Personal Journey: How to Ride Your Emotions as You Change for the Better
My journey through Fisher’s process of transition
John Fisher depicts the emotional roller coaster we ride during a change. Jean uses the graphic to illustrate her journey toward realizing a vision.
This new year, are you considering embarking on the daunting task of personal change? Every year or so, I take this on big time. I refer to it as reinventing myself, where I deliberately seek to abandon some self-perceived limitation and expand my vision of what I’m capable of.
My personal journey through the Fisher process
Through several decades of studying and living the process of change, I have learned that emotional upheavals are part and parcel of the process. Many people fall into the trap of believing emotional upsets during the change process are unusual and unique to them. They are not. The circumstances and situation you’re in may be unique, but the emotions are not.
John Fisher did us all a favor when he created the Personal Transition Curve. His graphic explains how we bounce from one emotion to another during the personal change process. These reactions are common enough that Fisher’s process is widely cited; just check with Google.
This post applies Fisher’s Transition Curve to my own journey of launching a blog. I’m choosing to talk about my own process now, a few days before the New Year, because I know I’m not alone. Many of us have high hopes for what we will do differently after December 31.
Below is the graphic, reproduced here with Fisher’s permission. Fisher’s original graphic used stick figures. Similar graphics available on the web show only White people. Our graphics artist, Valentina Covarrubias, has updated it to account for indefinite ancestry and gender.
Anxiety. I began the blog posts with considerable anxiety, given that I had developed a blog about 10 years earlier and dropped it after a few months. The work had been overwhelming. The relentless pressure to create new blog posts was more than I could handle.
So now here I was, a decade later, actually considering doing it again. (I started a trial run in November 2019 with a commitment to begin in earnest by January 2020.) Yes, I did wonder if I could cope. I already knew that my long-term assistant, Eillen Cuartero, was more than capable of setting it up online. Eillen has been fantastic in her capacity to learn new applications and obscure computer coding to produce miracles in her tech work.
Still, what about the content: writing, editing? How was I going to manage that alone? A most fortunate change of circumstances fell in my lap, giving me the courage to think it was possible. My long-term friend and colleague, Carole Marmell, was ending her career as a hospice social worker and seeking part-time work. Proofreading was a prior career. In fact, she had voluntarily edited Reframing Change and several of my published articles. I knew her work was excellent. Would she be willing to help? The answer was yes, she became our content editor, and the blog was born.
Happiness. At the time we began the blog, the country was in an uproar in the aftermath of George Floyd’s anguished murder, caught on videotape by a 17-year-old bystander.After decades of trying to explain what racism felt like to politely interested White people, I was shocked that everyone suddenly wanted to know. (I was also shocked by how much they didn’t already know.) My first post was to write about this startling revelation. As I explained then:
In the midst of my emotional turmoil [about George Floyd’s death] and flashbacks to my childhood, imagine my sheer relief to see on the news and in social media Whites protesting, Whites posting on social media, Whites refusing to be bystanders to blatant acts of racial violence. A viral photo of White women standing between the police and the Black protestors. White friends sent me emails about various aspects of what is going on. Protestors of all colors showing up.
After this first post was published on our website, we were all elated. I’m including not only the three of us (Eillen, Carole, and me) but also friends and colleagues who had been rooting for us. Happiness.
Fear. Most of you who have published something — if only a post on social media — know the gnawing fear that can happen once you put yourself out there. Did I say something wrong? Did I use a slur inadvertently? Who might be offended by what I have to say? Did I miss saying something important? Will I be misunderstood?
Threat. Even with help, the blog was much more work than I had anticipated. Eillen, Carole, and I had to develop a workflow. We tested and discarded ideas. Eillen and I had to agree on the design of the blog. Carole and I had to reconcile different styles of writing. We spent a ridiculous amount of time on font size of the major text. Thankfully, I already knew that projects expand, and Eillen also knew that, having worked with me for umpteen years.
I always warn my organizational clients that once a major project gets underway, it will balloon. The big picture they have of the project conceals all the tiny mini-projects that need to be implemented to make the big picture work. Now I had to take my own advice.
Guilt. A major challenge was developing a mutually supportive working relationship with Carole. We have been friends for two decades. We were born six months apart. Our children were the same age. We were friends. Her joining Leading Consciously meant that a hierarchical element was introduced into our relationship. Predictably, she felt that much more acutely than I did. I have consulted many a manager-contributor pair; the person with the greater hierarchical authority always thinks things are going along much more smoothly than does the direct report.
In past organizations, Carole was used to doing her job independently and moving on to the next thing. I wanted her to inform me when she completed a task. She thought that meant I didn’t trust her to do her job as requested. We had to back up to explore and identify the disconnect. Once I explained that knowing when a task was completed was my cue to do the next step, we were back on track. Carole was also on her own path toward growth, which didn’t correspond with mine. I respected her struggles.
Meanwhile, I, the leadership coaching consultant, was left wincing inside wondering how I had missed her upset. This was not my self-image. After stewing about it for a couple of days, I used one of my emotional clearing processes to let it go. I did make a mental note (again) that knowledge is not the same thing as putting a concept into practice.
Depression. Shortly after we started the blog, we also started our membership program, Pathfinders: Leadership for Racial and Social Justice. I have been more than pleased to see how our members are using it to enhance their leadership capacity and facility in the diversity, inclusion, and equity space.
In the second quarter of 2022, we plan to also launch ChangeMakers, our ten-month advanced leadership course. Over the last couple of months, the workload I was taking on slowly became clearer to me: The blog. Pathfinders. ChangeMakers. My ongoing clients. Husband. Family. Friends. Physical health maintenance (health club, stretching, walking). Mental health maintenance (meditation, visualization, journaling). How was I supposed to do it all?
My wise friend, Jean Ramsey, who coauthored Reframing Change with me, patiently listened to my lament about what was going on and gently informed me it was time to set priorities. I knew that’s what leaders are supposed to do, yet I have always trusted the Universe to work things out. “Let the Universe take care of the details,” is one of my mantras. And the Universe has taken very good care of me. But now at the end of this year, I found myself overwhelmed. More organizations are interested in both programs and I am committed to providing the best service possible to them.
Jean R. was right and I knew it. Time devoted to my personal life was sacred. The options were prioritizing the work. My standard advice to people with my dilemma is to not try to do everything all at once. When we find ourselves stuck, the solution is to change our mental model of who we are and what we can accomplish in a given period of time. Look for options to stretch out the timeframe.
Perseverance, not immediate gratification, is the key. I have seen more change efforts fail, and people become disillusioned because someone had a time frame that did not take into account all the things that had to happen concurrently. In my case specifically, if I want both Pathfinders and ChangeMakers to grow successfully, then what’s keeping me stuck is my self-identity as someone who writes a weekly blog. Who determined it would be weekly? I did. Twice a month is good enough if I decide it’s good enough. And so, reluctantly and somewhat sadly, after the conversation with Jean Ramsey, I decided this is what it will be. Carole, Eillen, and I will devote more of our attention to Pathfinders and ChangeMakers.
Gradual acceptance. The next morning, I woke still sad, yet resigned. I was getting used to the thought of moving the blog from weekly to every other week. I could feel the resistance to the idea deep within me. I very much enjoy this blog post. It’s been a pleasure to talk to the insightful people I’ve interviewed and to keep up with the research as we carefully add citations to the content. Yet as I tell my clients, change means letting something go. We will launch ChangeMakers this spring, and I will not give up more of my personal time than I already have. Nor can I expect anyone else involved with Leading Consciously to do so.
Moving forward. I must confess that I do also feel relief at the thought of switching the blog to twice a month. I know it can work and will be better for us all. I look forward to launching ChangeMakers and supporting more leaders become the best they can be. Just as I have people to support me, so do others count on me to support them. This is my life’s work and I’m more than grateful and humbled by the opportunity to do it.
How I avoided the three paths to derailment on Fisher’s personal transition chart.
Denial. I was well aware that posting the blog and making it as personal as I have required a new identity for me. From decades of teaching graduate social work students and consulting, I was accustomed to the value of judicious self-disclosure as a tool to help others learn and grow. But it’s one thing to tell a closed room of people about one’s inner thoughts, and it’s another to announce them to the world. Could I really be the type of person who will put it out there?
Because I know that identity change is the secret to overcoming fear and pulling off successful change, I made the shift before starting the blog by conceptualizing myself as someone who was willing to take the heat so that others could learn from my mistakes. I meditated, journaled, and visualized the new me. When the fear hit me after the first few posts were made, I was prepared. No need for denial.
Now I must make another identity shift from a weekly blogger to a biweekly blogger with two active programs. It’s still painful, yet I have chosen this and I know how to do it.
Disillusionment. Carole and I both had brief periods of disillusionment with each other as we were adjusting to our new status. And after that conversation with Jean Ramsey, I became disillusioned when I realized I couldn’t do it all *my* way. But I’ve had years of knowing and teaching that perseverance is the key to bringing into reality the change you want to see. I knew — and still know — that if I stick with it, new doors will open I do not yet know exist. It’s been that way all my life. So, yes, while I did feel disillusioned for a time, it has never occurred to me to change the goal.
Hostility. I get angry but very rarely am I hostile. I understand that for me anger and hostility are reflections of how I’m feeling about myself. They are another form of guilt that I’m not standing up for myself, taking better care of myself. If others are in my way or blocking my path, I know it’s up to me to devise a new route. Other people will do what they do. I’m responsible for the life I create.
Final Thoughts: Get Unstuck, Change Your Story, Achieve More
I’m imagining that you who are reading this have a dream of something you would like to see improved or changed in your life. It may entail a huge transition or a relatively minor one (such as launching a blog) that still sends you on an emotional roller coaster. Knowing the change process and the emotions that are bound to emerge can help you avoid the detours of denial, disillusionment, and hostility. Welcoming the identity shifts that must occur for you to achieve your aims will reduce your resistance and ease your path.
Stay in action and persevere. A small step in the direction you wish to go is better than freezing in place, stuck with regrets and recriminations. These small steps add up until one day you will discover as I have that it’s been a year since you started, you’re not yet where you want to go because the goalpost keeps changing and setbacks occur, yet the journey has been worthwhile, and the destination is in sight.
Each of us in Leading Consciously wish you joy on your journey and a very happy, emotionally fulfilling new year!
You can learn more about John Fisher here.
Questions to ask yourself
- Where might you be stuck? Are you aware deep down of what you have to do?
- How might you get unstuck? What difficult decisions are you expected to make?
 Forliti, Amy. Teen who recorded Floyd’s arrest, death wins Pulitzer nod. AP news, June 11, 2021. Teen who recorded Floyd’s arrest, death wins Pulitzer nod
 Latting, JK and Jean V. Ramsey. Reframing Change: How to deal with workplace dynamics, influence others, and bring people together to initiate positive change. Praeger, October 2009.