Managing transitions: taking a leaf out of nature’s book

Managing transitions: taking a leaf out of nature’s book

This summer, one of my dearest friends (let’s call her Jennifer) fulfilled her dream of moving from Paris to Annecy, where she can ski to her heart’s content for almost half the year. Ex-pats get used to having friends come and go – it is part of the job description. I have many overseas friends with whom I am just as close now as when they were in Paris. With others, contact is patchier but pleasing, and with some, we have mutually accepted that our friendship was specific to a certain time. Jennifer is in another category altogether, though. She’s one of those friends who makes you feel like you’re truly travelling through life together. She calls so I can sympathise the first time her optometrist suggests bifocals. I ring her to share something hilarious my four-year-old said at supper. She’s spent Christmases with my family. My kids call her Auntie. Yes, she’s that friend. So, while I still have other great friends here and I know we’ll still speak frequently, her departure is a real loss.

Shortly after Jennifer left, I went on holiday with my family, so it’s actually only now that I’m really feeling her absence. We’ll be moving into the autumn soon and, as I anticipate the leaves falling from the trees, I can’t help but feel the last decade has been somewhat autumnal in tone in general. It has been a time when several ex-pat friends have returned to their native lands, native pals have married and moved to other bits of France, and still others have had babies and retreated into a little family bubble for the cocooning years. That this exodus coincided with me leaving a salaried job to set up my own business, moving to the suburbs, and having two children myself only exacerbated my “end of an era” feeling. Hence why I have been heard to compare my situation with that of a tree in autumn, losing its trusty, long-loved blanket of foliage to reveal slightly sad and wintry boughs.

It sounds slightly morose, I know, but in truth I rather love the autumn, and I also love the metaphor it offers for perpetual change and the hope of renewal. Because the reason trees lose their leaves is so that they can concentrate their stores of energy to survive the cold months and burst forth in springtime, greener and stronger than ever. Nature cannot create newness before first stripping back what was. And so it is with our human experience. When we go through major change, between the life we used to lead and the building of a new life, there must be a void. Just as between autumn and spring, there must be winter.  When one chapter of life ends, there must be a time of emptiness before we can write a new chapter, allowing new connections, hobbies, traditions, friends, projects and job opportunities to emerge.

Autumnal rituals

And they will emerge. Nature abhors a vacuum, as they say. I – indeed, we all – know that deep down, but it’s slightly cold comfort when it’s the bleak midwinter and there’s not a snowdrop in sight. So what does help? Well, transition rituals are definitely a good idea. Taking the time to say goodbye is healthy. Despite the fact that Jennifer and I will still talk several times a week, I gave her a leaving gift and we had a “last” fun Parisian night out to mark the change. I think it also helps to realise that external and internal change don’t necessarily happen at the same time. In his 1980 book Transitions, William Bridges explains how the mental and emotional transitions we feel when we experience major external change – whether good or bad – can happen weeks, months or years after the fact. The knowledge that feelings of loss and bewilderment (for a job we left, a house we sold, a friend who moved away, a lifestyle that ended) can hit much later, when we think we’ve moved on, will not lessen the sadness but will make us better prepared to welcome our feelings and take care of ourselves.

In the workplace, acknowledging that even happy transitions can be challenging is crucial. That might mean providing better support for staff who are promoted or who change jobs. It is important to mark the transition (celebrate a promotion, properly announce a shift in job remit) and ensure there is a clear moment when they change role. So often, internal position changes come with an inevitable period during which the employee manages both old and new role at the same time. The more companies can create a clear demarcation, the easier it is for people to say goodbye, close a chapter, and embrace a new one.

What to do in winter?

I also think that simply accepting the void before the rebirth – making peace with that limbo land between the end of an era and the beginning of a new one – can save us pain an energy. This is counter-intuitive for me, as I’m someone who wants to roll up her sleeves and “fix” things, but it’s a waste of energy. Some feelings just have to be felt and waited out – like when your husband convinces you to try Space Mountain despite the fact that you hate rollercoasters and you realise after a few seconds that a) it’s just as horrific as you had imagined, and b) you cannot get off and this must be what people mean when they say, “the only way out is through”. Sometimes, you just have to ride the rollercoaster, all the while staying curious about your experience, emotions and processes.

If you are a manager, supporting your team during a rocky period at work, for example during a restructure, can feel disempowering. You may not have any power over seismic changes taking place in the company, but you can help your staff by acknowledging that times are tough and encouraging open discussion of both what’s going on and how they are feeling during team meetings. You might begin by admitting that you are not enjoying the rollercoaster much yourself. You may not be able to fix the problem but you can make sure your team feels seen and heard to help them feel less alone during a professional winter of discontent, perhaps.

Celebrating the spring

When you’re waiting for the spring – whether you’re prospecting for a new business and hoping for your first client, keeping an eye out for social opportunities after moving to a new town, or biding your time until a new normal emerges after the arrival of a baby – I have found the key is to find ease. Metaphors about not being a salmon swimming against the current, and Buddhism-inspired notions of non-attachment to specific outcomes immediately spring to mind.

When one chapter of your life ends, it is easy to start viewing it through rose-tinted glasses but, while memories are precious, it’s important not to forget that the new chapter about to be written will bring its own joy. I’m still talking to Jennifer (and many of my other far-flung friends) regularly, and I’m already planning a trip to see her the weekend of Annecy’s annual apple and honey festival (It’s straight out of Gilmore Girls, right? Talk about a silver lining to her move!). But I’m also staying open to the new connections I have begun making – through suburban life, the children’s school, my growing business. Because the old adage is right – change really is the only constant. And the more you can behave like that tree – allowing its leaves to fall, safe in the knowledge that it has enough inner resources to wait out the winter and sure that the spring will bring new life – the more gracefully, easefully, and happily you will face the ever-changing seasons of your life.

Are you struggling with a tough transition? Do you want to make life changes but fear the unknown? You needn’t go through it alone. Working with an understanding, supportive and experienced coach can help you embrace change as you take one step at a time towards a life and career built with purpose and on purpose. Contact me to find out how we can work together.

Focus on the how: setting New Year’s Intentions

Focus on the how: setting New Year’s Intentions

If I read the phrase “these uncertain times” one more time, I will not be held accountable for my actions. It’s flat, hackneyed, over-used – and I’m sure I’m guilty of having written it myself. That said, it is a fairly accurate description of our current situation. While I don’t believe we live in a more dangerous, difficult or indeed uncertain age than any other, I think we have of late been suffering from a very specific kind of confusion, ambiguity and unpredictability. Can we travel? Mask or no mask? Will school be open today? Will events go ahead? Can I leave the house?

Unsurprisingly for a coach, I am usually in full resolutions mode at this time of year. I’m setting goals, defining objectives, listing behaviours to change or adopt – both for me and with my clients. However, given the aforementioned uncertainty of our times, I am finding it rather hard to get excited about planning my year. It seems futile to set too many objectives when the goalposts are changing so often, but starting a new year without any kind of momentum is anathema to me.

So, what can you do if you want to get 2022 off to a mindful start and a positive direction, but you can’t quite find it in you to set SMART goals and make a chart with shiny gold stars? For me, this year’s resolutions are going to give achievement a rest and focus instead on intention. In other words, not so much of the what (or where and when) but a bit more of the how and why.

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it

So, what’s the difference between an objective and an intention? Well, when I take my children to school, for example, my objective is very simple: I want to get them both to the school gates on time, fully dressed and shod, and carrying all the things they need. Now I’ll just wait while all the parents reading this pick themselves up off the floor from laughing at my calling that objective simple – it is indeed anything but! But you get my point. My intention for our journey to school is more complex. As we walk, I want to enjoy a moment with the children when my attention cannot be elsewhere. I want to take the opportunity to chat with them, maybe play games like I Spy, and generally set a positive tone for our day. All too often, the achievement of my objective seems at odds with my ability to stick to my intention. But when I am on my fifth “Please go round the muddy puddles!” (curse Peppa Pig) and their hundredth “I’ve got a stone in my shoe”, holding my intention in mind helps me keep calm, retain perspective, and remember that, to me, how we get to school is almost as important as getting there at all.

Resolving with intent

Let’s apply this to topics that are often the basis for resolutions. Getting healthy, for example. The objective might be to lose a few kilos and gain some muscle. The way in which you go about doing that and the activities you put in place will differ greatly depending on your intention, which might be anything from “self-care” to “setting an example to the kids” or “moving with joy”. Your objective defines your destination, but your intention sets the tone for the trip there.

You don’t even need to associate an intention to an objective to experience the benefits of this psychological hack. What would it feel like to enter 2022 without goals and objectives but with the simple intention of, say, prioritising kindness towards yourself and other people? Your intention might be a single word: strength, joy, patience, Namaste. Or a colour. Or maybe it takes the form of an image: a tree in gusty winds that is flexible enough to bend and so is never broken, for example. Or perhaps it’s even a little abstract – like a brilliant UK advert I remember from years ago encouraging people to be more playful and enthusiastic with the slogan “Be more dog”. Just think about the flavour, tone and colour you want to experience this year and see what comes to you.

Let your intention guide you

However you express your intention, simply by setting it and holding it in your mind, you will find you have a guide to help you with choices all year long. I know Christians who ask themselves “What would Jesus do?” when facing difficult decisions. If that’s not your thing, try asking what your intention would do. Your to-do list in overloaded, a friend calls to ask for help with a work issue, and you need to pick up the kids in 30 minutes. What would “self-care” do? What would “focus” do? What would “energetic” do? Even if you don’t call on your intention for active guidance, just setting it and then letting it drift to your subconscious mind will affect your mood and choices more than you may realise.

In setting an intention for your year, you take your mind off your destination for a while and focus on how you are journeying through life. I am convinced that, given today’s circumstances, setting an intention for 2022 will go a lot further towards boosting wellbeing, happiness and fulfilment than best-laid plans and SMART goals.


Whether you want more fulfilment in your personal life, career, family, relationships or friendships, holistic support from an experienced coach can help you take effective action backed by the right intentions to keep you on track. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to find out how working together can help you build a life lived with purpose and on purpose.

Making resolutions you will keep

Making resolutions you will keep

1. Make them SMART. That’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. SMART resolutions are clear and have criteria you can use to measure progress. They take into account your starting point and fit with your lifestyle and constraints. Lastly, they have a defined timeline with a target date.

2. Only make one or two. Human beings have limited amounts of willpower at their disposal. I know no-one capable of losing weight, giving up smoking, looking for a new job, and doing dry January all at the same time. Prioritise, then tackle your goals one (or two) at a time.

3. Set the goal, plan the action. It’s great to have a destination, it’s even better to have a roadmap. Don’t stop once you’ve decided on your goal – take the next step and work out the route you’ll need to take to get where you want to go.