After more than 15 years in the same office space, our company moved on June 1 into a completely different building. It was a big process, and a bigger change than most of us anticipated. One person that I chatted with regarding this change actually said he felt dizzy for the first few days just trying to get his bearings. No one knew where anything was or where anyone’s office was. Even finding the bathrooms was a subject of interest. Some people with offices now had cubicles. Those used to window seats may not have them anymore. Add to that the clutter of moving and it really did feel disorienting.
Coincidentally, the first day in our new office was the first day of many new things for me personally. I resigned my executive position, became a contract employee, cut my work hours to 50% and took public transit to work for the first time in my working life. In the time leading up to the first day of my “first retirement”, I had promised myself that I would enjoy the journey and accept the changes as they came at me.
My coach’s curiosity also kicked in, and I became deliberate about noticing what was going on internally for me, as well as really listening for what was going on for others. After two weeks of this exercise, here are some of the things I discovered, in the form of ways we might approach new situations.
- Prepare. We don’t see all new situations coming, so this isn’t always possible. But when we have advance warning this is important, and has two components. First, what preliminary actions can you take to get ready for the newness? In our building move, even though we couldn’t access our space we walked over to the building to get a feel for it and we reviewed the floor plans so we would have an idea where we would be and who would be near us. The second part is to acknowledge internally that change is coming, set the most positive image of the new situation in our mind that we can and tell ourselves that we are capable of handling everything that will inevitably come up.
- Slow Down. Both physically and mentally. New situations aren’t the best places to be rushing around. Think of getting up in the middle of the night in a dark hotel room. If we were at home we would confidently navigate our way through the furniture and other obstacles. In a hotel room we’re likely to slow down significantly and perhaps even feel our way with our hands before we move our feet. Same thing with any new situation. Acknowledge that things are different, and it is important to notice what is important and give ourselves time to process it.
- Explore. The beauty of being in the midst of something new is that we have never been there before. Channel your inner child and go check it out with that same sense of discovery and wonder! Keep that idea of “slow down” in mind and really have a look. Take a minute to pause when you come across something positive. Make notes of where the things will you need are. In our office move, it was important to know where TW sits as he is the sole source of peanut M&M’s J, but also the supply room, the printer, the boss, the men’s room, etc. It is also good to make note of any questions that come to mind as you go, and then go seek out answers to the questions as a part of your exploration.
- Lower Your Expectations. If you know about something new, this concept can be part of your preparation. If we think about it logically, when we are in the midst of a situation that we’ve never been in before, it isn’t likely that we will immediately be operating at our peak performance level. Give yourself a break and be satisfied with something less than your all-time best. One of the best bits of leadership advice I’ve ever heard is that what we want to get out of our people is 100% of what they have to give at that moment, and not expect peak performance all the time. I think this is a pretty good place to start! As you become familiar with how things work in this new place, your performance will naturally rise to, and may even surpass, previous personal bests.
- Repack Your Stuff. When we are in a new situation, it means we’ve moved – physically, metaphorically, or both. When we move homes, we take this as an opportunity to get rid of excess stuff. What if we did that here too? What if we were to look at everything we carry with us – things, attitudes, assumptions, etc. – and critically examine whether that will serve us in our new situation. This isn’t always easy, because we aren’t wired all that well for change. But if we can get honest with ourselves we can often spot some extra baggage that we would be better off without in the future. Here’s an example from my own journey to retirement. I realized that I had an assumption that my executive title was a part of my identity, and I wanted to keep it with me. But it really served no purpose in my future vision, and it became more important to me that I find peace with leaving it behind to make room for other priorities.
- Look For Hidden Advantages. This is also about managing change in our lives. Often when we have change pressed upon us, we see all of the negative first and then after a while we start to notice that some new things that we might like are beginning to emerge. What if we consciously decided to look for these hidden advantages right up front? There are always some! Here’s an example from my transition. I gave up my downtown parking spot and so I take the train to work now. If I look at it from the negative side, I’ve given up my freedom of having my car, I’m now on the transit schedule, I can’t listen to my favorite radio station and it isn’t as comfortable. But I’ve already found things that I really enjoy about it. I read on the train, and that is either relaxing or gets me a head start on my work day. Because of some of the associated logistics I have to be more organized, which helped me organize which days I go to the office and which I work from home. It also helped we “repack my stuff” in that I discovered that I had always had a deep feeling that I could do more for the environment and this was really feeling good to me.