in the hall, wondering if you’re a wildly creative or really disturbed individual—and if anyone one cares about either.

If change is the corner office, C-suite position and sahweet paycheck, transition is the who do you think you are negotiations with your tired head—or loyal dog—and the hotly-crafted emails you never send about why you should get the job over the arrogant guy who’s a total zoof and completely unqualified.

You see the difference?

Change is what everyone likes to talk about because it’s glamorous, exciting and shiny. And done, let’s not forget how we love things that are done.

Transition is all unsightly stuff we don’t talk about—but everyone relates to if they’re being honest. It’s the half-baked, still-doughy middle of things.

Transition is what’s happening when it looks like nothing is

Think of Tom Hanks in Cast Away emerging from the FedEx plane, clean-shaven, freshly coiffed with a crisp new uniform, ready for his reception after being rescued four years after his plane crashed. That’s change. Welcome home, Tom!

Transition is the sweaty and unkempt you—like Tom Hanks on the desert island for four years in Cast Away, talking to an old volleyball named Wilson for companionship while everyone else thought he was dead. WTF, Tom!?

Everybody wants to talk to FedEx Tom.

I’m all about the desert island Tom.

So lest you feel all alone on a desert island during this season of tra-tra-tra-transition, here’s the top three themes from my SheChanges island to yours…imagine me floating them your way, like happy little Wilson volleyballs to wash up on your shore.

1. Be The Moon
I came across a scene which perfectly captures the energy I’m feeling among my clients this week—especially the leaders working to change organization from the inside out. In this book, two women on a “turtle team” were tasked with ensuring that hundreds of baby turtles, upon hatching from this nest, would make their way safely to the ocean. The moon was dark that night, and the turtles had no bearing to guide them toward the ocean. With the absence of the moon to light their way, their instincts got turned around. One of the women yelled to the other to run down to the water’s edge and “be the moon” by turning on her flashlight and holding it high over her head. And sure enough, the crew of disoriented hatchlings locked on her light and made a beeline for the ocean. All because one woman believed another woman could be a wonderful stand in for a full moon to guide some weary travelers away from harm.

Want some inspiration to be the moon? Watch Keala Settle sing “This is Me” from the movie The Greatest Showman—long before the movie got the green light to be produced. Watch what happens in the room (and in you) when she comes out from behind the music stand.

2. A Mixed Bag
I have heard this exact phrase no less then five times this week. This is the language of transition. This is the yes/and that happens when we don’t know what will happen next. There is a massive range of emotions and perspectives being held by us collectively right now, and it is changing moment to moment, like the wild winds and thunderstorms that seem to come out of nowhere—blowing out the old and blowing in the new. I joked this past weekend that I witnessed seven days of weather in one day. It seems our capacity to experience extreme highs and extreme lows continues to be tested—and consequently strengthened. Discernment is key—as is listening to our bodies as a means to access what’s true for us moment to moment. Like the birds who take their lead from nature and not machines, the people I work with are learning to ride the waves of clarity with great joy and enthusiasm and also don’t hesitate to make themselves scarce when the storms rage and the temperatures drop. Boundaries are a thing right now, more than ever, and I see my clients magnetizing allies as frequently as they are making themselves unavailable to as$holes.

Want to know how to move closer to your truth? Check out The Way of Integrity: Finding The Path to Your True Self, the latest (awesome) book by Martha Beck.

3. With Me? Without Me.
Have you ever seen the movie Knight and Day with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz? There’s this scene in there that gets repeated a couple of times—once by Tom, once by Cameron—that really captures the bottomline invitation I hear so many of my clients making right now. Time is tight, pressure is high and a critical decision needs to be made. To illustrate how clear the decision is, one of them puts their hand up high and says WITH me, and then drops it down low and says WITHOUT me. Then, for good measure will repeat it: WITH me (high), WITHOUT me (low). The message? Your choice, but here’s how it’s going to look and the decision needs to be made now. That is happening all over the place as brave and bold leaders are laying it down in no uncertain terms. The call is clear: I am moving us in this direction right now. I’m beyond explaining. I’m not asking for permission. I don’t need you to understand. You’re welcome to come along, but if you don’t, you won’t.

Want some inspiration to lay it down for fence-sitters? Check out Professional Troublemaker: The Fear Fighting Manual by Luvvie Ajayi Jone.


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