What to do when it's time to go

Thursday 22nd November 2018 Cathy Burke

ICathy Burke

I get asked a lot about how I made the transition between different careers. I was the CEO for the Hunger Project Australia, and then Global Vice President, and had been in the roles for a total of 20 years. I left of my own volition last year, and have now successfully transitioned into what I’m doing now – designing and running leadership programs globally for people and organisations. During my transition process, I realised and learned a bunch of stuff that I didn’t know (and wish I did). So here are five things to consider when you’re letting go of what is/was and stepping into the next iteration of your life.

1. Time

I thought it was pretty straightforward, but in the end the process of letting go and becoming takes its own sweet time! Transition isn’t just about deciding and then taking action. It is more like a deep process working through you, like how underground rivers will find their way to the sea. Honour this. It’s not all plans and meetings. Many people I’ve talked with have shared how they spent countless hours in non-doing: sitting, going for walks, reading... This was true for me, and sometimes I felt annoyed by my inertness. But the truth is, we need time to ‘fill the well’, and that can’t be rushed.

2. Complete the past

No matter the circumstances or reasons for moving on in a career or role or life situation, taking time to honour the past and be ok with it is critical. If you have stuff that you’re still chewing over in your mind, or feel wounded about, or not able to fully move on from, get yourself to a place of acceptance. This might mean doing some work on forgiveness and compassion. To not do this means you’re building the next part of your life on a quagmire: you’ll be in reaction to what happened, and not in creation of your new future.

It doesn’t have to be about negative stuff. For me, I had left The Hunger Project through my own choice, and I was proud of what I’d accomplished. So at first moving on was a breeze. However, after a time I noticed my thoughts circling back. It wasn’t because of regret – I was still clear about my decision. What I realised was that I had the history of what I had achieved hovering like a shadow over my future. Subconsciously I had these stories running through my brain, like ‘nothing else I did could possibly be as great as what I’d done!’ (I mean – I was a part of ending hunger!) ‘Would I ever do work that meaningful?' 'Could I find a similar tribe of amazing people?’ etc etc. In recognising this, and bringing consciousness to it, I was able to smile at myself and let it go. This then gave me the space to truly create the next arc of my life freely.

3. Be with what is

Resting in the not-knowing of your next move is part of the process. This doesn’t mean we aren’t being proactive about finding new roles and being excited about the future. It does recognise though that the space between the old and the new can tell us something if we are prepared to listen. Think of it like the pause between ocean waves when the tide is both coming in and going out. It can be a bit confusing, but you don’t have to figure it all out. Feel the spaces in your thoughts and feelings.

4. Call in your future

Transition is an opportunity to create a future that is not just an extension of your past. Sometimes we just know and the future is clear and a big YES! More often though it's subtler. You might know it's time to move on from a role or sector, and you’re not sure of the what and why’s of it. Just that something is calling you. Joseph Campbell called this the ‘call to adventure’. Listening to this call is the start of something that has the power to be challenging and transforming.

5. Be specific

What do you want? What does it look like? Anchor this in a feeling – feel the desire and thrill move through you. Don’t be afraid to not know how it will turn out – following that first thread is enough to start. Listen to the whispers of your heart.

Change is constant and inevitable. Sometimes we get to choose it, and other times it's thrust upon us. Either way, we all experience multiple transitions which we sometimes feel ill-equipped to respond to as powerfully as we might. None of us has this journey of life figured out. I think it’s important to support each other with generosity, love and kindness.

About Cathy Burke
For two decades as CEO of The Hunger Project Australia and Global VP, Cathy Burke developed leadership in very different contexts – women leaders in small villages, and executive leaders in large global organizations.

Cathy’s deep experience in leadership is based on what she learned from the poorest of the poor, and she weaves these insights and stories into her programs.

Cathy has worked with Silicon Valley leaders, large banks, insurance companies and women's brands on developing leadership. She inspires possibility and new thinking, helping people break through unhelpful mindsets to claim the leadership that is uniquely theirs.

She is the author of Unlikely Leaders: Lessons in Leadership from the Village Classroom.

You can find out more about Cathy and sign up for her weekly newsletter HERE.

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