Lessons in Managing Change, Transition, and Transformation

Have you ever been in transition? A state of perpetual limbo where you seem to vacillate between where you were, where you are, and where you need to be? Well, I have. Many times. And each time it has been its own unique learning experience.

Periods of transformation are undeniably powerful. There is nothing quite like moving from one state of being to another. However, transformative periods admittedly prove most useful after coming out on the other side. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.

My most recent transformational period (one bordering on existential crisis) was years in the making, recently culminated with a stint in corporate Jamaica that served more as a reminder of why I choose to live my life the way I do and run my own ship. Let’s just say bureaucracy, unnecessarily arduous processes, and ridiculous dress codes were not my things.  Still, I learnt a lot from this experience and it served to affirm much of what my period of transformation months prior had taught me about myself and my world – who I was, what I wanted, who I wasn’t, and what I didn’t want. In many ways, this stint served as a sort of Kumbla for me as I transformed and moved from one state of change to the next.

The Principle of the Kumbla and Knowing When to Stand in Your Power

In Afro-Caribbean literature, the Kumbla is a cocoon for metamorphosis, that final stage of transitioning where growth, change, and transformation is nurtured. Anyone who finds him or herself in this Kumbla must understand that timing is everything. Leaving the place of the Kumbla too early or staying too long can thwart the entire transformation process and result in the tragedy of not being able to experience the reality of transformation from the other side. I liken the principle of the Kumbla to my experiences in the last three years and in particular the last 6 months of holding period I experienced in corporate.

That experience, in particular, made me appreciate the value of knowing when to emerge and stand in your power. Still, even if you’ve mastered the art of impeccable timing, knowing when to emerge and having the courage to do so are two completely different things. Emerging itself is a process that requires a fair bit of navigation, and it must be followed by the skills and strengths needed to walk in the reality of having emerged. So, although I left the Kumbla at the optimum time for me, I still imagined myself like the butterfly in the throes of emergence from its cocoon, whose wings are still wet, and getting used to the reality that I now have everything needed to soar.

Learning the Lessons and Managing the Change Next Time Around

Truth is, we will go through many moments of transition and transformation throughout our lives. Some will be subtle shifts, and others will be cataclysmic and borderline existential crisis. Either way, the only constant in life is change (read that again), and there is something to learn from these kinds of life experiences whenever they happen. Each experience can help us inform other periods of change to come. Each lesson inevitably culminates into touch points of wisdom that can be used as resources to draw from as life continues to evolve. So, here is some of what I have learnt from my moments of transformation thus far.

1.  ‘Gut Feeling’ is a ‘knowing’ that counts

It has been my experience that the deepest part of ourselves can pick up on information that the brain or logical mind is not able to immediately access or readily process. The ‘gut feeling’ is that part of us that instinctively or intuitively says something is ‘off’ or ‘this is what I should be doing.’ It is an inner assurance that allows us to know without knowing why (or even how) we know what we feel we know for sure.  There is hardly anything logical about it.

Ironically, whenever that voice from the inner recesses of our soul begins to surface, we immediately begin to engage it with our logical mind. After all, the logical mind is how we make sense of our world. We end up ignoring the illogical promptings of our ‘gut feeling’ on account of what we deem logical only to find, in the end, that the seemingly inexplicable had it all figured out all along. As such, I learnt to process but never simply discard the guidance of my ‘gut feeling.’

2. Flexible structures are a thing…and the key to successful planning

As a planner, I know all too well the ‘surety’ that proper and effective planning can afford us. I hardly ever like to tackle anything important without having a plan to chart the way forward. Still, preparedness and predictability aren’t the same things, and while planning can help us prepare it cannot essentially predict what will happen. The best plans, therefore, are those that are flexible enough in structure and wide enough in scope to accommodate and respond to unpredictable happenings.

3. Transformation often requires solitude

Continuing with the type of the butterfly, the most transformative experiences take place within the confines and solitude of the cocoon. For the butterfly, and sometimes for us, the transformation period is closed away from any external perceptions of what may or may not be taking place. It is not until the shell of that cocoon is first broken that the reality of that transformation is first perceived from the outside. During this period of metamorphosis, the changing caterpillar is completely alone, and sometimes during our periods of transformation, we must be too. Should the transforming caterpillar be exposed before the work of transformation is done, it would die. We too, would metaphorically die and never get to the other side. The transformation process is personal, deep-rooted, and lonely. Becoming the butterfly, however, is worth all of that and more.

4. It takes time to navigate the other side of transformation

I imagine the butterfly emerging from its cocoon doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. The butterfly doesn’t simply fly off into a world of newness and bliss. Perhaps, it starts with the first break in the outer bands of the cocoon as the butterfly takes its time to emerge. The wings are still ‘wet’ and this butterfly has never flown before, and though now having the capacity to fly will still go through an initiation or learning of sorts after having been a caterpillar its entire life. This slower process of emergence, in the human experience of transformation, is important. It is this slower emergence that allows us to better adjust to and navigate the realities of living in this newness, thereby giving it the sort of permanence desired.