The Neutral Zone

One book I have read and re-read over and over again is William Bridges’ book, “The Way of Transition”.   This is a publication that he wrote in 2001 after the death of his wife caused him to revisit the whole process of transition.  Clearly, his close ties to his wife significantly influenced this follow-on book to his groundbreaking work, “Transition.”  The original work was published in the seventies as his wife was going through the ultimate transition.   I endured the same fears as my wife battled cancer last year and into this year.  When I started this blog entry last fall, I could not finish it because I did not know how things would work out for the two of us.  Fortunately she is doing well, but our lives will never be the same again.

Writing about the whole process, Bridges defines four traits of the Neutral Zone – that period after we decide or are forced to let go of something and the time that we create that new way of being.  According to Bridges, a life long – or Life 3.0 long – expert on transitions, the Neutral Zone has four characteristics:

  • Reorientation
  • Personal Growth
  • Authentication
  • Creativity

In speaking about reorientation, Bridges likened it to his dog following him on a walk at the beach.  I love walking along the beach, or the thought of doing so now that I have moved inland. Often, I see dogs lagging behind their owners and then scurrying to catch up.  In my own transition from executive to coach, I was often scurrying to catch up with life as I was thrown one curve ball after another.  The reason pointed out in the book is “we have the chance…to take a step forward in our own development by letting go of a less-than-adequate reality and an out-of-date self-image”

Bridges discusses personal growth quite adequately.  Life changes every day, but we hold on to reality as we have been conditioned to understand it.  As I read his description of the sudden changes that can occur and the optional personal growth, I could not help but think of the concepts that were discussed by Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point”.  I believe, as Gladwell states, that just as ideas all of a sudden catch like viruses, our reality all of a sudden changes.  It is as though we have caught a virus of our own and our life is suddenly different.  We can choose to be changed by this, to grow and thrive by incorporating changes into our way of being, in which case the change is life sustaining.  Or we can fight it, which can “dis-ease” us and ultimately lead to death.  It might explain why so many men have heart attacks in the period of time that they should be shifting from Life 2.0, the householder, to Life 3.0, the elder.  It is in fighting this shift and becoming uneasy that we become diseased.

When professionals, men especially, lose their agency power of being the wide receiver for the Steelers, or the Vice President of Marketing for Google, or a Master Plumber, we often feel lost and we enter the neutral zone.  For Grandma Moses, who invented an art genre in her seventies, she had to give up knitting because she lost her ability to move the needles deftly enough to create, and so she decided to paint instead.

When I tried to commercialize my photography after losing my agency power of being a Senior Vice President of Technology, I was not willing to start over at the bottom of the profession as a “starving” artist.  I was unwilling, in my fifties, to be seen as an emerging artist.  It was too much for me – or my ego – to deal with.  I found that I had to do something more on core with my own experience.  In this way, I was not really starting over as much as using finely honed skills from my career in a new way for a new purpose.

Coaching is something that was a big part of my success in my long management career.  It was not the only part; in fact, I wish I used it more back in the day.  But it was the most gratifying part.  Now that I am two years into the launch process for my practice, I can see it is totally in line with my skills and desires, yet completely different from the way I had to show up in the past.  Yet as I work through the nuts and bolts of the practice,  I have found myself also incorporating my photography love by repurposing existing photography or shooting new imagery to use in the marketing and education activities of my practice.

You may be in the second half of life, and you’re wondering what you want to do to bring the smile back to your face.  Is there something that you used to do really well, but can no longer do because of rules and regulations, or the extreme demands of 24x7x365 work efforts?  How can you use that one skill or pastime to launch your onCOREventure?  Maybe it is software coding for the technology executive.  Maybe it is graphics design for the ad executive.  Maybe it is teaching for the accounting firm partner or sales executive.  If my own experience is any guide, it is not the salary or the agency power that you need; it is the feeling that you are utilizing your unique abilities for perhaps a new purpose and for your own or your clients’ joy. Because let’s face it; back in the late sixties or the seventies, we all said that we would not work for “the man”.   And even if others perceive us as being “the man” or “the woman”, we know that it is just a matter of time before we have to answer, “What’s next?”