The Big Quit: The Possibility Season

By Lisa Slayton, reprinted from The Tamim Journey.

This is the third in a series

Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.

Thomas Merton

In part one of this series, The Hero Season, we began to unpack what it means to be on the “hero’s hill” we build for ourselves as we develop our skills, competence, and growing expertise. This is necessary work to do well, pay our bills and contribute, hopefully, to something worthwhile. And it can often provide us with a sense of accomplishment. But whatever our daily work, there often comes a moment when we begin to realize something is missing. 

That realization, born of possibility or pain, is catalyzed in three primary ways outlined in the last post:

  • Through crisis
  • Through discontent and frustration
  • Through intentional choice

Even in crisis, we have a choice at this moment: do we press into this, even if it promises pain and discomfort? Or do we hang on to what was, even as it is slipping from our grasp? 

Our control feels fragile, even gone, and we begin to experience a flurry of new and unfamiliar emotions. This can be unsettling, anxiety producing. It can also heighten our awareness of ourselves and others. We may experience a sense of being in the fog or being bewildered at how we arrived here. 

This season also tests our confidence in our competence, abilities, and our sense of agency. Fear often surfaces – of the unknown, of being out of control, that we don’t have what it takes to make it through. Fear can paralyze. It can also galvanize us into action. 

How might we respond to fear? To respond with courage we need to remember that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability or willingness to act in the face of fear. 

This action may not be exactly what you think. It is can not be our default action to reactivity or problem-solving. 

The first action in the face of fear is counter intuitive. It is to slow down, or even pause, and create space for self-reflection. 

Self-Reflection and Courage

In my work with hundreds of leaders over more than 20 years, I see two primary challenges or deficits that keep leaders stuck or can be de-railers.

We have little or no ability to self-reflection. And as a result, we lack courage. For it is from the space of self-reflection that we prepare for making a courageous move or decision, regardless of whether we are scared or not. 

It is only the healthy, integrated leader who can self-reflect, who can make that choice to step toward the hard thing and be courageous and embrace it. And it usually involves discomfort, pain and even suffering to be able to be more intentional and, over time, more effective. 

We have to be ready to examine our own willingness to step into this discomfort. Not not only not avoid it, but to actually embrace and step toward it. 

I experienced this with a client I worked with last year. I received a call from an HR executive for a professional services firm exploring the possibility of engaging me to coach one of their employees. She had been identified as a partner candidate for the firm and they were eager to promote her into the role as part of a long term succession planning strategy. But the woman in question, we will call her Allison, hesitated to step into the role and requested a season of coaching before the transition occurred. Allison intuitively knew that her 15  years of competency and skill building, at which she had excelled, were somehow not sufficient to prepare her for this next step. When we started our work together, Allison was focused on how we would develop the plan for the promotion and transition, what steps she needed to take, resources she might need, and her desired outcome from our work together was to develop a rigorous, color coded action plan that would guide her along the way. This kind of planning had advanced Allison in her profession for many years and had served her well. The work we did together re-oriented Allison away from what she thought she needed to do (build the plan) and toward who she needed to become. Allison chose to embrace her own discomfort, slow down and look down the hill at this moment to step into the chrysalis. She intentionally chose to step into this work.

This season is where many people get stuck. We want something new to occur, but we don’t want to embrace the process of real transformation required to let go of the past and the things that are actually keeping us stuck. It requires that we step into becoming, as Merton said, “the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.” 

Are you ready to become, to fulfill the promise of all that God has gifted you with, the good and broken, the joy and the pain? Pause for a moment and reflect on where you find yourself and where you are headed. Is it just another reaction? Or are you ready for more? Whether provoked by crisis, discontent, or intentional choice, take stock of where you find yourself and what you really want. Then take one small step towards the shift that you are longing to realize. And reach out here if you’d like to explore further. Be well.

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