How To Be Thrown Into The Fire And Not Get Burned: Stepping Into A New System Successfully

Golden Nugget: Having a guide help you step through the fire (the new system) makes transitioning into something new easier.

Life periodically demands more of us. We start a new job and feel like we don't know how to do what's asked of us. We get assigned to a high performing team and struggle to understand where we fit. We decide to eat at home more and don't know how to cook. These are situations that ask us to step into a larger system.

When we step into a larger system, a shift happens in our lives and a whole new world opens up that challenges us to think and live in new and different ways. A perfect example of this is the school system.

We start out in kindergarten, where the demands placed on us are minimal. Play, have a snack, take a nap, be back home by noon. Then we enter first grade, and the system demands more of us. Stay at school a little longer, keep our things in a cubby.

We enter middle school and the demands are upped again; we have our own locker, we move from class to class. Then high school comes and we get to pick some of our classes. We get to leave campus for lunch, we play on a sports team or are in a club.

College comes around and we step into an even bigger system with more demands. We have to sign up for all of our classes. There is no bell for class, books aren't given to you, you have to track your own progress, and if you don't step up the system will exclude you. 

Each year school throws us into a new fire. We are expected to know more and do more, and the process continues once we get out of school, except the transitions rarely happens as structured and neatly as they did before. We are presented with new challenges and demands that we may not know how to fulfill or live up to, and there may not be a nifty how-to book to offer us direction on stepping up and leaning into the larger system. The potential for getting burned increases.

The question becomes, how do we step into that larger system, the fire, and not get burned?

As someone who “escorts” people into the larger system (I can hear the snickers from here), I have noticed three main ways we can step into a bigger world. The first way is we can simply get tossed into it; the equivalent of being pushed into a pool without knowing how to swim. Another example is if you are in a catastrophic accident and find yourself in the hospital (I don't wish this on anyone and it happens). Our introduction to the healthcare system and our subsequent health issues are not planned nor welcomed. It just happened; now we have to manage it.

The second way we step into the larger system is with the help of a mentor or a guide; someone who has been there, done that and lights the path forward. The school systems we grew up in were designed to slowly place bigger demands on us – to, hopefully, tenderly lead us into the next system. We had people light the way: older students set examples, teachers set boundaries, and guidance counselors were available if we seemed particularly stuck.

The final way to transition to the larger system - and my personal favorite - is kicking and screaming. For me, that usually involves looking up at the sky, shaking my fist, and yelling, “You can’t make me!” So far, every time, life has made me. I have noticed this pattern isn't unique to me. Often, when we are tasked with stepping into a larger system, we aren't sure of the path before us. We maybe a little scared of what it holds for us. Fear and resistance have long been my constant companions on the road to the larger systems. The reality is, we are probably going to have to step into that larger system anyway.

I may be a world class kicker and screamer, but I have learned to prefer the smooth transition that accompanies stepping into the larger system with a guide. The key to stepping into something new and not getting burned (or at least not as much), is to get the help of someone who has done it before you, who can help show you the way.

I often think back to the words of Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera. As they were preparing to play in the super bowl a few years ago, he said, “If you haven’t been there, don’t draw me a map.” Well, friends, I have been there. Trapped between systems with no one to show me how to gracefully transition to the next larger place. I have enough experience doing it the hard way for both of us.

My journey of kicking and screaming has taught me to value and appreciate when others can guide me through the transition I am facing, Here, in the Gold Mine, I hope to do that for you by sharing golden nuggets that allow you to step into the larger system with grace and ease.

Until next week, may you be surrounded by all the llama llove you can handle.

Tomi Llama