In Transition, Start with Connections

First Posted August 13, 2012.

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Listening to the discussion between Mitch Joel and Jeff Goins about writing, raised the question about how to start anything. This is particularly important if you are at a transition point in your life and work.

I know I need to change. How do I start?

Think. I'm starting fresh. Not starting over.

The best way to start fresh is with connections. The connections to ideas, to people and to the contexts where your transition is taking you.

Starting with Connections to Ideas

Connections with ideas at its most basic level is about communication.

You are communicating a message to someone, maybe even yourself.

My blogging here is primarily about helping me clarify what is going on in my head.

What is going on in my head is a product of what is going on in my "gut"; about what is happening intuitively.

Intuition is nothing more than making meaningful connections with ideas or situations.

You are in a meeting. Something is said.

Boom, flash, I've heard this before.

Then you begin to wrack your brain from where.

What do you do? Start writing down things. You are brainstorming. All of a sudden. You remember.

You do because you have made a connection in your mind. It isn't a direct connection. In fact, there is no connection, yet there is. This is the function of the intuitive mind.

You then speak up and show your brilliance. Simply because you started fresh with the connection to something.

Connections are not always logical or linear. More often, I find, they are random. That is why I read books and blogs that have nothing to do with my work.

There is a common thread of ideas that connect everything together. No one has the final word on what string of connections is. But it exists. I see it every time I engage with other people's ideas.

The more broadly you learn, the more you will see that everything is connected in some way. I find it very comforting and exhilarating. You will too.

What are ideas?

Ideas are nothing more than the rationalized emotions we feel brought to life in a logical order of words that help others know what we mean in our "gut".

Make the connections, and you'll find fresh meaning for starting.


Starting with Connections in Relationships

This is probably the easiest way to start fresh in a transition.

Start with people. Here's a simple way to do it. This is what I did 17 years ago when I started my leadership consulting business.

Ask people you trust, "Who do I need to know? Will you introduce me?"

Simple. Because you are not asking them to do anything more than make a connection for you. With that connection, you say,

"I'm in transition to X. Any advice? Are there people you know that could use these kind of services?"

This is how we make fresh connections that lead us through our transitions.

What are Relationships?

Relationships are nothing more than personal connections that are founded upon common experiences, values and mutual beneficial caring for one another. If the relationship is missing one of these, then it is not whole. It has potential, but is not fully formed.

When people make a connection for you, they do because they care about you. They see something worth investing in, even if the investment is as little as an introduction. Respect that gift, thank them for it, and then return the favor in connecting them to people they need to know. This is how we develop strength in relationships during a time of transition.


Starting with Connections to Contexts

When we are in transition, it just does not take place inside of our minds and gut. It happens in a real world context. None of us live in isolation tanks, hermetically sealed off from people, places and events. We are living real lives with real consequences. And we live them within contexts that are just as real, if we make to be so.

When we change, our connection to contexts changes.

By far this is the most complex of all the transitions that we are going through. We are changing patterns of behavior, which is the hardest part of change.

It isn't that I have a new job. It is that this new job context is going to be different than the last one. It may be a good change. But it is a change none-the-less.

So, how do you start fresh in a new context?

Simplify around your core values and purpose.

Think of this transition as an opportunity to get rid of some old habits that weren't very healthy for you.

Stop doing somethings that weren't strengthening your ability to be at your best everyday. Then start doing some new things.

The new context may be a new job. It could be your children are now all gone, off to college and their careers. It could be a move to a new part of the country. It could be new responsibilities at work.

Whatever the context, it is an opportunity to change for the better.

What are Contexts?

Contexts are any relationship, place or event. They are the social and organization structures where we live and work.

Family is a context. Business is a context. Friends are a context. Community is a context. Even social media is a context. Natural disasters, political campaigns, vacations and social clubs are all contexts. Mastermind groups, religious congregations, car pools, kid's athletic teams, scout troops, fishing, hiking and drinking buddies, high school and alumni associations, are all contexts. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Ning groups, Slideshare, Google+ are all contexts. 

Any and every person, place and event that our lives touch is a context. Each one connects with us, and contributes or distracts us from who we are and the transitions we are in. It is best that we not take them for granted.

Life is discovered in the connections

Transitions get harder when we try to minimize change, and we try to do it all on our own.

Transitions are about change, necessary change, change that can be beneficial and beautiful, if we can see it that way.

It is for this reason we need to make fresh connections with ideas, with people, and by simplifying our lives around the things that matter most to us.

Make sure you listen to Mitch and Jeff's discussion on writing. It is excellent. If you are in transition, both of these gentlemen have valuable insights, okay, wisdom, that will be helpful to you in adapting to changes in your life and work. Make sure you visit Jeff's webblog on writing. It will inspire you beyond the practice of writing. Writing is a very helpful tool in managing the transitions of change that we experience in our lives and work.

The Stuff in Your Head

Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg wrote to several of us who are in an online community asking for feedback on a blog post.  He wanted some help to get the stuff in his head on to paper.

Here's  some of what I wrote.

1. The stuff in your head is your voice.

The more you write, the more you'll find what you really need to be saying. I started in blogging in 2004 at the same time I began writing a twice-monthly column for my local paper. The columns weren't bad, though not great. The blog posts were unexceptional until about a year and a half ago when I began to discover what I really wanted to say. What I discovered, in addition, is that I began to spend more time writing than reading. All my life I had been a consumer of other peoples' ideas, and through constant attention to writing, I am becoming a producer of ideas.  So, write, write, write and write some more.  As you do, you'll find yourself waking up at 3am, getting up, going to the computer, and spending five hours producing something that is personally meaningful, and takes you one step farther down the road of discovery and excellence.

2. Create a structure on which to hang your thoughts.

The easiest way to do this is write series of posts. Typically, in odd lots, of 3 or 5, or maybe even 31. Several years ago, when I knew I'd be traveling for most of the month of July, I wrote a series on questions that could be posted each day for the month. It became the 31 Questions ebook later. As I read through it today, I'm amazed a how much further my thinking has gone.

The basic idea is to create an ideological system for your ideas. It allows not only for people to follow your train of thought, but also for you to build an ideological system for influencing people in a sustainable way.  And if you are a very complex thinker like me, meaning your ideas tend to confuse people more than enlighten them, then you need ways to make it simple. That is why I started creating my one page conversation guides. The personal result is that I have a system for addressing a wider range of issues than I did before. I'm not suggesting you create diagrammatic charts. I am suggesting that you systematize your thinking so that people can get it easily, and you have an ideological platform for expressing the stuff in your head.

3. Write for yourself, your audience will follow.

The tyranny of the marketplace is that it is fickle and doesn't pay close attention. It does not follow but constantly finds you. The loyal audience will give you good feedback, but for the most part, if you try to build your writing around what you think other people are looking for, you'll not find joy and fulfillment in the process of writing. 

Writing begins as self-expression, and leads to connection and influence with others. We must not see it as a means to aggrandize ourselves with the public, but rather how we give to them in service and contribution.

Writing is a painful experience because it attacks us at our most vulnerable points. My suggestion for those who feel that they must get the stuff in their heads out on paper is to write. You can find support in the thoughts of writers like Seth Godin, especially his chapter called The Resistance in his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensible?, and Stephen Pressfield's Writing Wednesdays posts and his essential, The War of Art.

Lastly, while you may be writing for yourself, it isn't always about you. It is about expressing yourself in a manner that provides a context for connecting with the world outside your head. Write for yourself, but write to be read, so that the influence of your ideas may make a difference that matters.

Quick Takes: Why you should blog

Watch this Open forum video with Seth Godin and Tom Peters talking about blogging. Seth tells why blog and Tom the impact that it has been on him. I began blogging in July 2004, at the same time I began to write my Real Life Leadership column. Here's what I've gained from the experience.

1. Practice in writing clear, coherent, compelling ideas. Writing clearly is not the same as speaking clearly. They are different ways of articulating ideas. When we speak, it is not unusual to say a series of sentence fragments. However, the over use of phrases in writing, I've discovered, is a product of writing to think out loud. 

The most important thing I have learned about this is from my column. I describe the column as "Dear Abby for Leaders."  I take a real world question and answer it. Writing to what I hear people discussing is what I am trying to do.The 500 word limit for my column has shown me how much extraneous verbiage I use in my writing.

I understand, now, how to make every sentence count. One key? Cut out all qualifying adjectives and adverbs, and make complex sentences simple. A second key? Get over the feeling of not being understood. I see this in my own writing when I begin a sentence with something like, "what I mean ...".

2. Clarity about what I think.  Forcing myself to write everyday provides me the mental exercise to work through ideas. My Impact Leadership diagrams are the product of this practice. The result is the ability to think more clearly in context.

Blog writing is a healthy mental exercise because it tends to be a conversation with other writers. If I'm commenting on something Seth or Tom has written, I'm trying to elevate the clarity and intelligence of my writing to their level.

Lastly, I take my writing cue from Tom Friedman who a decade ago on the Charlie Rose said one night that his aim with his New York Times column was two-fold. First, it was to have the reader say, "Hmm, I didn't know that." And second, "Ah, I never thought of it that way."  In both cases, the reader is brought into different perceptual and knowledge contexts that make wanting to read the column more compellng.

This is my aim as well. And I have to do this for myself before I can do it for you.

If I've not said it lately, thank you very much for reading.