A couple of weekends ago, Vicki and I attended a World Leadership School (WLS) Instructor Training in beautiful Buena Vista, Colorado. It was inspiring and thought-provoking in many ways (which I’ll get into momentarily), but it also marked the beginning of a big transition for our working relationship. For nearly three years, we’ve traveled to conferences and trainings as a Global Weeks duo. We’ve developed business systems and workflow patterns. We’ve logged countless miles during walking meetings and held each other accountable in our mostly-remote work with schools scattered across North America. We’ve learned each other’s strengths and challenges. We have counted on each other for support not only in our professional lives, but in our personal lives as well.
This trip was different. We went to the WLS training for separate reasons – Vicki to prepare for an Educator Course on Purpose she and WLS founder Ross Wehner are offering in Peru this summer, and me to prepare to instruct my first Collaborative Leadership Program for middle school girls in Belize. The real kicker, however, is that directly after training I started a new job managing women’s global programs for REI Adventures — a decision Vicki fully supported. It probably goes without saying why this transition feels so bittersweet.
As we flew to Denver, I was a mixed bag of emotions – hopeful, anxious, sad, excited and the list goes on. The 3.5 hour drive from Denver to Buena Vista was grey and rainy and I couldn’t help but curse the irony of a rainy day in usually sunny Colorado after the wettest February and March in Seattle in 120 years. Immediately upon arriving at the Fountain Valley School’s mountain campus, we were greeted with hugs and surrounded by passionate global educators. For those few days, my worries about the future and my sadness to be leaving Global Weeks in my existing capacity faded and I felt present and connected to the present moment.
Fast forward a week and a half and I’m waist-deep in a new job, figuring out new routines and overwhelmed by learning new processes. There are moments each day when I wonder if I made the right call. I already miss our coworking space, our walks around the lake, our understanding of one another. As I was reminded during the training, our comfort zone isn’t where we grow. It’s only when we stretch by putting ourselves in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations that we learn new skills and capabilities.
During an exercise at the WLS training, a colleague read the following passage as an example of a way to adjourn student programs. I think it’s appropriate to include here, and I hope it helps you as much as it does for me in difficult times. Here’s to learning to fly.
Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar or swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars. Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar- of-the-moment. It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart- of-hearts, I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present, well-know bar to move to the new one.
Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing, I have always made it. Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantee, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.” Its called transition. I have come to believe that it is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.
I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as “nothing”, a no-place between places. Sure the old trapeze-bar was real, and that new coming towards me, I hope, that’s real, too. But the void in between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible. What a waste! I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that can (but necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.
And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to hang out” in the transition between the trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly.”