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Dream Big, Start Small, Act Now

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

By Jodi Paloni

The only thing better than facing challenging life transitions with intention, is meeting them head-on with a room full of equally excited people confronting similar, yet unique, developing edges. You realize there is nothing to be afraid of. You’re part of an ever-growing “in” crowd.

Last spring, on the brink of turning fifty, I’d just about finished my coaching certification program at the Gestalt International Study Center, ready to start a new career after 25-years of teaching. My partner and I were recently engaged to be married, his father needing more and more care six hours away in Pennsylvania. If those weren’t enough transitions for one plate, we found ourselves shocked by news that I would become a grandmother by winter. Did I mention we had decided to put our house in Vermont on the market to move closer to the ocean?

As conditions gathered for the perfect storm, I received an e-mail invitation from GISC to attend a program called The Next Phase: Life Strategies for Navigating Personal and Professional Transitions. It took me about sixty-seconds to sign up.

But this four-day workshop turned out to be far more than a short-course in strategies for moving forward. Instead, I was asked to take stock of where I resided presently (emotionally, physically, mentally) in my life, by engaging in a creative exploration of the past that led me there. What struck me, as I spent time alone, remembering and sketching a pictorial view of “The Experiences That Shaped Me,” then shared my discoveries in a small group, was the tendency I had to assign meaning and value to particular memories. Water as part of place was definitely a factor. Surprisingly, the role my three grandmothers played in shaping my character emerged in great proportions compared to some other events such as travel and education.

The group sharing was powerful. When it was my turn to talk, I heard new ideas about my life coming from my own mouth before I had a chance to think them.  More important, in the careful listening to others’ stories, I found resonance with the meaning in their lives, again and again. The model of participatory learning fueled my growth whether it was my story on the table, or not. When others spoke, I gleaned aspects of myself that had not yet emerged. The experience was mutual. My excitement in this realization confirmed my passion for courageous conversation, supporting my new career path as coach.

The beauty of the GISC workshop model schedule is that there is loads of “free time” built into each day. A long walk on the beach at lunchtime to think about what my grandmothers mean to me, to dream about the kind of grandmother I want to become, for example, became invaluable for the integration of the morning material. The calming presence of the sea settled deep in my bones, substantiating my growing need to locate closer to water. My questions were complex, my style creative. The intricate all-encompassing design of the course met my need to immerse in a composite of experiences. Down time scheduled after morning work established energy for fresh work in the afternoons.

Mining the past readied me for “Mapping My Current Life” a visual memoir of the present. In activating the right side of the brain, the theoretical voice in the head, the part of the brain that thinks linearly, the voices that have solidified my default script all of these years, would be sidestepped temporarily to allow the true story to manifest from the sub-conscious.

I found my map resembling three over-lapping cloud shapes to represent my three roles in life: woman, mother, professional. The size of each cloud, unplanned, bore significance. I noticed the spaces marked mother and professional were diminished more than if I had made the map a few years back, when a single mother in a full-time career, allowed for little room for space me as a woman. Yet, when a large green triangle block signifying money appeared on the paper, spearing my professional “cloud,” I could see that it was time for growth as a professional to, once again, be considered as significant part of the future. Fortunately, the workshop allowed for process time to view the work, make connections, generate meaning, and use what I now understood about my overall journey to “Envision the Future.”

Getting back to the script I’d played in my head until now, The Next Phase workshop offers a powerful opportunity to challenge those loud-mouthed demons, the voices in our heads, that tell us why we can’t be or have or do what we want in our futures, the voices that keep us small. Instead of moving forward with our new ideas and plans, we were asked first to pause, to take the much needed time to validate the presence of negative thoughts and degrading influences. How might the past stand in our way?

Up to this point in the workshop, we’d used visual pictorial learning modalities and the more conventional communication skills to engage the curriculum. Now we found ourselves up on our feet, fully immersed in a potent role-playing session, in which we could, literally, “break-through the self-talk” and re-construct the messages we’d prefer to hear.

I’d attended three transition retreats, earned a master’s degree and a coach certification in the past three years from various institutions and centers with the purpose to discover my calling for the third phase of life, hone a purpose, see the clear path. I’d heard inspirational speakers, received one-on-one coaching sessions, made collages, read books, wrote in reams, and listened to self-help tapes. I had even worked with a clairvoyant who comforted me by confirming things I already sensed about myself. But it wasn’t until I was surrounded by a circle of new friends, comrades who held a sincere desire to support each other’s dreams and visions, who spoke the words that would not hold me by my ankles, but words that would lead me forward, that I felt clear-minded in my vision. With clarity, I bought in.

Recently my younger daughter purchased a digital camera that requires knowing how to use a lens. I stood beside her as she received instruction on the basics of aperture. My experience of The Next Phase was just that. Over the four-days, I scanned the landscape of self. I studied the background and honed the foreground until a figure emerged and became the point of interest. And like in the well-made photographs I favor, the focal point in a scene or a portrait becomes more notable when the landscape informs its position in the piece.

On the final day, I reviewed the overall composition of my vision once more, a “fattening of the figure” and developed an action plan, which included tangible and deliverable actions for achieving SMART goals. In a nutshell, the overall strategy I took away from the weekend, in the words of our facilitator, was this… “dream big, start small, act now.”

In writing this, I have spread before me the maps I made, the notes I took, the poems and journal entries crafted beside the sea, and the list of the seventeen participants in my cohort. It was difficult to say good-bye to a group that shared so deeply and generously, and the feeling of support we held for one another. I’m certain that if any one of them was to stop and think of me today, it would be with only the best intentions for my success and happiness, just as I think of them.

As for my plan, to believe in the gifts I developed and the dreams I’ve created and to offer them to grandbabies and the whole wide world alike, I’m working on it, step-by-step, every day, a little closer to the past, the present, and the future.

Gestalt International Study Center
P.O. Box 515, South Wellfleet, MA 02663
Phone: +1 555 123 4567