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How To Stay Focused During A Transition

Librada Estrada

Recently while taking a walk I was reminded that we have transitioned from summer to fall. All around Mother Nature is providing clues. Leaves are changing colors and have completely dropped on certain trees. Rather than just shades of green, beautiful deep reds and purples, bright oranges and deep yellows, greet me. I love the fall because it means that it’s the start of a new school year, that Halloween is around the corner (one of my favorite holidays!), different shades of marigolds will be at the garden shop, and that it’s time for apple picking. We all know the season is changing and we are able to prepare because we know what to expect—colder weather, shorter days and longer nights, and more indoor activities.

I have the opportunity to work with individuals at different stages of development—emerging, established and senior leaders. They are focused on their professional development. They are actively seeking opportunities to enhance their knowledge, skills or abilities. In other words, they are consciously focusing on their growth and are aware that they are also in transition.

What is cool about that is that they interact with me because they want to be different, change their behavior, or grow their leadership. For some it is stepping more fully into their strengths, other times it is about embracing a skill or talent that they were hiding or letting go of self-limiting beliefs. They may not be clear on what it is or what it will look like but they are motivated to stretch and are willing to change things up. They are prepared to vary how they go about their business, make time for this process, to potentially be uncomfortable, and have a coach support them.

However, what about when we are experiencing transition and are not aware of it or it is forced on us? Transitions aren’t always obvious and sometimes can be uncomfortable, especially when we aren’t prepared for them. It’s challenging to show up as a leader when we are greeted with the unexpected. We may feel pushed to move in different directions without knowing which way to go. We may show up stressed, unsure of ourselves, or confused. Or, we recognize that something is changing and are not clear on what it is-ourselves, our environment or the people around us. Maybe the transition is outside of our control—a department is downsized, upper management changes roles and responsibilities, a relationship changes or we/a loved one becomes ill.

It’s situations like this that push us outside of our comfort zone and test our mettle. And, yet our reactions are the one thing that we can focus on, that we can control, regardless of whether we are responsible for the transition (i.e., take a new position, move to a new city, etc).

For instance, several weeks before my last day at an organization, staff stopped asking for my input on projects under my portfolio. I could not understand why until after it was shared that they were informed to not involve me because of my departure. Initially I was upset because I had several weeks before I left. After being upset for a day or so I decided that yes, I was leaving and that I could still contribute to staff and the projects. I made it a point to reach out to them, introduce them to contacts and share the history I knew to make it easier for them to step into the work. I could have left things as is and had a quiet few weeks before leaving. Instead, I chose to be proactive so that I would feel satisfied knowing that I was of service to colleagues until my last day.  

So how do you stay focused during a transition? Following are several things that have worked for me at various times.

  • Identify a mantra. Several years ago I heard someone say I create, I promote, and I allow what happens to me and it resonated with me. I say this to myself when I am feeling out of control and need reminding that I am in charge of my reaction. Others are “this too shall pass” or “I control my reaction not the situation.” Find the one that works for you.
  • Get clear on the values you want to honor. At the end of the day, you have to be satisfied with your activities and decisions. What’s important to you in the way you live and work?
  • Continue to develop your self-awareness. Pay attention. Identify what the transition is and how you are being affected. Become curious about the story you are buying into and test your assumptions. Use this information for better self-management.
  • Consciously choose how you will behave. Even if you are not clear on what the transition is, you still have control over the actions you take and how stressed or calm you appear to others.
  • Reframe. Stop looking at the situation from only one perspective (e.g., negative, challenging, or overwhelming). Identify other possibilities. Consider other options that will serve you better.  
  • Practice self-care. Get rest, eat wisely, and take mental breaks. When you take care of yourself you think more clearly under stressful situations and are able to pause before you make decisions or take actions you’ll regret.
  • Surround yourself with people that support you. Not everyone around you will be able to relate or cope in the same way as you. Find individuals that will help you stay positive and focused on what you are trying to achieve.

Your turn:  How do you stay focused during a transition?

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