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

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

When it comes to a vocational or career change, the possibilities appear unlimited. Our minds may take on a fight, flight or likely a freeze effect. The frontal lobe in our brain, acts like an overheated engine. It can’t take the myriad of options, so it begins to shut down…anxiety sets in. If we are able to employ a trusted friend or set of tools to gain perspective the ugly monster of overwhelm becomes a much more manageable companion.

We left off in the previous post (the overwhelm of decision-making part 1) with “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? Although the options may still take on 100 different variations, the primary decision can be broken down into just a handful of categories or even just one. How does one get from overwhelm to decision? What decision appears most pressing?

Now before we go any further, there exists an assumption that a well-thought through discernment process of gaining information about one’s options, talking to trusted individuals and mentors and a concerted amount of prayer, has gone into the process up to this point. Decision-making happens most effectively after a long season of discernment.

Transition takes place over the course of many small decisions, month after month. Getting to this point in making a major life decision primarily consists of listening to one’s heart and attending to the desires and longings of the soul that have existed for many months if not years. This point in time is often just a finalizing piece to a greater series of decisions. This is not to minimize the importance and the complexity. But rather to validate that your gut, your spouse, your friends, and God have all been speaking to you up to this point.

Decision-making happens most effectively after a long season of discernment.

In this post exists an exercise, a tool called the decision-making grid, to utilize in times of complicated or overwhelming decision-making. It’s quite simple and chances are you’re already familiar with it. A few years ago when faced with a series of decisions that seemed fit with equal pros and cons, I asked my friend and coach for some perspective. When she suggested using a decision-making grid I couldn’t conceptualize how it was different than making a list of pros and cons - my typical style! She briefly walked me through it over the phone. The simplicity almost seemed elementary. Yet it worked! Maybe like myself, you never thought to utilize it in major life decision. Here’s how it works.

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 these limited possibilities the decision-making begins to take the shape of a just a handful of possibilities.

Here we are talking primarily about decisions around personal fit and calling:

The 7 categories to consider personal fit/calling: (from the previous post The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition)

1.     Keep doing what I already do well but change the environment - Maybe you have outgrown the structure of the team or organization. Potentially staying in an environment, limits the opportunity for growth.

2.     Keep the work; reallocate or change the quantity - some may consider focusing their target audience to better match their passion. As well, changing the quantity allows for specialization, influence and impact.

3.     Change the work, but stay in the same environment - Within an organization maybe there is another set of possibilities. For example maybe you were hired on as an assistant but have outgrown the role where your gift mix would be better used.

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. Amazing to me now, is the passion I’ve always had for kinesthetic healing!

5.     Take on a parallel career For example, take your training role and look for another outlet like public speaking or book writing. This track is often pursued for the sake of funding, peer-mentoring, or influence.

6.     Get more training - maybe the way forward for you requires a complete shift and more specialized training in a specific field of interest. This option affords one more discernment time as he/she researches a specific field.

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 it required an internal shift of gratitude or perspective to recognize the value of what you have and that every organization and team has faults. Answering, these are the ones I’m willing to live with!

I often recommend a sabbatical for a time of rest before major life decision-making. (See: “Overcoming the Top 3 Objections for taking a Sabbatical”) The need to clear one’s mind and gain perspective is invaluable in clarity gaining regardless of what decision may need to be made.

Where does one start in sorting through these 7 options and creating any semblance of a plan? Might I suggest as my mentor did, to utilize a decision-making grid?

When a decision-making grid is utilized, it allows one to see the options on paper and begin to compare them one against another not one to one million! Which is how it can often feel in your head. This process can help begin to make concrete the seemingly unlimited possibilities that can tend to have a swirling and overwhelming life of their own. 

Here’s how a decision-making grid works:

1.  Form the main question. Start by forming a question that you will use to evaluate all of the possibilities. Ask a question like: Which of these 7 options currently resonates most with me? If you are unable to get past this point, employ a friend or coach to help you form the question.    

2. Make a table to represent your top 4-5 choices for your futures (a 5x5 table for example). An equal number of horizontal and vertical boxes will be used. It isn’t necessary to compare all 7 options as not all of them may be possibilities. Limiting the options is the goal at this point, not expanding.

3. Assign a number and short identifier such as an abbreviated description of your top choices in the top row and far left column. The list will be the same on both the left row and top column. So for example if you’re utilizing the list from above, you would consider #’s 1-7. If they are all options than they all go on the horizontal and vertical lines.

Vocational Discernment Decision-Making Grid Example

Vocational Discernment Decision-Making Grid Example

4. Put X’s on the numbers that coincide such as 3 vs 3 as you won’t be comparing the same number against itself.

5. Go through each row. When you compare number 1 to number 2, ask the question that you have chosen:   “Which option more accurately aligns with my current longings? Or – Which option do I believe best allows for utilization of my personality & strengths?  Or “Given our current family needs, which possibility is the best future fit?”

Note: You’ve already done the hard work…Don’t over-analyze. Go with your gut at this point. 

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6. Write the number chosen between the two options in the box. You will be comparing the same things twice, for example 2 vs. 4 and 4 vs. 2 it’s okay to change your mind or have a split. Often this double comparison produces double confirmation. But do not be alarmed if it does not!

7.  After you’ve gone through the whole table, count up how many of each number you have: 1 - __, 2 - __, 3-__, 4-__, 5-__, 6-__

8. You should have a number with a higher total than the others.

9. At the end of this exercise, consider how the option with the top number of points sounds to you?

10. If all ends in a tie, consult a friend or sleep on it. Try on the different options wherever you land. If you’re truly at a place of being able to live into your decision, imaging your life in that change will provide you with new ideas for the future.

11. When all is done, run this decision by the same people that have helped you get to this point. Something like: Given what you know about where I’m at, does this sound like a good option for my future?  Is there something else that I’m not considering? Surprisingly to many who are in transition is that those closest to the decision-maker already had a pretty good idea and are NOT surprised with a big decision. Call it intuition or a good friend. I would also call it the gift of being outside a cluttered decision-making mind.

The sweet dog ended up with the name Tracker. Unfortunately he only lived into that name as a sick rescue puppy for another 3 weeks. Our family misses him.

The sweet dog ended up with the name Tracker. Unfortunately he only lived into that name as a sick rescue puppy for another 3 weeks. Our family misses him.

On a smaller scale our family recently used this method to decide on the name of our new dog. Not a perfect solution to over 30 ideas, but the process for four very different individuals created both a memorable exercise in decision-making and greater unity in the process. What became apparent was that there were many names not even worth considering. Similarly for you, many options not worth considering at this point for your future.

Utilizing a decision-making grid helps to shed light and gain clarity during complex decision-making times. The myriad of possibilities can now be broken down into only a handful or even just one. Concrete comparisons and intentional set-aside space allow for the ability to see the most important tree through the forrest of possibilities.

Don’t be surprised if this big decision catalyzes many decisions thereafter. Making a bold moves chart is a suggested next step. New blog post on “Now That You’ve Done a Decision-Making Grid, Bold Moves are Next” coming soon!

Questions to consider:

What do you learn from your created decision-making grid?

What is clearer after having done this exercise? Who do you need to share it with?


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?

Embracing the Pain of Transition using Art & Movement

In my recent season of intense stuckness, where every path forward was cloudy and unclear; I often could not see past my own pain. Rather the still small voice invited me to sit in the fullness of confusion on a day-to-day basis and just wonder. My choices became noise cluttering my already full and naturally-analytic brain. I would feel flooded easily. I could not think my way in or out of this complex transition. I sought to not just simply exist, as I daily felt was all I had the energy for. Ultimately I desired to gain healthy momentum past this painful season. But how?

As I sought the way out, I was subsequently enveloped in new but familiar pain...residual from both my recent and distant past. Lessons I had to return to and learn in a new way. The depth of my experience of pain, I prayed, would enrich the empathy I felt for others—equipping me to better come alongside. Yet in the midst of my own soul-aching darkness, I truly could not imagine the other side of the pain. And even more troubling was the nagging thought that I may never have a capacity to work with others in this painful painful place.

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A wise mentor of mine consoled me in this season, "Sara, if there was ever a top 10 list of things people (and especially workers) experience on the field, you're basically learning the dictionary and becoming proficient in it! If anything, your experiences of painful transition broaden your capacity for the work that you are called to do." How dreadfully dark to base a career on the most intense seasons of pain! Yet the reminder of feelings of intense isolation, and those that accompanied me in it, propelled me toward but a sliver of hope that maybe this time would be redeemed to help someone else in their dark season. I desired hope and ultimately purpose in it all. Not to push past the reality of the pain, but to learn to embrace what God wanted to teach through the intensity that could only be learned through transition.

As my thoughts became noisy and I couldn’t analyze or strategize my way out of my transition, I in turn took to walking. My body was required to pick up where my thoughts left off. Walking, hiking, biking and yoga became my outlets to hold my pain. This bodily engagement afforded me time and space to NOT have to figure life out. These outlets became a life source for me.

My sole purpose in the pain became fighting to learn all that I could; about my own weaknesses, my own woundings, my past, and how my body needed acknowledgement and outlets for carrying my pain. A far more poignant and intense classroom than theories, concepts or textbooks could convey were these lessons I was learning. The experiential learning unequivocal to the conceptual knowledge catalyzed me to engage the learnings of transition in new and deeply profound ways—through both movement and art.

I began playing with ways of using transition tools and art to process using the right & left brain

I began playing with ways of using transition tools and art to process using the right & left brain

Because transition requires all of our being, I've become convicted through my own learnings that navigating these seasons should be approached with our whole self; our whole brain. The holistic approach includes experiences of physical, spiritual, and emotional encounters to integrate our often-felt disorientation and disintegration. Alongside body movement, finding and creating art that captures the heart became my goal: Look for art that captures the heart became my mantra!

Visual art and kinesthetic movement became powerful outlets for the overwhelm I would feel in my brain. I played with words and color despite the negative voices from my past discouraging me to do so.

The most comforting voices in transition are those who have gone before us and can genuinely say “keep going,” “it won't last forever,” "YOU ARE NOT ALONE on this pilgrimage,” “THIS TOO SHALL PASS.”

This powerful image of the controversial girl placed in front of the Wall Street bull still exists as one of the most profound public displays of art that captures my heart.

This powerful image of the controversial girl placed in front of the Wall Street bull still exists as one of the most profound public displays of art that captures my heart.

Despite not being entirely out of my own current transition journey (and question if we ever really are) I am grateful to be in the direction phase; trusting God that He will use my scarred stories similar to the way in which he has redeemed other's wounds for my growth. I pray that I would be used to provide a healing balm where the wounds remain so raw and open in others.

Therefore, my goal for the creation of both the Art of Transition and The Long Camino Walk is simply: To use art and movement to learn the unique lessons God is inviting each of us into as we continue to unpack our unique calling in this world. May we together embrace these transitions as a normal process the Creator intended for us. And similar to the transition cycle that all of creation is subject to, may we see the mistakes, the time of unfruitfulness, as a vital and necessary season on the journey of making something more beautiful and abundantly fruitful. I am still on a long journey of embracing this season of the way between.

A Transition Prayer of Lament

Injustice, Sorrow, Tears

A deep well of seemingly never-ending grief

Keeper of my heart, beautiful Jesus

Humbled, I bow

You wrong the right 

It is all yours

That others would see your love—

not my pain, my anger, my shame or my sin.

Brighten my face that your wisdom would shine through

Redeem my experience in worship to you

 

FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION:

·       What change has precipitated your entry into your current transition? 

·      What do you sense God is trying to address in pushing the pause button on your journey?  

·      How are you currently receiving it?