Author | Transition Researcher
Bruce Feiler is an American writer and television personality. He is the author of 15 books, including Council of Dads, a book that describes how he responded to a diagnosis of a rare cancer by asking a group of men to be present in the lives of his young daughters. His latest work explores the power of life stories. Drawing on interviews with Americans in all 50 states, he offers strategies for coping with life's unsettling times in his new book, Life Is In The Transitions, published in May 2020. Informed by the sifting and coding of life story interviews across America, Feiler examines what gives our lives meaning. Adam Grant called the book, one of "The 20 New Leadership Books for 2020”.
In our conversation, we speak about the notion of anytime life transition, how resilience might be the wrong attribute to have during transitions, the three phases in a transition, the power of stories in navigating transitions and much more. In a world where the rate of transitions we all will go through is increasing by the day, this conversation is a goldmine of insights that could help us make sense of life and move forward with intention.
Published in Feb 2021.
Nuggets from the
The Power of stories
Bruce speaks about how he was leading a reasonably successful and predictable life till his 40s where he experienced multiple events that shook his world. He was diagnosed with an adult onset pediatric cancer (a 9-inch tumor in his femur), his father tried to take his life 6 times in 12 weeks, his father’s family business almost became bankrupt and his mother went through health challenges. He speaks about how he discovered the power of stories in healing his father’s situation and in making sense of what was going on. That eventually led him to pursue the life story project where he spoke to thousands of people and analyzed all the data with the management thinker Jim Collins and his team.
Happy Families and Agile Development
Bruce speaks about how families can learn from the Agile Development process and ensure that there is a ritual and a space for having a meaningful conversation around what is important to each member and find a way of addressing the issues given the ever changing context.
What is the shape of your story
Bruce speaks about how our stories often take different twists and turns that we don’t really anticipate beforehand. He speaks about how non-linear our lives have become and how life transitions are a skill that we all must master to go through this effectively.
Disruptors and Lifequakes
Bruce speaks about how his research led him to identifying 52 different disruptors that could change our life context across 5 categories – Relationships, Identity, Beliefs, Work and Body. He speaks about how his research suggests that we might go through a disruptor every 12-18 months and how one in 10 ends up being a lifequake. He speaks about how we end up spending half of our adult lives in transition without having any adequate training on how to deal with this.
Midlife to Whenever life transition
Bruce speaks about the notion that transitions happen to us all the time and not at a particular stage of life. He specifically talks about the limitations of the transition model espoused by Gail Sheehy who suggests that mid-life transitions often occur around late 30s and early 40s. He goes onto say that voluntary or involuntary transitions could happen at any time in our lives.
Make sense from scars (not wounds)
Bruce speaks about the criticality of not jumping too early into the process of meaning-making when we go through lifequakes. He says that only when we have completed the processs of transition and when the wounds have dried up are we in a position to weave a narrative through what we have been through.
Shape-shifting instead of resilience
Bruce speaks about how resilience as a term originates from the Industrial age where our lives where shaped by manufacturing and the paradigms around it. He says that it implies that we sprint back to the earlier status quo. He goes on to say that life and transitions are complex and we rarely go back to the old (as we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic). He urges us to think about shapeshifting instead. He speaks about how we could use lifequakes to rebalance our lives across 3 dimensions which he calls ABC (Agency, Belonging and Cause)
Three phases of a transition
Bruce speaks about the three stages of a transition (the long goodbye, the messy middle and the new beginning). He goes onto say that each one of us has a super-power in one of these three and are likely to be good at coping with that stage of the transition.
Taking a leap of faith
Bruce speaks about the criticality of taking the plunge after shedding our past to explore new possibilities. He links it to what we see in some of the greatest stories that have been told across religions. He goes onto say that growth actually occurs when we feel the discomfort when we go through change, much like how we build muscle when we go to a gym.
Role of money in transitions
Bruce speaks about how we live in world today where there is an opportunity for us to architect a life that is resonant with what matters to us. He urges to be more open about taking cuts in compensation in the short run for us to pursue what we really love.
Role of a Sounding Board/Coach
Bruce speaks about the role of a Coach/Sounding Board/Therapist in helping people through a transition. He speaks about how Coaches often help by participating in the process of co-narration (a term that comes from the world of social sciences).
In Summary - Playing to Potential
Bruce speaks about how we all need to recognize that there are no linear paths to success or glory or happiness. He urges us to deal with the wolf/ogre/wilderness to get past it and get to a meaningful place. He speaks about how we may not be able to reach our potential unless we become the hero of our own story.