8 Universal Elements to Successful Transitions

I have the privilege of getting calls from people who are going through an important transition – typically in their professional life, but not always – and are looking for the support of a coach. These range from early-career promotions into management and/or leadership; mid-course “corrections”; founding a new entity; and designing the later or last chapters of a career. I absolutely love working alongside these clients to help them be incredibly smart about how they move forward. And it will surprise exactly no one that an important part of that work isn’t just about intelligence and strategy, it’s also about deep self-knowledge.

In the coming months, I’m going to unpack some of the most valuable advice I can offer for each of these stages, but for now, as we in the northern hemisphere transition from the season of vacations to one of [typically] more serious work-focused energy, I’m sharing some of the universal elements of successful transitions.


#1 - Know Thyself

It’s important to be ruthlessly honest with yourself about what you love to do, what you truly don’t like to do, what you’re great at, and what you hope to learn or achieve. Where do you soar? What kind of environment or person brings out your best? For example, if you are great at delivering for other people, but can’t seem to get off the starting block on your own projects, maybe you’re not an entrepreneur, but rather a great member of a team. Know that, and play to your strengths.

#2 - Face Fear

We all have fears. However, if we don’t name them and tame them, they own us. If you want to transition to a job, relationship, or location, it’s critical to acknowledge theories we have about ourselves or others that may be blocking the way. Once you’ve done this, the work becomes about debunking those theories and moving forward with resolve.


Can my current habits carry me to my desired future?

James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits

#3 - Ask Smart Questions

Be informed about where you may want to go. Ask people in the know. (Don’t rely solely on search engines). Ask good ones of yourself (see above), and be detective-like about where you may be headed. When I lecture graduate students about their next career steps, I advise them to get as much insight as possible from people who have real experience in the companies, sectors or countries where they think they may be headed. The good news is, the older one gets, the broader the network and thus potential sources of information.

#4 - Take Small Steps Every Day

This is another place where small actions and habits (shout out to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits) become our best ally. It can feel like an insurmountable mountain to climb if you are looking to make a big change or take a leap. Doing a couple of things every day and every week – having meetings, doing research, working on your business plan, exercising, dating, you name it – adds up to momentum and the moment of lift-off.

#5 - Request Feedback - and listen

Talk to people who know you well. Ask them what they think. This is not about group-think or collective decision making, it’s about letting the people who can be honest with you regarding where you shine, or where they see you struggling, to help you see things clearly. When I started Heyman Partners (9 years ago!) a dear friend from graduate school took me out to lunch to celebrate. When I started to describe what I was going to be doing he sat back, crossed his arms, smiled and said “Ah, all things to all people. I see nothing’s changed.” Ouch! But he was right. I realized that I need to really focus my work, hone my description, and find my true unique value proposition. The lunch, and feedback, were the treat and the kick I needed.


#6 - If Not Now, When (Carpe Diem)

Knowing when to transition is key. Just this week, another dear friend, and former professor of mine, very kindly noted that she’s admired my ability to make changes in my personal and professional life at what seemed to be just the right times for me. First, things always look better on the outside. Second, she was in fact onto something. I noted that I have a low threshold for unhappiness, boredom or feeling like I’m not doing something useful. When this happens, I get enough information to feel like I can move into the unknown. Finding your sweet spot on that continuum will help you seize the moments when they present themselves.

#7 - Create Systems for Accountability

If you don’t have a coach (insert wink here) find a person or small group of people who can help you be accountable for moving towards your dream or goal. Give them permission to bug you, to encourage you, to ask you how things are going, and to offer solicited feedback. If you are a people pleaser, you won’t want to let them down. If you’re more of a lone ranger or DIYer, it will provide you with a good sounding board.

#8 - Have a Sense of Humor

Speaks for itself! Try to enjoy the journey. Laugh at yourself once in a while. Know that most things can be adjusted, reversed or retooled if necessary.


By no means are these the only elements that are integral in your life transitions, but they are absolutely the building blocks to a solid foundation for a more satisfying future!

Stayed tuned for more on this in the coming months…