leadership incorporated blog

September 23, 2012

The Re-entry Phenomenon: Coming Back Strong After A Crisis

It’s been one tough summer.

In the last several months, my family has supported both my force-of-nature mother-in-law and incredibly strong father-in-law (and our dear family cat) through intense illnesses and facilitated them in passing on in the most positive, loving, supportive environment possible.

In the middle of all this, we also moved our eldest off to college and have facilitated him through a series of life-rocking transitions. And I had some surgery to solve a neck/shoulder problem.

Now, after several months of immersion in family life, it seems that the crises have passed, the fog is lifting and we are surveying the damage and realizing that it’s time to come back to our lives in progress.

Maybe you’ve been here before. Sometimes events beyond our control pull us away from life and work as we know them and immerse us in another reality. Then —often suddenly — the emergent circumstances wrap up and we find ourselves changed, contemplating a new normal and trying to figure out how to integrate ourselves into it.

My wonderful husband, Michael Leventhal (of MC Squared Law & Consulting, a digital media law & business consulting firm) and I have talked a lot about what’s changed, the challenges facing us now, and how to approach our comeback. We realized that this “re-entry phenomenon” in its broadest strokes also applies in other situations:

  • Having a baby
  • A significant illness or injury
  • The loss of a client
  • The loss of a job
  • The loss of a business partner
  • The end of a project

Can you relate?

A few of the biggest, most common challenges:

  1. You’ve formed new habits that aren’t compatible with normal life. For example, our sleeping and waking patterns have shifted in ways that are inconsistent with normal working hours.
  2. Residual feelings flow over you in unpredictable waves. Seemingly unrelated comments or images trigger powerful memories. Sadness, loss, guilt, stress can take you by surprise and leave you feeling exhausted and in need of a nap. Not exactly a great recipe for productivity.
  3. You have fear stories and other thoughts that get in the way of getting back to work and life. You may worry that people have felt underserved or needed to move on without you. You may believe that you have lost your momentum and don’t know how to get it back. These stories can shake your confidence, and paralyze you from taking even baby steps that lead back to life.

The power of ritual. In the Jewish tradition, there is a three-phase process prescribed for mourners. First, you immerse yourself in mourning for a week. Over the next month you begin to incorporate normal activities at a reduced pace while refraining from certain aspects of life.  For the rest of the year that follows, the balance shifts again: more normal life, yet you keep some practices that create a structure that enables you to make a gradual and supported return.

Whether or not you believe in the religious or spiritual, this is brilliant from business leadership and coaching perspectives.

We need to process. Those who don’t have religious traditions may find themselves pressured by the world to skip some necessary steps that help us to honor what needs honoring, clear what needs clearing and rejoin our lives in a gradual way that allows for predictable discomforts and challenges and makes them acceptable and natural…thereby supporting us in our return.

How many of us force ourselves to come back from a profound break too soon and too abruptly? What is the cost to our well-being? What is the cost to our effectiveness upon our return?

In strategizing our returns, Michael and I sketched out a few practical rituals (spirituality optional) that I thought might be useful to you someday. Here they are:

Process, process, process: Talk, write, think, read, explore and otherwise immerse yourself in what you have just been through for a focused and limited time, say a week. These thoughts and feelings need to be exposed to the light. Grow with them. Don’t stuff them.

Connect and Reconnect: Your relationships are the most powerful path back into your life. Reach out to people. You don’t have to talk about what you’ve been through with everyone, perhaps only a select few. More importantly, find out what’s been happening with them.

Be of service: Shift your focus from self and family to others. How can you assist clients, colleagues, staff, friends? Rediscover your purpose and value to others.

Create with words: Get back into the language of what you do. Make a plan. Use words to talk and write about what you want to do next.

Replace habits one at a time. Prioritize the habits that will make the biggest difference, but don’t try to change them all at once. Gently, yet firmly, go one at a time. Remember it takes about 21 days to create a new habit. Be sure to reward yourself in healthy ways for success.

Reassess. This is a great time to look at what’s working, get rid of what isn’t and refocus yourself on what really matters. Create new opportunities. Nothing is as re-energizing as what you really care about.

Work the dichotomy of patience and encouragement: Allow yourself extra time and be understanding and gentle with yourself if you aren’t adapting as fast as you thought. At the same time, strongly encourage yourself to get back on your game. Most of us tend to do one or the other. Finding the balance between these two makes for the smoothest possible re-entry.

Ask for what you need. If you share, you’ll probably find that people relate. The most surprising people have stories just like yours. And if they don’t yet, they will. That’s life.

My request: I want to reconnect with you. How are you? What have you been doing while I’ve been gone? Please let me hear from you.

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