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Transitions - from there to here

"Those who appeal to you to hold on to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future" - Lyndon Johnson.


In the last year, I've made a concerted effort to understand my working identity better. This decision was partly influenced by completing my MBA and my departure from Oxford Policy Management in September '21. For the first time in my life, I deviated from the path of moving from one job to another and stopped to ask myself how I wanted to contribute to the wider world. I didn't know it then, but I needed to do it, especially after three difficult personal years when my wife and I learnt we would not have children. Despite my relative ambivalence to having a family, the trauma of stillbirth, the impact of miscarriages on me, and the significant effect on my wife were like hitting a brick wall. As I took time to look around, I realised I had been on autopilot and didn't know what I wanted for my professional identity.


Since then, I've been on a journey to investigate my professional and personal identity. Herminia Ibarra's brilliant book on working identity provided a strong framework (thank you, John Casson, for passing this book on).


The concept that resonated for me was that transitions in your professional identity don't happen all at once but are gradual. You try different things and conduct experiments, and you learn from these experiments and move forward in a new direction. Transitions are journeys with steep climbs and plateaus which never quite come to an end.


I'm excited about where I've gotten in the last year after starting this journey more purposefully. As I look forward to 2023, I want to reflect on what I've done and learned in the hope that it will encourage others to begin their professional and personal journeys to discover their working identities with confidence.


Here's a short list of things I've tried, some of which I've left while others are still in full swing:

  1. I'm on a journey to becoming an executive coach through Henley Business School. I've also started a course on interpersonal neurobiology.

  2. In international development and public policy space, I'm working on a fascinating education project connecting research and policymaking.

  3. I've been coaching and mentoring early-career UK civil servants on the public policy apprenticeship course. It has given me a new perspective on learning and the wider civil services. I never expected to be working with Wirral Council, but I am, and I am impressed with how they approach staff development.

  4. I've started transitioning from public policy to organisational transformation and elite performance. I began working with a fantastic team at Elite Performance Partners on sports leadership, strategy, and organisational change in May. I never imagined I'd end up here, but it's been a lot of fun, and we have big plans for 2023.

  5. Finally, I've formed my ideas about leadership into the Ordinary Leadership Project. There's still a lot to figure out, but I'm thrilled to have taken the ideas I've been exploring in blogs and formed them into a more coherent concept. Over the next year, I will be working towards publishing a book on Ordinary Leadership and providing consulting services to assist organisations in enabling leadership at all levels of their organisation. I'll be talking about it a lot more in the coming week, but it's my passion, and I'm excited to focus on it.

Over this year, I've met with more people than I can mention in one blog to discuss my interest in ordinary leadership, professional transitions, and my journey. I've explored how I can use my interest in ordinary leadership and how organisations can think differently to be more focused on the impact I want to have in the world.

As I continue this journey, here are some lessons I've noticed and will remember.

  1. Transitions are difficult and time-consuming. There is no such thing as an immediate transition in your professional identity. You'll need to try on a variety of roles and identities to see what works best for you. Don't listen to what others are doing and saying - it's all too easy to believe you're not doing enough or making enough progress.

  2. Be willing to be critical (but kind). Be honest about what you like and dislike. Listen to yourself - something my wife has helped me greatly improve - and if it doesn't work, stop or use it as information for future learning. For example, I care deeply about climate and social issues, but working on policies related to climate change doesn't work for me. I needed to try it to realise that my passion is helping leaders and organisations function more effectively and contribute to wider social and environmental challenges through this.

  3. Create a support system around you. Tell people what you're trying to accomplish. A single person rarely climbs a mountain. You will need to create a support network of people to cheer you on, including friends, family, and coworkers. The majority of people will be generous with their time. The more conversations you have, the more opportunities and new paths you will see up the mountain.

Looking ahead to 2023, I'm much more aware that transforming my professional identity is a never-ending effort. To rephrase Lyndon Johnson's quote at the top of this blog, if you continually look back and root your identity in the past, you deny your future self the ability to use everything you have learned. Transitioning your professional identity is a challenging process. Still, it is gratifying, and I hope this blog has inspired others to 'take the leap' and seek out new and different career and personal journeys.


Comments


Let's connect.

 

If you found this blog engaging, have questions about ordinary leadership or want to chat about leadership in general, it would be great to connect.

 

I set aside two weekly hours to make new connections and renew old ones. We have half an hour to discuss whatever you want - how we could work together, your projects and ideas, or something else. It's space for connection.

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