The other day I decided to step down as an organizer for a women’s group I founded several years ago.  The decision was a long time coming and was bittersweet.  It was a fantastic experience, and yet intuitively I knew it was time to move on.  I think years ago I would have held on longer and pushed myself to muddle on.  Quite often the things we take on become a big part of our identity.  Sometimes the hardest decision to make is when to let go.

The 4 Cycles of Change

And this got me thinking about the cycle of change, which I often refer to as a deck of cards.  And when you think about how a game plays out, there are 4 phases:

The Shuffle Phase of Change

Shuffle – in this phase we’re wondering what game we want to play.  We’re thinking about the options that might be on the table.  Perhaps we’re thinking of transitioning our career or learning something new.  There’s often excitement, but there’s often a lot of fear, a lot of trepidation.  What if I make the wrong choice?  What if I make a mistake?  What if it doesn’t work out?  What if I embarrass myself?  We may find this phase to be exhilarating if we’re focused on all the possibilities and opportunities that may manifest, or our inner saboteur may be rearing its ugly head.  Or both at the same time.  We may find ourselves paralyzed by inaction as we are overwhelmed by the possibilities.

The Deal Phase of Change

Deal – in this phase we’ve chosen the game we wish to play, and we start to signal our intent.  We are making our first move, so to speak.  A lot of excitement again potentially, and a lot of potential for inner turmoil.  But the difference is we are now committed.  We are taking action, the ship is starting to move in a certain direction, although the path may not be completely known.  In this phase we might feel quite unsteady, some days we might feel like we’ve made great progress and other days maybe we feel we’ve gone backwards.  Our emotions will most likely be a mixed bag – there will be wins and successes as we start to make our moves, and there will be setbacks.  The choice of how we ultimately respond to these is up to us.

The Play Phase of Change

Play – in this phase we are all in.  We’re playing to win, to succeed, we’ve defined what success looks like.  We know the drill, we can handle the inconveniences that may come along the way.  Of the 4 cycles, this is the one that is the most stable.  The problem with the play phase is that sometimes we stay too long.  We may have a tendency to overplay our hand.  We might find ourselves eventually becoming bored, stagnant or lacking purpose or meaning in our endeavor.  Maybe we crash and burn.  But we hold on hoping the magic will come back.  Maybe it doesn’t need to come back.  Maybe it’s served its purpose and it’s time to move on.

The Fold Phase of Change

Fold – in this phase we cash our chips in and go home.  We reflect on our successes and triumphs, as well as the things we know we could have done better, and we grieve the loss of the game.  But the important point is that in any endeavor, the grieve stage will eventually exist.  It’s a rite of passage, where we say goodbye to the old, we allow ourselves to feel the sadness of the closure, even if we know it’s time to go.  Even if we were the one that resigned or stepped down willingly.  When we are at choice about when the game will actually end, this phase can often be the hardest.  We might say things like, “I just need to let this go.”  We’re often fighting feeling the sadness that is non-negotiable with this final phase.

We go through this cycle many times during our life.  And different parts of our life might be in different stages of the cycle.  My career might be in the play phase, while a key relationship might be in fold. 

Coaching questions for thought:

  • Which phases of the cycle of change are you currently experiencing right now?
  • Where might you be overplaying your hand?  Where might it make sense to think about folding?  How would that open up your life for something new?
  • If you’re in fold, how might you be avoiding the grief of this phase?  How would leaning into the feeling change your experience?
  • How would awareness of these 4 cycles change how you view the journey of change?

Shelley Pernot is a leadership and career coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and find a career that utilizes them.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!

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