Being in transition lies at the core of every career process, whether it’s looking for work (by choice or necessity), starting a business, or adjusting the demands of work to fit changes in lifestyle. Few people, however, understand what the process of being in transition is really about.
Most confuse change, an external event such as losing a job, graduating from college, retiring, moving, etc. with transition—what happens inside us as we psychologically adapt to change.
For me, WITS was particularly meaningful because it enabled me to understand, in a larger sense, what was happening to me, and it gave me a way of tracking where I was in the transition process.
- making a good ending
- staying in the neutral zone, a necessary time of uncertainty that accompanies change
- staking a solid claim in a new beginning.
Women in Transition Seminars (WITS) were developed in 2001 specifically to work with small groups of women (3 to 6 participants), helping them find ways to see change as a catalyst for taking charge of their lives in new ways in order to become more who they want to be.
For me they have been a wonderful experience because they have given me the opportunity to provide women in transition with the tools for helping each other through difficult days. WITS has encouraged these women to step forward boldly into the messy process of transition by giving them permission to fully accept all the uncertainty and confusion that goes with it. As you will discover as you read further, this is the necessary prelude to a new beginning.
The idea for WITS grew out of conversations I had with a friend who was a client of Beverly Ryle of the Center for Career and Business Development. The notion of getting together to talk about transition under Beverly’s guidance seemed to make sense and so we invited a couple of friends and I offered my home as a place to meet.
All four of us were going through significant life transitions. Mine began when I left a high-level position with a large company in the apparel industry, had a child, moved from New York City to the small Connecticut town of New Fairfield, and then found myself having to deal with a serious illness, my husband’s. At the time of WITS, he had recently passed away and I was facing the future, thinking, “What do I do now? How do I pick up the pieces?”
For me, WITS was particularly meaningful because it enabled me to understand, in a larger sense, what was happening to me, and it gave me a way of tracking where I was in the transition process. Sharing stories with the other women in the group opened all sorts of doors and helped me to think about doing things I’d never done before, to consider “harebrained schemes”, to get ready to put my toe in the water. WITS presented a framework, a methodology I could apply to help me make sense of what I was going through and it gave me ideas to use going forward.
Since then there have been a number of new developments. The reorganization of my physical surroundings I undertook after my husband’s death led directly to my establishing a business in home design with a fellow WITS participant. Unlike when I worked for a big corporation, I now see my business as part of the community where I live—currently I sit on the board of directors of a local AIDS organization. It has also allowed to me work from home, which is something I had always wanted to do.
WITS represented a major turning point for me. For ten years I ran a business consulting to non-profit organizations. Then I had major surgery which forced me to take a year off to recover. WITS came along just after I had returned to work, only to discover that I was bored with what I was doing. In fact, on the day of the seminar itself, I was sitting there thinking about how much I dreaded the Board of Directors’ retreat I was scheduled to lead that evening.
WITS provided me with a framework and a language which enabled me to give form to my feelings. The basic desire to do something different was already there. WITS simply helped it to take shape by giving me the license to think differently. We believe that just because we’re successful at something we have to keep doing it, but that becomes a trap. Through the power of the group experience—being together with other women who were successful, intelligent, and in transition like me—WITS opened me up to the possibility of doing other things.
Since then I have closed my consulting practice and entered Yale Divinity School where I am pursuing a Master’s in religion.
I have another year to go at Yale, but my work-search has already begun. My goal is to teach theology at the high school level. My research focuses on ways that developing faith in adolescents, especially girls, builds self-esteem.
At the time I participated in WITS, I was in the middle of a messy divorce. I was working as a media relations and marketing consultant to fundraising organizations, but my dream was to relocate out of Connecticut to a place with a better quality of life. I cared more about where I worked than what I did and this required some adjustments in outlook. I had done a lot of thinking and planning about how I was going to pull it off and I had the rough outlines but I needed some assistance in putting meat on the bones.
WITS was helpful in giving focus to my efforts through objective but caring feedback from the other women in the group. It facilitated a “sorting process” which enabled me to see decision-making as a tree. It also helped me stay on track—this was a big change I was contemplating, one worth fighting for, and if I was going to achieve my goal it was necessary for me to stay in the process.
I did at last leave suburban Connecticut for a small town in New Hampshire. There have been twists and turns since then, one of which involved my taking a temporary job as a greenhouse hand at an organic tomato farm—eight dollars an hour and all the green tomatoes I could eat! I sweat a lot but there was no stress and I really appreciated working with natural products.
At last I was offered the position of Communications and Development Officer for a regional non-profit. The organization was about to merge with another NPO and I would be responsible for the image campaign for the merger. My job description combined all my fundraising, public relations, and communications skills.
My new job keeps me breathless! In the last few months I’ve edited the annual report, managed the design process for a new agency logo, put out a very creative spring appeal fundraising piece, and have just kept hitting home runs. Everybody loves me!
After 20 years working for a corporation, and the last five years freelance writing for corporations, I had decided it was about time for me to find out “what I really wanted to be when I grew up.” I had never much liked the corporate world and, after a terrifying car accident four years ago spurred me to rethink my priorities, I came to see that work, i.e., the work I was doing, wasn’t high among them. When I participated in WITS, all I knew was that I hoped that whatever I wound up doing, it wouldn’t involve sitting at a computer all day.
For me, one of the best things about WITS was being with friends who had known me for a long time, inside and outside of work. Sometimes Beverly would unknowingly say something that held particular significance for one of us and all three of us would smirk at each other over our notebooks because we knew each other so well.
The most valuable lesson for me was understanding the importance of the “neutral zone”. This gray, in-between, chaotic period really holds a lot of lessons for us all, and I’m less concerned now about rushing through it to get to the other side.
Since I’m not in a hurry, I’m doing whatever I can to pursue the things that interest me. I’ve signed up for a creative writing class and a class in Adobe PhotoShop. I’ve joined a film club and I also volunteer at a local theater. I want to spend more of my time just doing, rather than thinking about what I should be doing. Hopefully I’ll have a brilliant idea about how one of my interests can turn into a business, but I’m not rushing it. I’m having too much fun.
I left IBM eight years ago to begin a new life as a wife and stepmother to two wonderful stepdaughters, and soon after that mother to a new son (now 6 years old). It was quite an adjustment and took lots of my time and focus. And, oh yes: my husband and I started a new business at the same time! Quite a lot of change, not to mention moving from New York to Nashville, Tennessee.
I found great joy in my new roles but eventually I began to feel like I needed something more. My son starts school this year, our business is doing well, and I now have the sense that it’s time to find something of my own to pursue.
The WITS experience helped me reconnect with my inner desire to find something meaningful to me and to make time in my life for things that are important to me—friends, exercise, reading and nurturing myself. I found the Myers-Briggs analysis enlightening as it helped me to realize that as an extravert I crave more personal interaction than I normally get in a typical day, which includes lots of time on the computer and phone, but little face-to-face contact with other people.
Best of all I was able to share the experience with two dear friends who are on similar paths and will provide support on the journey to “a place of greater wholeness and joy,” as Bev describes it. Cape Cod is a great place to start a new chapter and I’m grateful to Bev and the two special people who shared it with me for the extraordinary experience.