Every transition ends with a new beginning

Anne Hunter

For most of my life, I wished for one thing – more time. That, and thinner thighs.

In 2016, I got my first wish. The ed-tech startup company I’d worked for abruptly closed, bumping the entire team to the unemployment curb. In hindsight, the sudden shutdown was a rare and wonderful gift.  

It gave me a year to remodel my kitchen and my life. (The kitchen’s still not done.) I took time to sleep, read, explore, discover, reflect, study French, travel, visit family, rekindle relationships, network with fascinating people, be present, give back, convene, become politically informed, make art with the kids next door, run the lakes, curl, cook from scratch, decaffeinate, floss, and yes, apply for jobs.

Oh, so many jobs. Here’s what I learned during this forced sabbatical:

Strangers are willing to give away what they don’t have. Hundreds of people, most with overbooked calendars, carved out time to meet with me just because I asked. They listened, encouraged, introduced me to colleagues and friends, and inspired me with their personal stories. I am so grateful for their generosity!

Short breaks are restorative and prolonged breaks, demoralizing. I was grateful for the first nine months, restless during the next three, and downright depressed, in a Woody Allen sort of way, when I rolled through the one-year stop sign.

Every transition begins with an ending. And every transition ends with a new beginning. I can’t take credit for this little gem. It’s lifted from William Bridges’ seminal book, Transitions. Despite my desire to power though the transition period, it has a pace of its own. There’s no rushing it.

I eat when I’m stressed. Being in transition is stressful, even when it’s going according to plan. I gained roughly a pound a month. That’s not something they tell you at the Workforce Center.

Sometimes you have to step back to move forward. This is especially true when pivoting to a new sector. I took my lead from Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg, who left a senate chief of staff job to move into the tech sector, first in a line role at Google and eventually as COO of Facebook.    

Don’t believe the experts. One executive search consultant described me as a “corporate type who suddenly got religion and decided to go into nonprofits,” depriving worthy nonprofit candidates of opportunities they deserved. As someone who’s been involved in nonprofits my entire life, I was shocked at this limited depiction and the guilt that accompanied it. I chose to ignore it.

You don’t succeed because you have no weaknesses. You succeed because you find your unique strengths and focus on developing habits around them. So says Tim Ferriss, author of Tribe of Mentors. His words helped me refine my personal narrative as a community builder.  

A solid support system turns grief into grace. My husband Scott cheered me on at every opportunity and offered consolation every time a big one slipped away. Friends and family did the same. They believed in me even when I doubted myself. That made all the difference.

Meditation helps. I’m the last one to drink the woo-woo Kool-aid but I’ve become a convert. Call it prayer, mindfulness or consciousness training, the simple habit of calming the mind brings clarity to the journey and peace to the body. To quote my Grandpa Hunter, “God doesn’t care how you get there. Just choose a path and walk it.”

Sabbaticals are a privilege. Not everyone has the luxury to sit out a year. I’m immensely grateful for the untethered time, even as I wished for it to be over. It’s was a precious, fleeting gift.

I ended this transition with a new beginning – the relaunch of my 18-year-old strategy consulting firm. In its new iteration, HunterSage for Nonprofits broadens its services beyond marketing and narrows its focus to nonprofits, social enterprises and public-sector clients. The goal remains the same: building thriving communities. Thinner thighs will have to wait for the next transition.    

Anne Hunter