Stop your pushin’ & let it go.

I was taught that I had to work hard to achieve my goals. My father said, “Always finish what you start”. So, that’s what I did. Also, I learned that hard work will be rewarded with raises and possibly promotions. And being a hard and committed worker, that’s what I did throughout my career. But it seemed that the hard work in our society was based upon a model of competition and scarcity. When I worked under this model I was often anxious and fearful, since I worried about not achieving my goals and not earning enough money. Most of us know that when we suffer from too much stress because we are fearful of the outcomes, then we actually don’t produce the highest quality product and we don’t enjoy the overall process. Over time I began to realize that I had to change my thinking, that there must be a better way.

The better way involved in seeing the world as full of abundance and possibilities. Also, that it is fine to work hard and to have goals, but I now needed to “let go” of the outcome. Not meeting someone’s expectation was no longer my primary motivator. I learned to let go of what I thought someone else wanted. Letting go was very freeing! Most of the stress and anxiety I felt was tied up in an expected outcome. And sometimes that outcome may have been unrealistic, which I attribute to being slightly perfectionistic. Had to let go of that one, for sure.

So, now I still work hard, but let go of the end-result and realize that I’ll give it my best…and that’s good enough. I have faith that the outcome may morph into something that’s even better than what I originally anticipated. I now focus on being present to the process. I now let the outcome unfold in a more relaxed and organic manner, rather than forcing it. And now, I’m not as stressed and fearful as I once was, but calm and in the moment, letting the fruits of my labor manifest in surprising ways.

Please let me know what you think.

Greg Sievers

New Beginning – Phase 3 of Transitions

Finally (after FAR TOO LONG in the neutral zone!), a new beginning emerges. It can be a “Eureka!” moment, or so slow that you don’t even detect it until it’s underway and you look back and see the pattern. Or it can be somewhere between those two extremes. This process is equally true for groups as well as individuals.

A new beginning is the third and final phase of a transition, which is the emotional adjustment to an external change. The first phase is letting go of the old; the second phase is the “neutral zone” (these are explained in greater detail in prior blogs). One very important point to remember: these 3 phases are NOT through sequential, one pass through and you’re done. They overlap and can iterate. A person can have twinges of letting go even after they have discovered their new beginning, or they can doubt that the new beginning is right for them (neutral zone).

If you have done the difficult work of the neutral zone, a new beginning is just that. It is a new way of being, a new way of doing, a new identity. When I was promoted from programmer/analyst to manager of programmer/analysts, it took me a while to get used to being a manager – to the expectations, the rhythm of the new position. Turns out I really enjoyed managing more than programming. I tried programming again a few years later just to see if I still could. I could, but I no longer enjoyed it.

One hallmark of a new beginning is the way it “just feels right.” Typical comments include, “This was just meant to be,” and “It is so obvious! Why didn’t we see this before?” A new beginning creates new energy and excitement. A new beginning opens up new possibilities, new ways of accomplishing things. It can reflect new values, a new understanding about how the world works. A profound new beginning is a life-changing experience – a person or group does not want to return to the old way ever again!

Sometimes one new beginning is the stepping stone to others, a first step on a pathway of continued growth and contribution, of being more authentic to who you are being called to be.

However, if you have not done the necessary work in the neutral zone, if you have not had the courage and patience to endure the uncertainty and lack of productivity that characterizes the neutral zone, the new beginning might be a dead end, or the old situation with a new face. The neutral zone is the price to be paid for a good new beginning.

What has been your experience with new beginnings?

Gary Langenwalter

If it ain’t bringin’ you joy, then find something that does!

I spent my entire career in Corporate America. I did that because I needed to put food on the table for my family. I spent much of my time in Information Technology (IT) because I enjoyed it, always learning something new, and it paid well. And I was motivated; I had to earn money to support my family. I’m the primary bread-winner and that’s my job. It’s trap that many of us fall into where I had to do well, climb that career ladder and increase my earning power. After a while on the Corporate gerbil-wheel, I found that I wasn’t having fun anymore and had lost sight of what provided me joy!

Once I retired (or at least semi-retired since I do still like to work), I discovered that the work that I love to do….is coaching and facilitation. Which is not work to me, since it’s fun to do and I get to use my gifts, my strengths …. which in turn brings me great joy! I just love to help other people. I derive great pleasure in helping them find their own insights. Insights about their life and career. I had to go on my own journey to rediscover my passion and joy, in order to help others.

I love music, drumming circles and dance. I had suppressed those passions for many years, as I was focused on earning a living and raising my family. But there is something very primordial hearing the drum beat that just causes my body to move and dance. It’s instinctual. A gut reaction. I’m in touch with the inner child who has no pretense and does not dance to please, but only to relate to my own soul’s desires. And my soul wants to dance, my soul needs to dance….and that, my friends, give me JOY!

So, I ask you….what gives you joy? What gifts do you have that have been suppressed for all these years? How can you reconnect with those gifts? Can you create a hobby which gives them voice? Is it possible that you could begin to pursue the activities that give you joy and continue to earn a living? And please think about this….pursuing your joyful activities will help you reconnect with your soul, your inner child, and this will significantly contribute to your life, family and career!

Please drop me a note and let me know what you are doing to pursue joy!


Neutral Zone – Phase 2 of Transitions

Confused! Rudderless! No sense of purpose! Can’t do (or remember) anything! That’s how the Neutral Zone feels. The neutral zone occurs after an ending, a letting go. Neutral zones run on their own time – one cannot predict when (or how) they will be replaced by a new beginning. However, neutral zones are absolutely required to have a successful transition – successfully leaving an old way of being behind and embracing a new one.

The neutral zone can be understood in 3 different ways. It can be a time of:

1. Emotional reorganization – one’s psyche is busy re-examining all past experiences, knowledge, feelings, etc., and trying to come up with a different way to organize them, because the old way of organizing, of “being”, is now gone. So most of one’s energy, or bandwidth in computer terms, is going to this reorganization. That means there is not as much available to focus on anything else.

2. Inner healing – healing from whatever loss was incurred in the letting go. The deeper the loss, the deeper the healing required.

3. Re-tooling – trying new things, developing new capabilities, getting ready for whatever new beginning will eventually occur.

All ancient cultures have stories of a hero(ine) leaving a place of certainty and going on a journey into the unknown – wandering through a wilderness, discovering friends and foes, learning who he/she is through those experiences. They eventually emerge as a more powerful being. Christian tradition contains two obvious examples of this: 1) Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness as he started his ministry, and 2) after Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday (ending), on Holy Saturday the disciples were utterly lost, not knowing what to do or where they would go (neutral zone). Jewish tradition has three: 1) Abraham leaving Ur and journeying to a new place (he didn’t know where), 2) Joseph being sold into Egypt and undergoing tribulation there, and 3) the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years after they leave Egypt.

One excellent analogy for the neutral zone is a lobster or crab – after they have outgrown their old shell and shed it, they hide under a rock for a few days until their new shell hardens. During that waiting period, they are much more vulnerable. That’s equally true of a person in the neutral zone – they are much more vulnerable. Here are 5 ideas for coping with being in the neutral zone:

1. Recognize that it is natural, and normal. I first learned about neutral zones when I was in the middle of one. I was so relieved to understand that this is a normal process for human growth.

2. Let go of as much expectation as possible – allow yourself time to wander, to wonder, to do nothing. Allow yourself to make mistakes, to be distracted. Pretend you’re taking a medication that warns “may cause drowsiness – do not operate heavy machinery”. Refrain, where possible, from making irrevocable large decisions.

3. Be gentle with yourself, and deliberately choose to be around people and in environments that will support you during this time. Likewise, intentionally avoid people and environments that require more than you can currently give.

4. Have the courage to remain in the neutral zone until the new beginning does occur (and yes, it does take courage). Think of other times in your life when you’ve been in a neutral zone, and remember that a new beginning occurred each time. Therefore, a new beginning will occur for this one as well. The neutral zone can be viewed as a faith journey. Trying to force the neutral zone to end before its time is naturally up can be very harmful.

a. One can try to go back to the “old way” – forsaking the growth and blessings that the new (as yet undiscovered) way will provide.

b. One can forcefully create a new beginning, but it won’t be the one that “should” occur, and it probably won’t work very well.

5. Journal, so you can learn from your journey and share your journey with others.

The motto for a neutral zone: “This, too, will pass. That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

What additional ideas would you like to share with me? What has worked best for you when you’ve been in a neutral zone? What have you tried that didn’t work so well?

Next week’s blog: New Beginnings

Gary Langenwalter

Letting Go – the 1st phase of transition

Last week I outlined the 3 phases of transition: 1) Letting Go, 2) the Neutral Zone, and 3) New Beginnings. These phases are overlapping and sometimes iterative, depending on the depth of attachment to the situation/identity which is being left behind.

Letting go has 2 major aspects: loss and uncertainty:

1. Loss. A loss of what was, and what could have been. A closing of a door, precluding any opportunity to rectify mistakes, to offer a brilliant insight, to… Where there has been serious attachment, the person or group can go through the 5 stages of grief identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: 1 denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance. Example – the workers at the Carrier plant in Indiana who have been told that their jobs are being off-shored.

Even when the change is “good”, such as a promotion, a person or group still needs to let go of the old. This can sometimes be more difficult, because the person or group might not understand why they are having mixed feelings about the new opportunity.

Unfortunately, our culture tends to view people and groups as resources to be deployed, ignoring the psychological processes necessary to adapt to change. Compounding the difficulty, each individual, each group, grieves and lets go differently.

2. Uncertainty. As a person or group lets go of the old, they face uncertainty about what to do in their new capacity. Questions and doubts abound and multiply. How will they learn to function in this new role? Will they succeed? There can be an underlying fear of failure. One example is people adapting to a new information system – they have to use the new system, which they are not yet expert at. Facing uncertainty requires courage; it is far easier to cling to the old way.

If a person or group does not let go emotionally, they remain stuck in the past and compromise their ability to function effectively.

Some ways to let go include:

· Honoring each other

· Celebrating accomplishments and relationships

o Most humorous experiences (“Remember when that experiment caught on fire?”)

· Identifying and recording “lessons learned”

· Creating the space for members to commit to future mutual support and/or communication

· Allowing time to grieve, and allowing each person to grieve in their own way

· Talking things out with a trusted co-worker, friend, or professional (e.g. life coach, LCSW, pastor…)

What have you learned about letting go, either by personal experience or by watching others? What has helped you let go? What has hindered the process?

Next week I’ll cover the Neutral Zone.

Gary Langenwalter

3 Phases of Change – Transitions

There are many models of change, including Kotter’s 8 steps and ADKAR. But the one I like best comes from Bill Bridges, Ph.D. Bridges differentiates between the external change (for example, a promotion, or replacing an old low-tech product line with a new high-tech one, or getting married) and what he calls a “transition” – the internal alignment to that external change. That alignment process, which works for groups and individuals, has three overlapping, and sometimes repeated, phases:

1. Ending

2. Neutral Zone

3. New Beginning.

Let’s explore each of these in more detail.

1. Ending. An ending is the letting go of the old. Reactions to endings can range from “We thought it would never end!” to “We’ll never let go!” and all points in between. No matter the reaction, the ending has to occur before much else can happen. If it doesn’t, people remain stuck in the past. I’ll cover Endings in more depth next week.

2. Neutral Zone. The Neutral Zone is uncertainty on steroids. A person or group in a neutral zone can’t seem to focus on much of anything. They have trouble doing routine tasks and have no energy. This is because their old organizing principle has ended but the new one has not yet formed. Being in the neutral zone requires courage and compassion, because people are typically uncomfortable with uncertainty. I’ll cover Neutral Zone in more depth in 2 weeks.

3. New Beginning. This is when the new foundation/organizing principles become clear. This can occur in a flash of inspiration, or so slowly that the person or group doesn’t even know it’s happening until they look back a while later. Energy and focus and abilities return. I’ll cover New Beginnings in 3 weeks.

When a person or group is moving through a transition, a wise leader lowers expectations of productivity and creativity, and increases the allowance for mistakes. Otherwise, transitions can cause extreme stress to groups and individuals, with concomitant cost to the organizations.

I’d enjoy hearing about transitions that you’ve been through.

Gary Langenwalter

Well-Behaved Women

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History.” That’s equally true for well-behaved men. Our civilization has progressed only because some people are willing to step outside of socially acceptable behavior and/or generally accepted wisdom.

What gives a person the courage and the stamina to face down social norms, to be willing to pay the price of creating a new and better world? Because there will assuredly be a price – somebody is benefiting from the way things are right now, and they will do whatever they can to retain those benefits.

In his book Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer says that he started his life, like most of us, following the goals and values that other people had set for him. And he reaped wisdom from that process – the wisdom that those goals and values, no matter how noble, were not him. They were not his life. He finally had the courage to let go of the expectations that others had put on him, and to follow his inner leading – that still, small voice that is so easy to ignore in our noisy, frenetic lives. He learned to listen to his inner compass, to let his life speak. Then he started being himself – his unique gift of contribution that the world needed.

When a person lets their life speak, they are no longer primarily focused on being well-behaved. They are willing, and able, to be a voice for the truths that they know, and to invite others to also be true to their own individual callings.

What is the most important task of a leader? Perhaps, instead of worrying about making quotas and measurable goals, the most important task might be to help each person who is entrusted to that leader to have the courage to listen to their inner voice, to let their life speak.

Have you tried to listen to and follow your inner voice? What happened? I’d really appreciate hearing from you.

Gary Langenwalter

Handling Setbacks

Setbacks are the direct result of trying to make a difference. The bumper sticker “Well-behaved women seldom make history” is equally true for well-behaved men. The bigger your goals, the bigger the game that you’re playing, the bigger the setbacks you’ll experience.

So what do you do when your idea gets shot down?

How do you get the inner strength to pick up the pieces and keep on keeping on?

Simplistic answer: by taking the long view, and realizing that you’re not going to win every contest of wills.

Deeper answer: by re-grounding yourself in your “why”. Why, at the deepest level, are you trying to reach your goal? Your answer to that question is your call – the fundamental reason you get up in the morning and keep on trying. Frederick Buechner said, “Your call is where your deepest gladness meets the world’s greatest need.” And since the world has so many great needs, I suggest that your call comes from your deepest gladness. What is it that you can’t stop doing? What do you keep on doing, no matter what? Have you ever asked yourself why you do it? That’s your call, your “why”.

I create puns (a few of which are actually pretty decent!) and interject humor frequently. Why? Because I want the world to be a joyful place, where people laugh and get creative. My call is for everybody to have a rich, full, rewarding life, and to treat each other with respect.

So, what’s your call? And how are you living that out day to day? (Because that’s the only place you’ll get to make it real – in your day-to-day life.) I’d truly enjoy hearing from you. Please e-mail me your call, and how you live it, at gary. I promise to respect your privacy, and if you’d like to engage in a dialogue, I’ll be glad to respond.

May your holiday season be joyous.

Gary Langenwalter

Gary Langenwalter

Portland Consulting Group

Coaching . Wisdom . Results



Embracing Opposites

I’m an ENFP. One of the senior leaders at a client is an ISTJ. That makes working together very “interesting” – the way in which I naturally interact, the way in which I typically make decisions seems to be the “right way” but Katie thinks and decides and works in a very different manner. Thus, working with each other takes a lot more conscious effort than working with a person with a style similar to my own.

It would be so easy to make her “wrong” for the way in which she operates. But that would not be fair to her, or to the organization.

Instead, we choose to understand that we are both completely committed to the organization’s mission, and to appreciate the gifts and talents that we each bring. And, based on that, we recognize that the two of us together make a powerful team. When we’re working well together, we have each other’s back. Me – I’m a visionary and possibility person. Katie’s a “do it now”, results-oriented person. I need her viewpoint and her task orientation so that the teams will move forward. She needs my vision and questions and possibilities to keep heading in the right direction. So I truly value her, BECAUSE she is so different.

Yes – it’s a lot of work. But it is definitely worth it – my life is richer because of working with her, and the organization is much better served by our collaboration.

By contrast, the 4 principals of a fledgling consulting organization had the same personality profile. In fact, that’s what attracted them to work together – they were very comfortable with each other. For months, they dreamed and talked and created and dreamed and talked and created, basking in the freedom to do what was truly important without a taskmaster forcing them to meet deadlines. But after a year, they realized that they not only had no clients, they had no prospects! Since there was not a results-oriented person in that team, they eventually dissolved.

What has been your experience in working with a person with a completely opposite type? Is a mix of divergent personality types required for an organization to be vibrant to succeed?

Gary Langenwalter

Wisdom – Worth More Than Gold!

Most decisions in organizations are made (or at least are purported to be made) based on logic. And while logic is absolutely necessary, it is not sufficient to assure good decisions and therefore successful results. Logic ignores the deeper truths that wisdom incorporates.

What is wisdom? How does it work? Wisdom comes from your inner being, your gravitas. It can be a still small voice which draws on experience and integrates that experience with knowledge. “It can reflect a deep understanding that incorporates tolerance for the uncertainties of life as well as the ups and downs.” (Psychology Today) It takes the long view and provides a sense of balance.

Wisdom understands a connection with other individuals, organizations, and our earth. It values intangibles, such as beauty, harmony, and joy, which logic cannot measure and therefore excludes.

Wisdom understands that the world is not binary, not either on or off. It embraces nuance and multiple (potentially competing) perspectives. “Wise people specialize in what Roger Martin calls integrative thinking – ‘the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads’ – and reconcile them for the situation at hand.” (Psychology Today)

Wise people seek to understand, rather than judge. Instead of immediately criticizing, they ask “why” and listen, then work with the other person to understand underlying causes (which they then seek to remedy).

Wise people focus on their purpose in life even if that means putting their personal happiness on the back burner for a little while.

Wise people have a much greater impact on their organizations, their communities and society than smart people or otherwise “successful” people. They make a difference in people’s lives. And isn’t that, ultimately, what life is all about?

I welcome your feedback and comments.

Gary Langenwalter