The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition: Questions to Ask - Part 1

Within the last week I’ve had at least four conversations with individuals who are experiencing the inner restlessness of pending transition. These feelings of restlessness are often accompanied by anxiety, stress and disturbed sleep. The awareness has surfaced that they are on the verge of burnout, are living in a place of deep disconnect with their values, or are not being utilized in their current role. These persistent places of discontent and lack of clarity in direction create a feeling of uncertainty & often stuckness not to mention intense stress on our whole ability to function. Is this where you are at?

The difference between a simple wrestling and minor tweaking and a major life transition is the persistent won’t-go-away acknowledgment that something major needs to change. Whether an organizational shift, a role change, a geographical move - this shift feels disorienting like an aftershock of an earthquake. And it is. Prior to these thoughts are often a series of events that have led to the present. Conflict, discouragement, feeling unused, crisis - these moments or series of changes may have felt like the earthquake but it is the frequent aftershocks that are the call to action.

I often hear from those I work with:

“The writing is on the wall.”

“It’s just painful to admit we’ve been so discontent for so long.”

“The hard part is acknowledging all that we’ve invested in and have to let go of.”

“Goodbyes are once again in our future.”

“We just don’t know what to do next.”

Although transition may feel like a season of winter, there is light ahead

Although transition may feel like a season of winter, there is light ahead

Some talk about transition as beginning the moment you begin asking the deeper questions related to restlessness. I struggle with that sentiment as some, myself included are uniquely wired towards an analytical and futuristic processing style; thinking frequently about possibilities without implying that a major shift or transition needs to happen. At the same time, I feel strongly that we must listen well to our gut instincts, our bodies that carry continual stress, and our minds that race seeking calm. We know internally that things can’t stay as they have been. However, we don’t always know what a next step would look like or what exactly needs to change. Let’s first consider the 6 major areas that most commonly require decision-making intentionality.

For cross-cultural workers decision-making is complex where each decision effects every other. The choice of a role shift, for example, may alter the geographical fit, may determine the organizational fit, may change one’s entire landscape of friendship and social circles. And not just for the adult making the decision but for the entire family. For the sake of understanding how to better navigate the complexity here we break down the decision-making options into 6 major areas.

The 6 areas of decision-making:

(For the sake of this article, the word “fit” replaces the word calling, as there are many interpretations of the word “calling”.)

Personal Fit (significance)- Where does my deep gladness meet the world’s great need(s)? Is what I’m doing the ultimate contribution role that I am on this earth to engage in? If not, is it on the same track? Is my vocational work life-giving?

Team Fit (operation)- Am I able to live out my ultimate contribution “personal fit” on this particular team? If not, why not?“ “Am I supported in my unique gift mix?”

Organizational Fit (support)- Is this the organization that my values most align with? Where I can be supported? Where I can contribute my voice? Are there other organizations that are doing similar work?

Location Fit (effectiveness) - Is the location I’m working in supporting or inhibiting my call? Is this the place where my calling can best be lived out?

Other considerations:

Collective Marital Fit - Some may believe that when they exchanged vows, God called them together as a couple to engage in the same organization and team fit. Others have discovered their uniqueness may be best lived out as individuals in two very different settings of work. Especially as cross-cultural workers it is important to ask the previous 4 questions, “Is my spouse living into his/her vocational calling? Are they doing life-giving work?

Family Fit - Similar to the above. There is disagreement around children being “called” to the same ministry and what their particular role is. Nonetheless I stand firm in believing that the health and well-being of the kids is top priority. How are my children thriving with my personal fit, team fit, organizational fit, location fit? Do their current needs require a prioritization above my fit or calling?

One piece of the elephant at a time

One piece of the elephant at a time

For many, the transition out of - a role, a vocation, an organization, a specific location - can be very clear. For others these layers all mesh together. And for most, where to go next carries the most frightening set of unlimited options. It is recommended to break down the great big elephant of a problem into small pieces - whether which door is closed or which doors are opening.

Consider, for example, the location you are working, as a tusk or a foot or an eye of the elephant. (Too many decisions already?) Okay, it’s an eye! The type of work you are doing as another part. Focusing on each of the pieces one at a time can begin to bring clarity in a much more manageable way as opposed to feeling overwhelming.

In cross-cultural work, it’s hard to unpack the complexities of the overlapping variables. One has likely given up comforts, home, and culture to do the current work engaged in. If shifting to a new culture versus returning to a previously familiar culture the emphasis of adjustment will be quite different. For example, people don’t often consider a re-entry moving budget when returning, despite assuming you would need one when landing in a new and foreign country. They also might not consider the adjustment phase that is needed for re-entry. Much has been written on the topic of re-entry. For discussion here, is the recognition of the complexity of conflicting values particular to transition and how to break it down.

The idea that the door is closing yet a new one has not yet opened paralyzes many from taking a step of faith into the transition space of the unknown. It’s this transition space where I love to work with people. I say, “together let’s approach the blocks that feel like an elephant and make them an eye - seeing them as an opportunity to explore, discover and create something new & life-giving! We can’t tackle the whole elephant right now, What feels most pressing?” For most, it is vocational fit.

The simplifying of options and narrowing down of questions, brings greater clarity than remaining in a place of swimming in the ocean of unlimited possibilities. In my opinion the process of discerning a major career move, organization or vocational path includes focusing first on personal fit (often referred to as calling). When we approach personal fit through the lense of limited possibilities the decision-making begins to take the shape of a just a handful of possibilities; the eye of the elephant once again.

7 categories to clarify confusion relating to personal fit (calling)

1.     Keep doing what I already do well but change the environment - Maybe you have outgrown the structure of the team or organization. What you were initially hired on for 15 years ago is no longer needed. Potentially staying in an environment, under certain leadership or in a specific role may limit your own personal development.

Question: Can I keep doing what I love but change where I do it?

2.     Keep the work; re-allocate or change the quantity - some may consider focusing their target audience to closer match their passion and gifting. As well, changing the quantity allows for specialization, influence and impact as well as sustainability. Those who we see who are burned out often re-allocate their responsibilities and realize it takes several people to do the same title they carried for years.

Question: What needs to specifically change about the work I do in order for it to be sustainable?

3.     Change the work, but stay in the same environment - Within an organization maybe there are another set of possibilities for your skillset. For example maybe you were hired on as an assistant but have outgrown the role where your gift mix would be better used in leadership or development. Consider changing the role to adjust to your developmental phase.

Question: Is there potential for advancement or a lateral shift within this organization? If not, where might I best execute my gifts, strengths, and talents?

4.     Turn an avocation into a new career - many look towards their voluntary service opportunities as what they would ultimately like to do for life-giving work. For example, during a transition season in my life I went to a local hospital and asked if I could volunteer doing play therapy in the children’s ward. I was in a funk, but knew I had always wanted to try working with creative therapy methods. They were happy to have me for the year I could give. Amazing to me now, is that although that was over 25 years ago, the passion I’ve always had for kinesthetic healing has been a part of my DNA! That voluntary service also gave back to me through caring for others - it took me out of my own worries and allowed me to leverage gratitude in an otherwise difficult season.

Question: What would I love to do even without getting paid?

5.     Take on a parallel career The reason you may be experiencing a shift is primarily financial. For some taking on a parallel career or supplemental income may be the necessary transition step towards balance. People don’t take on a parallel career only for financial reasons. It may also be for convergence into the final years of service. You can now choose more specifically to work in a very narrow field. For example, take your training role and look for another outlet like public speaking or book writing. Leverage the years of knowledge and wisdom to benefit others. This track is often pursued for the sake of funding, mentoring, or influence.

Question: What do I already do that I could leverage better in a different setting?

6.     Get more training - As you think about your future the most obvious way forward may require a complete shift and more specialized training in a specific field of interest. Take someone who has always been passionate about physical health and healing. They may have lived it in their own life, but now need a degree in nutrition or being a yoga instructor to integrate their passion with a professional practice. This option of gaining more training affords one more discernment time, as well as he/she researches a specific field and his/her fit.

Question: What have you felt lacking knowledge in your current work or wanted to gain greater understanding of to gain professional integrity?

7.     Keep on doing the same thing - After a season of discernment and searching, you may have learned that what you have now is really a great fit and at this point nothing needs to change but something internally. Possibly a season of rest resets all the gauges to better see the joy of personal fit. Possibly an internal shift of gratitude or perspective occurs to recognize the value of what you have and that every organization and team has faults.

Question: Can you answer yes? For now this is where I best fit and what I am willing to work with for the next five years!

Your decision-making and discernment will likely take you down confusing, questioning roads. As you think about it in small chunks give yourself grace to also think about it in smaller periods of time. This decision is not forever. Continue to explore and try it on and commit for a certain period of time. Give yourself or your spouse the needed permission to try, fail, succeed, change their mind, but soon to put down the need to continue processing. Make one step of a decision and begin moving forward right where you are at.

To be continued…

See The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition: Clarity exercise - Part 2

Here are a few questions to prompt deeper thinking:

What is the most compelling reason you believe a change needs to happen? What have you already tried?What has been the response from the significant people in your life (God, spouse, boss, supervisor, etc.)? Given their reaction, what do you feel you need to do next? What’s coming up for you as we talk about this?