Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion, all the interim is like a phantasma, or a hideous dream. – William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Many of us have been in a position where we are stuck in one place and want to get out of there.
It happens at an individual level and to corporations.
The fact is that change is hard, and the bit in the middle, between when we are one thing and when are finally another is the hardest bit of all.
Herminia Ibarra, in her book Working Identity calls this being Between Identities. It can take a long time but it’s important that you don’t rush it – that you take the time to work through the process because it is going to change your life.
So, let’s say you’re unhappy at work and want a change – what does that look like and how do you feel?
I’ve tried to draw Ibarra’s model in the picture above so we can work through that.
For starters. you’re in a little boat setting off in stormy seas – this is rarely an easy journey.
And it starts with the links between you and everyone else weakening.
You experience a disconnect – both socially and psychologically.
For example, if you’ve spent all your time in academia and want a change – you might start hanging out with business people instead.
That leaves you less time with your old crowd.
It’s the same if you want to leave a gang and try living a normal life.
What this starts to mean is that you withdraw from the group and they in turn from you.
If you’re less available socially and psychologically they ask less of you and expect less.
They also trust you less – and you them.
This often happens when people first start working remotely.
Their managers wonder whether they’re really working – because they can’t see them all the time.
These thoughts might start being expressed in words – with whispers ricocheting around organisations.
And that’s not a nice feeling for the person being talked about – and they in turn start to distrust their managers and co-workers.
This can lead eventually to a confrontation – perhaps a rupture with someone who was once important to you.
Once that’s happened, that increasing space between you and everyone else widens and becomes a chasm – the gap looks impossible to bridge.
And all this time the pressure and the changes mean you’ve been looking at other options and trying different things.
All this time you’ve been a square peg – perhaps happy and content for a long time – but not now.
Now you’re thinking maybe I’m a triangular peg or a round one?
And as you try these other options – perhaps you moonlight as a volunteer social worker or have a side hustle you listen to feedback.
Feedback can be internal – how you feel and what your gut says and external – what people say to you and the kind of reaction you get to this new you that you’re putting out there.
Eventually, by trying lots of possible new yous, one starts to emerge – one that has a stronger story that you can identify with and others can relate to and this becomes your new role.
You’ve created a substitute – something to take the place of that person you once were and replace the career you once had.
And now you’ve created a new identity.
Quite often people tell you that you shouldn’t quit your job to start a new business – first make sure that new thing makes you money before leaving a role that pays you.
What this model says is that it’s going to take you time to go from the role you have to your new role – in your head.
And you should take the time to work through this.
Trying to jump from feeling disconnected to a different career – like a chap who one day quits law school and decides to become a touring musician despite never having played an instrument in his life – probably means that you’ll go from one disappointment to another.
For real, sustainable change you have to change inside.
And that means taking the time to go through the change process.
But it’s easier to do that when you know what’s involved so you can prepare yourself for the long road ahead.
That way, you’ve got a good chance of making it.