Neither fish nor fowl

It’s very disconcerting when you leave your corporate career. You have lost your role and your identity and all the anchors of that life have faded away. You know what you were but you don’t yet know who are going to be. You were employed, a career executive, a professional of some description and now you are … well, what?

There’s lots of things that you could become. A contractor, a consultant, a business owner, an ‘entrepreneur’ (whatever that is), or some other things altogether. Or perhaps a mix of things, a portfolio careerist.

But right now you aren’t any other those. You are in-between, neither fish nor fowl.

This is what Marianne Cantwell calls a ‘liminal’ stage. (She introduces the idea of liminality in her excellent TEDx Talk). You are in flux and it’s a time of uncertainty, of not knowing. The problem is that society doesn’t really like this, it likes certainty. If you are not one thing, then you need to be another. If you are no longer a corporate executive, then you have to be someone else.

It’s not OK to say you are ‘in between’. “In between what?” will be the answer. “Are you resting. Like an actor?” they will say, putting you down as a failure.

So we are pressured to jump, to make a choice to be something else. This is not a good idea.

You see, being in between, being in this liminal stage, is a great place to be. It’s the place of creativity, of possibility and of growth. Certainly, we feel the tension and the anxiety but that is also when we can feel most alive. The secret is actually to stay in that place, to relax into the uncertainty and to trust your subconscious to figure it all out for you, in due course.

It’s a very necessary part of transition too. I use William Bridges’ 3-stage model of transition:

  1. The Letting Go
  2. The Neutral Zone
  3. The New Beginning.

This uncertain, anxious but creative phase is The Neutral Zone, the stage where we have left the past behind but still haven’t figured out what our future holds. It’s the part when people often go off into the wilderness on their own for a bit.

If we jump this stage then we take all of our unresolved problems forward with us, which will sabotage whatever we try to do next and prevent making the transition successfully.

We have to be able to resist the societal pressures to put ourselves in another box, to slap a new label on ourselves, and to sit with the discomfort and uncertainty for the time we need to move through this stage properly. This is hard to do by ourselves, by sheer force of will power.

It’s important, then, to surround ourselves with people who understand the struggle that we are going through, who can support us without judgement and who know the value of staying in this space. Others who are neither fish nor fowl either, who get exactly where we are.

This much may be obvious but where to find them is less so. That is why I created After the Mothership, a place where it’s absolutely OK to be an in-betweener, to not know what you do, to be uncertain about what you are doing next but also in the ideal place to figure it out.

If you’d like to join us in our liminal space and share our in-between-ness, join the conversation in our private Facebook group HERE.

Or come and meet us in person at the September ‘After the Mothership LIVE!’ event and grab your tickets HERE.

(Picture: fish-fowl-by-hikingartist illustration (Frits Ahlefeldt — Founder Hiking.org) by Frits Ahlefeldt — Founder Hiking.org (flickr))

First published on www.afterthemothership.com/blog on 22/08/17