The Adult Sandbox: Navigating Transitions 2/3
We are activating a movement to help a billion adults move from the metaphoric box of our current lives, into the fullness of the lives we desire.
When Samon and I scoped out our research, we chose to start with mid careers who were on sabbaticals.
We chose mid careers because they are professionals at the prime of their skills, credibility and energy and have financial, cultural and career agency to make more independent decisions. We believe that if they were supported to reposition themselves for purpose-aligned transformation in their circles of influence, the world will see incredible ripple effects in individual lives and society as a result of a renewed vigor that comes from feeling aligned in your work.
We focused on mid careers who were on sabbatical because it was a proxy for a highly engaged persona who was committed to figuring out how to navigate transitions. We believe this study and intervention pilots can help us identify some principles and insights which will inform experiments for a more diverse audience.
Sabbatical has its origins in the Hebrew word ‘sabbath’, which means ‘to rest’. The metaphor is meant to communicate that if an omnipotent and never tiring God can choose to rest, less powerful beings have no excuse but to also to build routines of rest and rejuvenation.
It’s the ultimate, but not the only kind of response, to quieten the noise — the clamor of what the world demands of you, your time, what you should be anxious about and what you should desire. A resistance to the outside voices and values to find and guided by your authentic values.
We were surprised to find incredible commonality in the tipping points that led people to make a major commitment to transition.
There were experiences that prompted reflections of mortality: experiencing or witnessing someone close to them go through a health crisis or someone passing away.
“At a funeral for a younger cousin, I wondered what would be my legacy if I died. I felt like there was more to life. However I felt that as an immigrant there was more pressure for me to provide and “be successful.”
I have worked so hard, stressed out and paid student loans for years. I need to live for myself.” Nigerian male in arts and media
Then there were experiences that prompted an intense search for purpose: emotional burnout from working, a promotion that would advance them down a career they didn’t want any longer; getting fired or laid off from a job usually prompted a search for security and out of which they transitioned into re-evaluating their purpose.
“My husband saw I was so upset, struggling and crying every night. I was constantly behind work. He saw the toll it was taking on me and he knew I didn’t want to be pulled in 1000 directions. He said “Why don’t you just quit and we will figure it out financially. “You gotta do something!”
Most described their conclusion from this reflection as “I know I’m not where I need to be, but I don’t know what my destination is.”
Leaving full time work without a plan seems on its surface to be an extreme outcome. It’s helpful to contextualize that for many people this unshakable feeling that something was off had been building up over years.
Some met their decision to leave with relief and or excitement, and it was almost always immediately followed by anxiety and insecurity. It’s an understandable reaction when we unpack what we’ve been conditioned to expect from work. Mid careers at this stage asked questions like:
Security: Can I afford this? How long is it financially responsible to not be completely working?
Structure: Will I make good use of this precious time to make it justifiable to myself and others?
Identity: How will I describe and label myself to others when I am not affiliated with a company or job title?
Worth: What is my self esteem based on when I’m not pursuing career related achievement?
Community: How will I find a community of people who empathize with my day to day?
Fulfillment: How do I take agency for designing engagements that are fulfilling?
Navigating a transition that involves our careers is therefore deeply personal, risky and potentially overwhelming because it involves the uprooting and re-defining of each of these pillars on our own terms.
So how have mid careers gone through these transitions in practice? What did they learn and unlearn in the process? What was helpful to them? What do they wish they had done differently?
Coming up next.