How to Learn from & Embrace Life Transitions: A Helpful Process & Framework

How to Learn from & Embrace Life Transitions: A Helpful Process & Framework

The pandemic has been a time of transition for us all.

  • You may have transitioned from having a job you loved to being laid off
  • You may have transitioned from working in the office to working at home
  • You may have experienced a relationship ending due to the stress of working at home together while at the same time looking after young children
  • You may have had time to reflect and realize that you want to make a bigger difference in the world
  • You may be feeling exhausted and lack clarity on your next steps.

Imagine having practical tools and a proven process to support you to move through transitions in your life and work. One that supports you to move from anxiety and uncertainty toward clarity and fulfillment.

I believe that embracing change is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities.

My 5-step “Art of Change Process” enables you to identify a change you are struggling with, understand how you respond to change and why, let go of beliefs, emotions and behaviors that are holding you back, envision the change you want to see and create an action plan to move forward.

The “Art of Change Process” can be applied to both your personal and work life and to teams if you are a leader. It enables you to move from resisting change to embracing it.

You may be thinking “I love change. I don’t resist it.” Yet if you peel back the layers and reflect on changes in your life, you may come to realize that many of the changes YOU initiated, so they felt easy to embrace. However, if you reflect on those changes that were imposed on you or initiated by someone else, you may find your experience is different; e.g. being “let go” from a job or having a partner leave you when you weren’t expecting it.

A key concept I have found helpful for myself and for clients has been understanding the difference between a life change and a transition.

William Bridges in his book “Transitions – Making Sense of Life Changes”[1] based on over 30 years of working with people and organizations, noted that a life change is external and situational such as divorce papers or a pink slip; something tangible that we can see. Whereas, a transition is internal and psychological; the internal work we do to reorient and readjust to our new external reality. Many of us do the change, but don’t do what I call the “transition journey” work.

Based on more than 25 years of consulting and coaching with individuals and organizations on 5 continents, the Art of Change framework is a proven model for embracing change whether it involves getting unstuck and moving forward when change is imposed on us, or whether we initiate an organizational or life change.

The Art of Change Framework is a 5-step process that uses the metaphor of life as a dance. The steps are:

  1. Shine the Light – Explore how you respond to change and why
  2. Choose Your Dance – Identify the transition you want to work on and where you are on your transition journey
  3. Feel the Rhythm and Learn the Steps – Commit to embracing change in your body rather than resisting it, and begin doing the work associated with the phase of the transition journey you are in
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice! – Do the work that includes letting go, identifying lessons learned, envisioning the work or organization of your dreams, taking action, and viewing change as a creative process that opens you up to new possibilities
  5. Consciously Share Your Dance with the World – Observe the positive changes in yourself, how others respond to you, and the positive impact you have on your family, friends, communities and workplaces.

If you’re intrigued to learn more, I invite you to sign up for my complimentary “Art of Change Framework” white paper that includes practical tips and tools at https://pamela-thompson.com.

I welcome your comments and strategies you’ve found helpful to embrace life transitions below.


[1] Bridges, William, Transitions – Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Da Capo Press, 2004

Why Leadership Starts with “I”

Why Leadership Starts with “I”

“Leadership starts with “I” before you can ever affect the “we”. (Lisa Marie Platske – Leadership Coach & Consultant)

Or in other words:

“Until we do the personal development work required as people, we cannot do the work required of us as leaders, and without that we cannot possibly do the work required as
organizations.” (Jennifer Eggers & Cynthia Barlow, 2019, RESILIENCE ITS NOT ABOUT BOUNCING BACK)

I so relate to these two quotes by leaders whom I respect and who inspire me, and believe that to become an effective leader, now more than ever, leadership starts with “I”.

COVID-19 has provided the opportunity for a number of women political leaders globally to demonstrate how by using their feminine leadership qualities, they have been able to rapidly and effectively respond to the pandemic.

Research on leaders in crisis has shown that women tend to lead more effectively than men during times of crisis. [1]

So what are some of these authentic feminine leadership qualities and how can you as a leader develop them? I would like to acknowledge that men as well as women can have and learn these qualities.

An authentic feminine leader is compassionate.

In order to be compassionate to others we first need to be kind and show compassion toward ourselves.

How do you change from beating yourself up about not making that target or about showing emotion during a meeting?

It starts with getting in touch with your emotions and feeling more comfortable with being vulnerable. You can practice this first in your personal life with a friend or a partner, and then when your compassion muscle strengthens you can show compassion to your leadership team and then to other folks in your organization. If you’re not sure where to start, a leadership coach may be helpful. A certified coach helps you peel away the layers, in a confidential space, get in touch with who you really are and gain a better understanding of why you respond the way you do.

An authentic feminine leader is collaborative. S/he believes in and models collaboration. This is important when dealing with complex situations and issues. 

In an organization this would look like rewarding teams over individuals rather than individuals over teams.

How do you change from valuing individuals over teams to valuing collaboration and teamwork?

From my experience, it’s important to be part of a collaborative venture that is successful. For a number of years, I believed that if I wanted to get something done and done well, I would do it myself. Perhaps you relate. It wasn’t until my late 30s when I was chairing a national strategy for the federal government with partners from 8 national health professional associations, that I saw the synergies that can be created and the creative solutions that are possible in an effective collaborative partnership. Since then, on a number of occasions, I have experienced the power and magic of a collaborative venture when the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. I find Barbara Gray[2] , a seasoned negotiator and organizational theorist’s metaphor of a successful collaboration being likened to a kaleidoscope, illustrative. She likens each piece of colored glass to the various stakeholders that are part of such a process. When we turn a kaleidoscope the image changes, creating something new and making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

An authentic feminine leader is inclusive. S/he recognizes the importance of different races, religions and ethnic groups being represented “at the table” so their voices are heard, understood and included in the process and outcome.

When we take the time to get to know people from different backgrounds, religions and cultures we learn to better understand them and acknowledge the rich contribution they may make to a team and/or organization. A good place to start is to invite them for coffee or lunch and genuinely be interested in learning more about them and their goals and aspirations.

An authentic feminine leader is intuitive. S/he uses their body as well as her/his mind to make decisions e.g. heart and gut.

To remind us of the importance and power of intuition I offer this insightful quotation from a brilliant man:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” (Albert Einstein)

How do you learn to tap into and trust your intuition? Mindfulness practices are a good place to start. They help us get out of our heads (and that constant chatter) and into our bodies where we can find quiet and gain insights.

Mindfulness practices originate from Buddhism. Body scanning is a good place to start. Each morning on awakening scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort. Breathe into those areas and release them. Imagine them flowing out of your body.

Mindfulness walking meditations are another practice. I recommend initially doing these 3 times a week for 15 to 20 minutes a day; for example, at a lunch break or immediately after work. Ideally do this outdoors in a park or in nature if possible. Focus on all of your senses. Hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, smell the salty sea air, view the beautiful vistas surrounding you, feel the wind on her cheeks. When thoughts come into your head, imagine they are clouds. Let them drift by and resume focusing on all of your senses. Notice what you notice during the walking meditations and after.

Learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom. This is one of the 7 keys in my book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” .

What I know to be true is that our bodies always know the truth. Many of us were raised in cultures that value and focus on our rational, logical left brain and staying in our heads. Try something as simple as when you feel tired, go to sleep rather than pushing through that last task before heading to bed. When a decision doesn’t feel right, try going with your gut rather than rationalizing a decision. For more tools to assist you to learn to make decisions using your body’s wisdom check out chapter 4 in Learning to Dance with Life.

An authentic feminine leader is creative.

To lead during times of uncertainty we need to use both our right and left brains. [3] The right brain being associated with creative, unstructured, emotional and “big picture” thinking … and left brain being associated with logic, structure, language, words and rational thought.

How do you learn to tap into and express your creative side (right brain)? One way is through the following exercise.

Sit down in a quiet place, free from distractions. Take a few deep breaths to relax yourself and close your eyes for a couple of minutes if you feel comfortable doing so. Ask yourself the following questions and write down your responses to them. Write down the first thing that comes to mind without judging or editing it.

  1. Do you consider yourself a creative person? If yes, why? If not, why not?
  2. Are there any creative pursuits you did as a child but haven’t done for years? If so, what are they?
  3. Are there some creative or artistic pursuits you would be interested in exploring?/trying out?
  4. Commit to either starting to integrate a childhood “passion” into your life or choose a new one such as “learning to play the piano” that perhaps you always wanted to do as a child but never had the opportunity to pursue. Identify the next steps for taking action to integrate a new or “old” creative or artistic pursuit into your life. It’s helpful to use a two-column table with “activity” heading one column and “timeline” the other.
  5. Support is important for many of us when starting something new and continuing with it. Enlist the support of a friend, colleague or family member to encourage and support you in your new endeavor or invite them to join you in doing it.

To encourage creativity and innovation in your organization it is also important to foster a culture that encourages experimentation and learns from its mistakes (e.g. Annual Failure Report from Engineers without Borders).

In the words of Ashley Good in Engineer’s without Borders 2017 Annual Failure Report:

“We hope this report serves as an acknowledgement that systems change is complex and therefore some degree of failure is inevitable. … we need to create room for ourselves to try new things and experiment in pursuit of figuring out what might work to shift the system towards our vision. Therefore, the best thing we can do is be willing to take the risk of trying something new, and at the same time, get really good at detecting where our efforts are failing early, analyzing effectively, and applying our learning to continuously improve [4]

So as a leader when will you start valuing these authentic feminine qualities of compassion, collaboration, inclusiveness, intuition and creativity and integrating them into your personal and professional life? I encourage you to start with one, develop it and then try it out in your workplace and notice what happens.

How will you as a leader (in your family, community, workplace) begin? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.


[1] https://hbr.org/2020/12/research-women-are-better-leaders-during-a-crisis?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_weekly&utm_campaign=weeklyhotlist_not_activesubs&deliveryName=DM113092

[2] Gray, B. 1989, Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

[3] https://pamela-thompson.com/why-tapping-into-your-creativity-is-important-for-leaders-today/

[4] https://www.ewb.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/EWB_FAILURE-REPORT_EN_03-08-2018-pages.pdf

What Leadership Stories are You Telling Yourself?

What Leadership Stories are You Telling Yourself?

I encourage you to take a moment to sit down, close your eyes and reflect on the leaders you have experienced in your life. Think about your first boss at your first “real” job. How was she or he? Were they kind, open, approachable, understanding? What were the dominant traits they possessed that you recall?

Now reflect on other leaders you have had in your life. Were they people you looked up to, who made you feel good about yourself, and provided opportunities for you to stretch yourself?

I’ve spoken and worked with a number of women who have accomplished much in their lives and yet did not regard themselves as leaders. Part of the reason why, was because the leaders they had experienced to date had not been people they wanted to emulate. They did not have positive memories associated with many of them. Perhaps you relate?

I’d like to share an example from my own life. Years ago, I worked in government at the federal level. One of my colleagues who worked on the same floor but in a different division was an articulate, creative and intelligent black woman. She had a vision to create a Unit to serve an under served group she cared much about. Her boss asked her to write down her vision, mission, the number of Full Time Equivalents required for the Unit and submit it to her. The boss then shared the document with “higher ups” as if it was her own, without acknowledging my friend as the creator. The Unit was approved with a budget attached and rather than offering my colleague the position, she interviewed and brought in a Unit Head from outside of our Division and totally excluded my friend from the process.

That experience had a really negative impact on me. I felt so bad for my colleague. I started to notice what I perceived as a cancer growing in the organization. In team meetings, my Division Head would call down a younger male team member in front of us all because she perceived him as a threat. I realized I could no longer work in this toxic environment even though I enjoyed my work and believed I was making a difference. Soon after, I met the partner in a consulting firm and was invited to join them which I did. I left my government job with the benefits and supposed stability and lost the matched contributions to my pension plan.

Perhaps you have experienced something similar. The impact this and other negative experiences I had with other leaders, was to associate the negative qualities I had seen and felt with leadership. When asked to join a Women’s Leadership Network a number of years into my career and to speak at their monthly meeting, I felt anxiety and fear rise up. Was I really a leader? For many years I denied that fact and I believe it was largely due to the negative experiences I had had with female leaders in my various positions.

In order to be an effective leader, it is obviously helpful to have experienced and been mentored by one or a several “good” leaders. Those who you respect and view as positive role models. That said, if you’ve not been that fortunate, it is important to reflect on your experience with leaders in your life and notice how that has affected your perception of leadership and interest in being a leader.

Are you telling yourself a leadership story that is no longer serving you? Is it time to change the narrative?

I would love to hear whether you have experienced something similar and how your experience with leaders has affected your interest in and comfort with being a leader. I invite your comments below.

“Being the Change” in Your Home, Your Community, Your Work …

“Being the Change” in Your Home, Your Community, Your Work …

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about women “being the change” we want to see in the world. Yet how do you “be the change” in your day-to-day life? Here are a few thoughts that I hope will stimulate some of your own.

How can we be the change we want to see in our homes?

  • By choosing to share household responsibilities with our partners such as cooking, cleaning, yard work … and modelling these choices for our children
  • Teaching our boys as well as our girls to cook, clean, do the dishes …
  • Teaching our girls as well as our boys to mow lawns, shovel snow …
  • Becoming financially literate. By this I mean “ … the possession of the set of skills and knowledge that allows an individual to make informed and effective decisions with all of their financial resources” (Source – Wikipedia; ) and ” … the ability to understand and effectively apply various financial skills, including personal financial management, budgeting, and investing. Financial literacy helps individuals become self-sufficient so that they can achieve financial stability.” (Source – https://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/financial-literacy.asp)
  • Teaching our children financial literacy.

How can we be the change we want to see in our communities?

  • By identifying an issue we are passionate about and initiating a project/program to make a difference in this issue (e.g. nutritious school meal programs; animal welfare; homelessness)
  • By identifying an existing group or organization that is championing an issue we feel passionate about and contributing our relevant knowledge, skills and/or our financial resources to that organization or group.

How can we be the change we want to see in our work?

  • If we see issues we feel strongly about that are not being handled effectively in our workplaces (e.g. gender inequality, need for diversity training … ), we may observe and collect data to support our case and identify others within the setting to support us to make a case to management.
  • If we own our own businesses we may choose to donate our time and/or money to an organization whose work we value (such as a group that is pro zero waste, sustainability, women’s rights … )
  • If we own our own businesses we may choose to develop and offer workshops and keynotes to public and private sector organizations on topics of interest and expertise such as: diversity and inclusion training, change management, feminine leadership.

Now, over to you. What suggestions do you have for how you and others can “be the change” you want to see in your households, communities, workplaces …?

I welcome your comments below.

Embracing Uncertainty as a Leader and Changemaker

Embracing Uncertainty as a Leader and Changemaker

A new year holds promise and also brings with it uncertainty.

How do you respond to uncertainty as a leader and changemaker? Do you typically greet it with open arms, or hide from it pretending you have all the answers, as you feel uncomfortable not knowing the outcomes.

What happens when you approach uncertainty believing you have all the answers? You may set goals and push through to accomplish them, focusing mainly on the metrics, without taking into consideration your people and an intervention’s impact on your organization and its culture. You may miss out on opportunities and creative solutions that can arise from uncertain situations.

To illustrate what happens when we greet uncertainty with open arms …

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about working in international health and development is the uncertainty, and with that, the opportunities for new and creative solutions, that present themselves. For example, when I was working in Afghanistan about 10 years ago as a Senior Technical Advisor in Planning and Performance Measurement, I met with the Minister the second day of my 9-month contract. At that time, she shared that although their original plan was to hire a policy and a planning advisor, since I had some experience with policy that she wanted me, within the first month, to give her a report of my impressions of her Ministry’s policy development and planning processes and what recommendations I would offer to improve them. This, on top of the tight timeframe I had to work with her folks to develop the Ministry’s first strategic plan and build their capacity in planning!

I went back to my office and asked the Afghan physician and policy advisor who sat beside me, if he had an org chart of the Ministry in English. He said “no” but he had one in local language. He printed one out for me and I asked him to tell me which departments were in the 15 boxes below the Minister and Deputies and the names of each Director while at the same time writing them all in English on the chart. Then I asked if he would take me to each one of their offices and introduce me to them (a few at a time).

At that time, I shared with each person that I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with them for 1 to 1.5 hours over the next day or so, and asked if there was a time that would work for them. I then followed up with the interview questions by email, which I quickly formulated. Within a month I had interviewed the top 15 department heads, rolled up in a report for the Minister what THEY perceived where the key strengths and weaknesses in their policy development and planning processes, their suggestions for improvement and added my own recommendations. In addition to learning a lot about how policy development, implementation and planning was done at the Ministry, I also had met one-on-one with 15 influential leaders in the organization, which served me well in the coming months.  

If I had planned the above scenario in advance, it couldn’t have worked out better!

What ingredients are required of leaders and changemakers so we can more effectively deal with uncertainty and embrace it?

I believe the following are important in this complex and rapidly changing world we live and work in:

  • Authenticity – Acknowledging that you do not have all the answers or aren’t sure what to do.
  • Flexibility – Creating opportunities to reflect, and the ability to change direction during a process that has an uncertain outcome (e.g. culture change process) .
  • Emotional Intelligence – Recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses, surrounding yourself with a team that has complementary skills and personality traits to yours, inviting their thoughts and suggestions, and truly listening to what they have to say.
  • Process Understanding and Inclusive Orientation – Valuing a facilitated process that encourages different voices to be heard and supports diversity.
  • Openness to new ideas – Inviting creative ideas and listening to what people are saying; (e.g. providing opportunities to encourage people to tap into and express their creative sides).
  • Trust that everything will work out. Chaos theory has demonstrated that order comes out chaos.

Uncertainty conjures up fear in many of us; however if we greet it with open arms and include the ingredients above, incredible opportunities and solutions are possible!

How do you embrace uncertainty? I invite your thoughts below.