A simple but profound practice to ease the tough in transition.

Sometimes life brings you just what you need when you need it.

At Fire Inside Leadership, these gifts sometimes come from what we learn as we support our clients to grow and develop their leadership.

Recently, while working with a group of leaders inside a client organization, a number of the participants announced significant life changes that meant they would be leaving the organization.  As it came time for each one to leave, we shared a simple practice to ease the change. We invited each leader in the group to speak from the heart to the one who was leaving and share the departing leader’s impact on them as individuals, on the group and on the organization as a whole.

With each departure, we wondered if we should bring this practice yet again, yet each time the impact affirmed that this had become an essential ritual and reminded us how critical honoring is to moving through change. The ritual created a quality in the space that was deeply appreciative, poignant, and even cathartic. It was also healing and enabling.

Why are transitions so difficult and how does honoring help?

Change can be tough, even when it is welcome. And when it is not welcome, it is even tougher.

A transition, by definition, is not an event. It’s a process. We are always transitioning. But there are some transitions that affect us more deeply.

Life transitions are like this – retirements, marriages, pregnancies and births, career changes, aging and death.

What makes them so difficult, even when they are purposeful, is that they involve changes to our identity. They demand that we become someone new or stop becoming who we were in some way. A divorce means that I must stop being a wife or a husband. A new child demands that I become a mother or father. A retirement means I am no longer no longer playing this role. An aging parent demands that I let go of being the one who was cared for and become the caregiver instead.

These identity changes can be edgy. In fact, there is a point in most major transitions that psychologist, Arnold Mindell calls “the edge”. The edge is the space when you are leaving who you were and stepping into who you are ‘not yet’. It can feel like a kind of limbo, where you don’t really know who you are anymore. It can be a time of great stress and fear.  We can feel resistance, worry, panic, impatience, anger, or grief. At these edges, the very best and very worst of our natures is revealed.

There is no ‘right way’ to move through transitions. They take extreme patience. They have their own timetable and their own trajectory. They are, by nature, something to be lived with and into rather than something to be forced.

This is where the practice of honoring can make a big difference. This is not new. We have been doing it for centuries with rituals like birthdays, weddings, and funerals.

It is the practice of taking time to pause and acknowledge what is happening. To express appreciation and gratitude. It is the practice of bestowing meaning on the process of life, growth, and change.  

How to practice honoring to support change.

The practice of honoring can be as elaborate as a formal rite of passage or as simple as a connected moment of silence.

When you notice you are struggling with a change, stop. Pause. Be still.

Take the time to appreciate where you are, to forgive yourself for whatever mess you may have made along the way, to be grateful for everyone and everything that brought you to this place. Take the time to honor yourself and your essential humanity in the process.

Do this for you and make it a practice to do it for others who may be moving through change.

Honoring has two parts – giving and receiving. The more difficult for many is receiving. It requires that you put all the inner voices of judgment and disappointment aside, connect and allow the deep appreciation to sink in. To breathe in the acknowledgment and praise and let its healing energy wash over you.

When someone is skilled at hearing and taking in acknowledgment and praise, it magnifies the experience for everyone. Receiving is its own form of honoring.

When we take the time to honor our experience of transition, we make space to appreciate those parts of ourselves we are letting go of and those parts of ourselves we will include and embrace going forward.

When we honor others in transition, we say to them – I see who you are and who you are becoming.  And in doing so, we make space for them to let go of their resistance and struggle and move forward into the unknown with courage.

This ritual of honoring has become an essential practice, in all the groups we lead. It is difficult to describe how it feels to be in a space where this is happening among a group of skilled and appreciative leaders. Even on video, the space feels deeply connected and poignant.

Honoring the transition to new leadership at Fire Inside

On April 1st, as leaders at Fire Inside, we crossed our own significant threshold in the growth and evolution of our Company. The Founders passed the torch to a new generation of leaders. The succession process was a thoughtful and vital transition that has now entered a new phase. As co-founders, it was everything that you would expect of a change like this. We are enormously proud of and grateful to our colleagues who have committed to take the company and the work forward. And it is bittersweet to cross this threshold.

The night before, as the co-founders gathered to sign the necessary documents to hand over ownership of Fire Inside, we toasted, we shared memories and we expressed deep appreciation for each other. We honored all that we had built and all the people who had helped us build it including our colleagues who would take it forward.  Over the next few days, the honoring continued with gifts, cards and messages of love and appreciation.

A few days later, we began to share our news. As we started to reach out to stakeholders and clients, we were surprised and delighted by the outpouring of support, congratulations, and enthusiasm for what we were doing and for the impact we have had. It was moving, humbling and inspiring.

Transitions are rarely easy. And yet they are essential to the process of life and growth. We make them easier by giving them meaning and we do that by pressing pause to express our appreciation and our gratitude.

We’re sharing this article to express our deep appreciation for the many people who have and will continue to be instrumental to our work. The world needs leaders like you who have the courage to learn and develop. We are so grateful for you and the honor of serving you in whatever way we can.

We invite you to pause and ask yourself, “What or who needs honoring in my life right now?”

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About the author:

Cathy Jacob

Cathy brings a unique skill for deep listening, an unwavering belief in her clients and a gentle sense of humour to her coaching practice. She opened a full time coaching practice in 2004 and in 2009, she co-founded Fire Inside Leadership to expand the impact of leadership development and coaching in her community and beyond.

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