On July 1, my husband and I moved from Boston to Washington, DC and I assumed the position of Executive Director of the Shalem Institute. In the midst of moving and establishing a new home and learning to work in a new environment, I am reflecting on transition.
William Bridges, in his book Transitions, identifies a “neutral zone” between two worlds, when one has left a job or home or lost a loved one and is not yet fully in the new phase of life. The “neutral zone” is anything but neutral in terms of emotions and adjustments. I find, for example, that even simple tasks like grocery shopping, putting out the trash, and mailing letters can throw me for a loop. I missed trash day last week (it’s on Tuesday instead of Thursday here) and the garbage got smelly in the Washington, DC summer heat and humidity. The other day I carried letters around all day, defeated, never finding a neighborhood mailbox. The next day I wandered aimlessly around a new grocery store, forgetting what I was looking for after failing to find vitamins and olive oil (Shouldn’t olive oil be near the salad dressings? Where are the familiar yellow-jacketed grocery store helpers who seemed ubiquitous in my neighborhood grocery story in Boston? What color jackets identify grocery store employees in this store?).
Organizations, too, experience a “neutral zone” between the two realities of one leader leaving and the next one getting settled. At Shalem, I feel very fortunate to be working with wonderful colleagues who have warmly welcomed me and gone above and beyond the call of duty to help me learn the ropes of a new organization. While many things are humming along smoothly thanks to this fabulous staff, I am aware that we are all feeling the uncertainty of transition, wondering what shape this organization will take in the months and year ahead, as I bring what I have to offer, as others adjust to my presence and pick up the tasks that aren’t my strengths, and as we experience other changes.
Executive Soul, the organization I founded in Boston, is also experiencing a “neutral zone.” My colleagues at Executive Soul and I know that the work of Executive Soul will continue. I feel very fortunate to have wonderful colleagues at Executive Soul, too, colleagues who are creative, imaginative, and discerning. Everything continues to hum along smoothly at Executive Soul, too, thanks to the great staff there. We know that I will carry on some of Executive Soul’s work and others will take on other parts. For example, I will continue to co-lead the 18-month “Soul of Leadership” program and others will lead other programs. We are exploring possible program partnerships with Shalem and with Andover Newton Theological School. Stay tuned!
Transition, even when freely chosen and joy-filled like my present one, takes emotional energy, spiritual awareness, and a good dose of flexibility and humor, both individually and organizationally. Fortunately for me, both Executive Soul and Shalem are full of people who have a high level of all these things. With mutual respect, prayer, laughter, and love, we will make it through to whatever is the next manifestation of our work in the world.