The transition process is likely to take longer than you anticipate, Professor Ibarra says. It is a messy, non-linear process – in the jargon it is an “underinstitutionalised transition” – an informal, unstructured move.
“It takes time to work out what it is you are becoming,” Professor Ibarra says. This takes longer than a simple job move – it is a process of discovery.
“You know what you don’t want to do,” she adds. “But figuring out if this new thing is what you want – this is the hard part. Your view changes as you get more information. It might take six months, or even three years.”
Normally when you change jobs it is “answer-driven”: you plan and implement it. With a transition it is an experiment, or “process driven”: you experiment and learn. It is much more iterative.
How to make a start? Perhaps your own sense of urgency will start to increase. There will be push and pull factors, what you currently do and don’t like about your situation. If you ask your current network, the people who know you best, what to do they may well favour the status quo.
Some people hope for a stroke of luck – a call out of the blue from a headhunter, perhaps. “Such jolts and triggers can play a key role but are insufficient without having a range of alternatives and other possibilities materialising,” Professor Ibarra says.
Develop a list, a divergent set of possibilities, she suggests. Create a portfolio of options. You will get a better solution if you have more choices. Movement out of the beginning phase means trying things out, bringing those possible selves to life.
“Possible selves are the ideas we all have about who we might want to become,” Professor Ibarra says.“Some are concrete and well-informed by experience; others are vague and fuzzy, nascent and untested. Some are realistic; others are pure fantasy. And, naturally, some appeal more to us than others.”
In the difficult period in between old and new, you might be feeling in mid-air, neither here nor there, at a loose end, unmoored. “I don’t know who I am any more” is a common complaint. You are oscillating between holding on a bit longer and letting go. This can be a difficult period for significant others, living with someone who seems confused and is apparently about to take a possibly reckless step.
But this miserable middle is potentially a “fertile emptiness”, Professor Ibarra says, what the experts call a state of “liminality” – neither here nor there. This is part of the process. It avoids premature closure, making the potential mistake of taking the first thing that comes up. You may need more time for reflection and experimentation.
As the writer William Bridges put it in his book “Transitions”: “We need not feel defensive about this apparently unproductive time-out at turning points in our lives, for the neutral zone is meant to be a moratorium from the conventional activity of our everyday existence. In the apparently aimless activity of our time alone we are doing important inner business.”
With luck you will reach an end phase where you achieve some clarity and you start to crystalise a story that makes sense.
Develop some side projects
How can you make this final step? Professor Ibarra has some ideas.
First, you may need to develop some side projects, ways of exploring other potential avenues and acquiring new skills and insights. Internally you could join task forces or take on other temporary assignments inside your firm. Or outside the business it could be possible to take on some advisory or freelance work. You can join boards or professional associations, or maybe begin some charity or community involvement. New skills could be gained by going on a course or even giving a class in a specialist subject.