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The In-Between or Transition Time

| May 23, 2023

by Marcia Dority Baker

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Marcia Dority Baker, Program Leader and Leadership Coach at MOR Associates. Marcia may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

Light precedes every transition. Whether at the end of a tunnel, through a crack in the door or the flash of an idea, it is always there, heralding a new beginning. – Theresa Tsalaky

I have been thinking about the space in between change; that transition time from the “old” to the “new.” It could be from setting a goal or practicing a new habit. Perhaps it’s using a new influence style or skill. As humans, we get pretty excited about a new thing – a shiny technology, an idea, a new service, or a self-improvement opportunity. Still, in reality, it can be hard to move through the transition from before to after. 

This graphic is from the “Leadership as a Performance Art” segment of the MOR Leaders program. Some may recall the discussion of the “characters” or “roles” we play throughout our professional careers. I was initially uncomfortable with the conversation around playing a character because that seemed fake to me. A productive conversation with my coach at the time helped me put this into perspective. I told her I had “put on” my title(s) when I walked onto campus. I knew the role I had and the expectations around it. I have grown past being uncomfortable talking about leadership as a performance art. I now embrace it as an opportunity to enhance one’s leadership roles. Yes, there are multiple roles a leader needs to know, and when and where to use those roles. As each of us is unique, the way we “play” each role is authentic to who we are. For example, a risk taker for change, a politically savvy leader who understands how to navigate campus culture, or a visionary to forecast what could be the next opportunity for success on our campus. It’s exciting to think how each person brings their authentic self to the combination of roles.

Sometimes we need to move toward using new and unfamiliar skills. The time of transition (Zone of Reduced Competence) is often a space where we spend a great deal of time. This is the in-between. The movement from point A to point B or to point C. Often we approach the in-between as a by-product of change that we want to move through quickly. It can be uncomfortable to admit we don’t know a new skill yet or how to play a particular role. Growth happens in the quiet moments, in the messy space in between the old and the new. We need to pause to acknowledge and embrace the transition. This is where we mature, learn about ourselves, and see life from a different perspective.

Change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation or self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, because it doesn’t take. – William Bridges

I offer three approaches to embracing transition in life. For those wanting to go deeper on the topic, there are many resources available on navigating change. As a former librarian, I trust you can locate them if this is your priority. I am a believer in the power of three; three points, three steps, or three action items.

  1. Acceptance. People with a positive mindset approach life interested and curious about change as it is viewed as an opportunity. For some people, acceptance is also the first step to making a healthy transition. As the quote attributed to Heraclitus states, “the only constant in life is change.”   
  2. Grace and Space. I heard this phrase a few years ago, and it stuck with me. In a nutshell, it’s the process of giving oneself the grace to step back from always solving whatever is going on and the space to learn or grow from that experience. A powerful activity practiced in our MOR programs is the reflection exercise. Invest in yourself by reflecting on what you are learning in the area of transition. 
  3. Celebrate. Too often, we wait to celebrate accomplishments until we arrive at the deadline or the finish line. I appreciate the statement from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “life is a journey, not a destination.” As we move through the space between change, celebrating one’s accomplishments – no matter how big or small- helps keep the momentum going. 

As you progress on your leadership journey, I wish you well on the space in between. Life truly is a journey, not a destination. Take care of yourself along the way. 

How comfortable are you with the space in-between the “old” and the “new”?

Last week we asked about the last time you “began again” in your leadership approach, either something big or small.

  • 35% said on an on-going basis, it’s a habit
  • 21% said in the last month
  • 14% said in the last few months
  • 11% said in the last year
  • 20% can’t remember the last time

This week’s reading distinguishes change as situational and transition as psychological. For most of us, change is a regular part of our work. However, as we see in the survey results, we are somewhat spread out in whether beginning again, or transitioning, is regular for us. When we are actively part of the change, that best enables our own psychological transition. However, if we find ourselves in situations where it feels like change is happening “to” us rather than “with” us, might there be an opportunity to “begin again” in exploring the psychological transition that may need to occur with the change?