Navigating Life’s Transitions with Julie Maloney

May 9, 2023 | Podcast

Life is a journey filled with changes and transitions that can be opportunities for growth and personal development. On this podcast, we talk about transitions with Executive Coach Julie Maloney who explains the three-step pattern that all transitions follow, and offers insights to help us navigate transitions like starting a family, retirement, or any other transition in life.

Aaron Kirsch: Hi, I’m Aaron Kirsch, Chief Client Advocacy Officer at GreenUp Wealth Management. Life is a journey filled with changes and transitions. While changes and transitions can be difficult, they can be opportunities for growth and personal development. On this podcast, we’re going to talk about navigating life’s transitions. 

Our special guest today is Julie Maloney. Julie has held talent leadership positions in Fortune 100 global companies, Big Four consulting and financial services firms, and technology companies. She is a professional executive coach who specializes in succession leader development and executive leadership transitions. 

She’s also a certified yoga instructor who is passionate about mindful breathing and movement to manage our stress responses and increase our ability to manage change. Welcome Julie! 

Julie Maloney: Thank you, Aaron. Excited to be here. Looking forward to the conversation. 

Aaron Kirsch: Well, I’m so glad you’re here with us Julie, and for full disclosure, we want you all to know that Julie is a client of GreenUp Wealth Management. Julie, life is always changing. Please tell us the difference between changes and transitions. 

Julie Maloney: We tend to use change and transition, those two words, interchangeably in common everyday language. But when you look at it in terms of personal growth and development, they actually are two different things. Change is an external event that happens. Transition is the internal psychological shift we have to make in order to adapt to that new change and be successful after that change. 

Change tends to happen quickly. It tends to be an event and is over fairly quickly. Transition happens over time. We adapt and shift our behaviors, our ways of thinking and operating, not as quickly as the event that happened. So think about, for example, getting married. We do spend a lot of money and time planning the wedding, but the wedding’s over in the blink of an eye. 

The marriage is a learning journey, and that’s just beginning, and it takes time to adapt to that new way of being in the world. 

Aaron Kirsch: So change is something that happens rapidly, transitions happen over time. How do they affect our lives differently? 

Julie Maloney: We collapse change and transition together, as we’ve said. And separating the two, even though they’re interdependent, is actually a helpful way to think about approaching their impact on us and how we can work with that. So first off, change is really hard. We know this as human beings. It tends first off to kick us out of our normal life and business as usual, and we’re often slow to realize that some of our old habits and ways of operating aren’t now as effective, are not giving us the results we want in this new post-change world. 

Secondarily, change is disorienting. Pre-change we know what to expect for the most part. We know how to get things done and how to get what we want without thinking too much. Post-change we can feel a little off kilter. We feel like we don’t quite have our footing. Some things work, some things don’t, and even what direction to head or what we can try next- we’re not quite sure exactly where to go. 

And finally, change can be something that we seek out, like finding a new job or finding a spouse, but it also could be something that finds us like losing a parent to illness or to death. So change is therefore sometimes things that we want and choose, and other times is things we don’t want. And it can make us feel like something got done to us that we didn’t want and that makes us feel bad and that we don’t have choice. 

But if we start to think about the transitions, and regardless however a change found us, we can remember that we always have choice in how we navigate that change, how we go through the transition. And what’s cool and helpful about that is whatever the change in any aspect of life, all transitions follow a common three step pattern. 

And when you know those steps, it normalizes the process. You know you’re not crazy or incompetent. You can better orient yourself and get a sense of direction- how to move forward. And you can start to enjoy the ride a little more and discover what this transition can teach you about growing as a human being, as a leader, as a parent, as a partner, and living more successfully in this post-change world. 

So those three steps, just to give you a quick overview, that all transitions go through are endings, learnings, and beginnings or ELB for short. 

Aaron Kirsch: That’s great. Let’s explore ELB for a moment, but also just to summarize, it seems like change can be something that we expect or is something that is sudden and we don’t expect. Whereas transitions are something we know are going to happen and we have time to prepare and work through. 

Julie Maloney: Well said. 

Aaron Kirsch: So let’s talk a little bit about ELB. The first one E is endings. Can you elaborate on that for us please? 

Julie Maloney: Yeah, we tend not to spend a lot of time thinking about endings in our culture, especially Western culture. We like to blow past that and go, “Okay, this is done. Now let me start thinking about the next steps in the future.” What we often forget is we are having to let go of something when something ends. 

So, for example, when you get married, you are letting go of your freedom and your independence and your ways of operating as an individual, single person to have this wonderful thing of being partnered to someone else. But you are losing something and so we forget to give ourselves a little time for grief and a little time to think about, “I have to let go of some things here and not try to keep operating the way I was before.” 

Aaron Kirsch: That’s great. And then L is learnings. Can you give us a little more explanation on learnings? 

Julie Maloney: When we let go of what we had before, we free up some space and some energy and some attention to actually pay attention to what might be the new things we need to do or what this new experience might be like. Sometimes this is called the neutral zone, but I find it’s not neutral. 

It’s actually a very sort of crazy open space that we’re not super comfortable with, where we’re having to adapt our behavior, our ways of thinking, learn what actually works well in the new situation we’re in versus applying old ways of operating. 

Aaron Kirsch: Great. And then B for beginnings. 

Julie Maloney: Beginnings. And by the way, all three happen simultaneously, which makes this a little crazy. But we’re experiencing them at different points along the way, and so beginnings are the part that gets us excited. It’s why we actually- if we chose this to get married or take a new job- it’s why we chose it, because we were excited about this new opportunity, this new journey, this new adventure. 

And it is the place where we get to dream about something better. So, transitions are step changing us to a better way of living or a next level or a next experience way of being in the world. 

Aaron Kirsch: That’s really interesting. That’s a great way of thinking of it. I love that. Endings, learnings, and beginnings. Julie, what are some major transitions we go through in life? 

Julie Maloney: There are so many. In fact, I think from my experience in working with thousands of leaders over the years, I really believe that there’s more transitions than there are steady states experiences in our lives, but we tend to think of them as one-offs. But if you just look at the life cycle of any of us as human beings, especially in Western culture: we go off to college, we get married or a partner, we start a family, we get our first big job, we buy our first house, we move to another city, we think about and step into retirement, we might get divorced along the way, we might lose a parent- all of these major shifts that happen in the course of a life are some of the transitions we can expect. To your point, we can be thinking ahead about what this experience might be like. 

What makes it harder, I think, in today’s world is these changes and transitions don’t always come in a particular order and/or in a step-by-step way, or even one at a time. So, a real simple example- I married for the first time when I was 35, and my husband had two daughters from his first marriage. So I became a wife and a mother at the exact same time. So we can go through multiple transitions and we have to juggle those and also reorient ourselves in multiple different ways. I’ve coached many leaders who have taken on a bigger job at their business at the same time they’re going through a divorce or their child’s going off to college, or if they’re a woman, they’re going through menopause. 

It’s infinite the opportunities that we have to be going through transition, so that can be really exhausting and especially if we’re not aware that we’re transitioning and giving ourselves grace for that, and if we’re not doing some intentional things like ELB or other practices that can help support us as we navigate to this new normal that we’re trying to create. 

Aaron Kirsch: I really like what you said there about how life- we think of it more as a steady state and not changing and transitioning all the time, but really life is more about transitions than it is about staying still. 

Julie Maloney: Yeah. And that’s why building some awareness and some muscles or practices around transitions is really helpful because you’re going to use them over and over again. And sometimes we don’t enjoy the experiences, but we know we can navigate them in that confidence that we have in ourselves, and trust makes it easier and actually helps us get through them faster. Sometimes we can’t, but a lot of times it helps us move to that future state we want. 

Aaron Kirsch: Julie, you mentioned a bunch of transitions there. Let’s just pick a couple. Let’s start with starting a family. What changes and transitions arise when you’re making that transition? 

Julie Maloney: We both know that’s a huge one. Let’s look at it through ELB. So, what’s ending is often a large degree of freedom. And I’ll just say time and money. We all know how expensive children are. And, and by the way, I’m making the assumption that we’re talking about starting a family is when you start to bring children into your life, not when you find your partner. 

There’s a lot of personal sacrifice for a greater good, which is your children. But there is a lot we give up. I recently heard Michelle Obama on her book tour talk about how her partnership with her husband has evolved over the years and when they first started having kids. Basically she says it in a very funny way- they wreck everything. 

So, basically all the freedom and time you had to work out and to spend time and go on dates with your partner or spouse- those things go out the window. So you really are having to let go of some things that were really important, that really often sustained your happiness and wellbeing for something bigger. 

So, there’s something to let go of there. Secondly, you have to learn how to be a parent, and there’s tons of books out there, but mostly we learn by doing. We do that as human beings and parenting as we all know- the playbook doesn’t always work. So, you usually have to do it faster than you’re ready. 

And the impact is big, even though you’re not necessarily sure what exactly to do. So, a simple example is try getting a new baby to sleep through the night. That’s high stakes because everybody is tired if that baby is not sleeping, and that just snowballs into other impacts in your life. 

So there’s that shift, learning as you’re going. 

And then finally you’re just starting to get a feel for this new beginning, and it’s not fully formed yet. So, what is this expanded picture of family and what’s my role versus my partner’s role or our extended family’s role? What are the tasks now that we have to take on and what are the stresses and joys that come with that, and how do we navigate that? So all three of those are a big part of the adjustments that people are making during that experience of starting a family. 

Aaron Kirsch: I remember when my daughter was about one month old, and my wife looked at me and said, are we ever going to sleep again? Yes, giving up sleep is huge. 

Julie Maloney: Exactly. And when you start to have the baby sleep through the night and you get rest, it’s a game changer for everybody. 

Let me also say that we humans experience and process the world predominantly through our brains. We like to think that our hearts are involved and they are, our bodies are involved, but really our brains are the meaning makers of our lives. 

So, to adapt this lived experience that we have, in this change, we first need to get our brains thinking differently. And as an executive coach, as someone that’s helped people and leaders learn, one of the best ways to do that is through questions. Questions open up new synapses in our brain, literally. 

So we start to lay down new tracks. And so to move more easily and effectively through transitions, one way we can do that is to start by asking ourselves what I call active reflection. We’re not just thinking and looking out the window, but we’re actually purposely trying to reflect. 

And the first is most important question is orienting yourself, which is, “Where am I in this moment?” and knowing if right now the ending feels really real, or learnings feel really real, or beginnings. That’s powerful because you kind of know what you’re dealing with versus feeling like you’re in the soup. 

And if it’s an ending, the additional questions you can ask yourself is, “What am I grieving or is there something I need to let go of?” in order to move forward. If it’s a learning moment, “What have I tried before here and what could I try differently right now?” And if it’s a new beginning moment, “What gets me happy or excited about this new picture of family, and how can I enjoy that a little more today?” So, it’s not always about slogging through the hard stuff, but actually just getting to pause and smell the roses while you’re on the journey. 

Aaron Kirsch: Sounds like there’s a bit of a delicate balance. You said use your brain to process things because that’s the way we perceive the world. It seems like this delicate balance between the emotional part of our brain and our rational, cognitive part of our brain. 

Julie Maloney: Yeah, it is, and it’s interesting because both are always operating. And especially in Western culture, we underestimate the power of our emotional side- we think we make rational decisions, but all the research out there is that 90% of our decisions are sort of intuitive, reflexive, based on old habits, not that we’ve sat down and rationally thought it all through. 

So, what I’m proposing here is use your brain intentionally versus your brain using you, bringing in some active reflection to help you think these things through. But then also, and this is why the endings are so important, and actually the beginnings, both tap into emotion. 

They both tap into, “What am I sorry that’s not here anymore and I’m really going to miss?” but also, “Where am I feeling joy and excitement and how can I leverage that too?” Actually I don’t think I’ve ever really thought this holistically about it. E, L, and B build in emotion so that we can balance the two, but you’re using questions to facilitate that. 

Aaron Kirsch: It seems like we’re using our logical part of our brain to acknowledge our emotions and accept those emotions and be good with it. 

Julie Maloney: That’s a great way to phrase it. I love that. Yes. 

Aaron Kirsch: Well, this is all great information, Julie. Thank you. Let’s transition our discussion to another transition in life. Let’s talk about the transition to retirement. What challenges do people making the transition from a lifetime of work to retirement face? 

Julie Maloney: I love this question because it is the question I’m living the most these days, though I’m not retiring anytime soon. I actually just met with my GreenUp advisor, who’s wonderful, and we did our financial planning and still have some runway for me. But where I feel I am right now is in pre-retirement. 

I am in those last five to eight years, preparing for that time where work and making an income won’t be a defining factor of my daily experience, so I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic, reading a lot, talking to a lot of colleagues and friends of mine as well as experts in the field. And what I can tell you is the process and the steps of endings, learnings and beginnings is still the same. 

What is particularly unique about this transition and challenging is the fundamental shift that happens in our identity. So, for better or worse, in Western modern society, we deeply intertwine our sense of who we are with being a productive members of society, whether that’s raising children and/or contributing through our work, our career, our job. 

So more than any other life phase I’ve traveled through so far, retirement kind of throws into question, “Who am I? What is my life about now?” And we don’t have a lot of good examples and templates and roadmaps for how to make that clear and how to step forward. And I would add, often, unlike when we partner or marry to start a family, we are embarking on this next journey as a solo act. And so it really comes to us to really figure this out for ourselves and how to move forward. 

Aaron Kirsch: That’s interesting to think of it as a solo act because a lot of research found that most couples, if they’re both working, retire at about the same time, and yet it’s still quite an individual experience for each person. 

Julie Maloney: Exactly, and we tend to underestimate that because if we’ve been partnered and we’re still partnered and we’re both retiring at the same time, we’re both going to go through endings, learnings, and beginnings. But one of us may have been full-time in corporate America, one of us may have been part-time, one of us may have more of our identity tied up in our job where the other doesn’t. The other may have been more tied to child rearing. And this is changing, I think. And it’s not just by gender per se because I know so many couples where women are now the primary bread winners and their husbands are stay-at-home. 

But I think that’s going to keep us evolving as a society in terms of how we all navigate this sort of third chapter of our lives, which means it has to be very individualized and it means we have to often look more internally to figure out what’s best for us and who we want to be and how we want to live, versus looking to somebody, our partner or someone else in our world to help us figure that out. 

Aaron Kirsch: That’s right. Very true. Julie, what elements of work life apply to retirement life? 

Julie Maloney: What I think is one of the biggest is we need a good reason to get up in the morning, whether we like it or not. Our jobs make us get up in the morning and get us going and have a reason for getting out in the world and doing things even if we don’t like what we’re doing at the time. The difference is- the old reasons, when you’re thinking about even pre-retirement or retirement- is the old reasons don’t apply. 

So making money to cover our bills, hopefully with great investment advice, we’re good and we don’t have to worry about that part. We don’t have to grow our career anymore. We may have zero to very small numbers of responsibilities and obligations that we have to meet. So again, “Why am I getting up in the morning? What’s my life about?” 

There’s a former C-suite executive that I used to work closely with and we just caught up recently and she’s been serving on boards ever since. She stepped back from her full-time job, and I said, “How’s it going?” And she said, “You know, this has been interesting, but it’s not a reason for me to get out of bed. I got to find whatever’s going to make my heart sing, make me feel like I’m making a difference, getting to live the best life I want to live.” 

So basically, what she’s pointing to is we need to find a new why. And what’s, I think, super cool about this and what I’m leaning into and thinking about this transition and starting to pre-prepare for it, is we’re finally free in a lot of ways to find a newer, more authentic, playful, and maybe creative why than we’ve had, because we felt like we needed a certain income or we had invested so many years in a particular career that we couldn’t walk away from it. 

But it’s this why is based on what I want, not what my family needs, what others expect of me, or what my spouse is looking for me to do. It’s what would make me happy in the world. 

Aaron Kirsch: I love that concept of freedom. People don’t think of it that way. It really is. It’s freedom from work, freedom from obligations, and the freedom to do what you really love to do. 

Julie Maloney: Yeah, one of the best quotes I saw recently was you move from role to soul, so it’s the freedom to really kind of live and work in whatever work might mean to you now from more of a soul place than any obligation of a role. 

Aaron Kirsch: That’s great. So, applying the ELB- the Endings, learnings, beginnings, concept to retirement- you’ve got ending this career of work and this identity that you have tied up with work, and you’re beginning a new life of freedom, but you’re learning what your new why is. Is that a good way to look at it? 

Julie Maloney: Yeah, that’s perfect Aaron- that’s spot on. And I think that learning space is the opportunity to be excited about learning, versus feeling the pressure of having to learn something maybe that we have in the past. 

Aaron Kirsch: That’s great, Julie. So how can those looking to retire using that ELB construct- to go a little bit further- how do they balance that apprehension of that major life transition away from work with the anticipation of not having to work? 

Julie Maloney: That’s a really great question because I do think we default to apprehension because we haven’t really thought it through necessarily. The first thing from my own experience and from the leaders that I’ve worked with is- be sure you honor what’s ending, and what I mean by that is acknowledge and let yourself feel the loss, and that’s going to be a bit organic. You don’t always know when that’s going to happen. But for example, I left my full-time job 10 months ago so that I could begin this pre-retirement phase of restarting my own business and doing work on my terms. It took a while over those 10 months to just go, “Oh, I’m not identified with a company or a title anymore.” 

And so what does that mean to me? And I did lose some things, but at the same time I also started to celebrate the wins and I think the accomplishments that I hadn’t stepped back and thought about in a long time. So, here’s a silly example or exercise, but it’s one I’m starting to recommend to clients because it’s worked really well for me, is I went in and updated my resume with everything I could think of, whether it’s serving on boards, whether it’s roles I had, whether it’s publications I did, whether it’s speaking engagements- whatever. But looking at that list of accomplishments over the past 30 years really made me feel good that I’ve really accomplished something in this time in my working life, and it’s okay to be stepping back because it’s time and I can take this in a different direction. 

The second thing I’d say is, once you’ve done that (and you can do it concurrently as well) is practice and play with dreaming. It’s been a long time since I’ve let myself dream. Hope is not an easy thing. Sometimes we get very caught in the reality of our life, but practice giving yourself time to daydream and think about what might be best for you next. What would make you happy besides your family and your work. What else do you love? 

Aaron Kirsch: That’s great, Julie. So, we spoke a bit about transitions and changes. We spoke about a couple of examples. We spoke about the ELB model. What innate traits do humans have to adapt to transitions? 

Julie Maloney: You ask really great questions, Aaron. I really enjoy this conversation. We humans are natural born learners and creators, and we know this as kids. You watch any TikTok or any other social media platform that you might pay attention to, and you’ll see this happy, silly, innate confidence that play, curiosity- they’re the best ways to approach anything, especially something new. And as adults, we gradually have forgotten to trust this process. So, transitions are really hard to plan a hundred percent because we don’t know necessarily how it all goes, but we can play our way through it, so really trusting that that kid’s still in there, those same abilities are still within us, we’ve got more freedom now to let that play come out. So just jump in with both feet. Experiment with new and crazy ideas. Laugh a lot, especially when things go wrong, because they will. And just practice trusting ourselves in the process that we’re in. 

Aaron Kirsch: Find your inner child- there’s a lot of wisdom in kids. We tend to let adulthood take over that playfulness, don’t we? 

Julie Maloney: We really do. 

Aaron Kirsch: Okay, Julie, so we all have some innate traits, but what are some skills that we can work on to better adapt to changes and transitions, and what do we do to get those skills? 

Julie Maloney: I like the way you’re positioning this, Aaron. It’s really good because those innate traits are kind of a way of being, it’s sort of how we approach it, but the skills we can work on. The things we can practice are, for example, this ELB steps and framework. This really is the human experience going through transition. 

So just practicing noticing first off, “Am I in transition and where?” And then, “Where am I in terms of endings, learnings and beginnings in each of those?” and just remember that this is normal, that you’re not alone. We all go through this as human beings, then learn by doing and just pick one of those transitions. 

It’s hard to do multiples at once. But if you can pick one, practice active reflection on that, whether you’re a journaler or you’re a morning meditation person or someone who likes to walk or swim, take some of those questions with you. 

And here’s my tip from a lot of coaching work and a lot of self-development work: write it down. The more we get things out of our heads, and I don’t care if it’s on your computer, you send yourself emails or texts, or you write it in a journal, the more you get it out of your head, the more you will stabilize that experience and help yourself navigate faster through it. 

And from there, just let yourself see where you go. Try to let go of some of the judgment and critiques that we give ourselves as adults in this world, and find somebody to talk to, whether it’s a friend going through the same experience, or someone that’s known you a long time, or a new friend that can just ask really good questions. 

Aaron Kirsch: Sounds like acknowledging that transitions are real and a major part of life and something we all go through is really important, rather than just pretending that it’s not a big deal. 

Julie Maloney: Yes. The things that we are not aware of are the things that usually come back to bite us, but the things that we let ourselves notice- they’re there. We don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about it, but that actually helps us not get surprised by maybe unexpected choices we make that aren’t helping us and helps us actually find a strategy for feeling empowered to really create what we want. 

Aaron Kirsch: This has been a fantastic conversation Julie, and I really appreciate you speaking with me and giving our listeners some great food for thought about life’s transitions and changes. So, can you just sum up everything we spoke about today? 

Julie Maloney: Yeah, and Aaron, it’s been a joy. So, change and transitions are both normal and challenging, and they have a predictable pattern, so that includes best practices for navigating through them. 

We are hardwired as human beings to not only handle transitions, but we’re meant to use them to learn new ways, to find happiness and meaning in our lives. 

And finally, using ELB and self-reflection questions help our brains shift and find new ways to make whatever transitions we’re going through easier, faster, and more successful. 

Aaron Kirsch: This has been fantastic information Julie, and thank you for speaking with us. If someone is interested in contacting you about executive coaching, succession leader development, and executive leadership transitions, what’s the best way to get ahold of you? 

Julie Maloney: The simplest and easiest is look for me on LinkedIn, Julie Maloney, and I’m based in Atlanta, Georgia. I should come up fairly easily and just, connect with me and send me a message and I’d love to chat. 

Aaron Kirsch: Fantastic. For all our listeners, if you know someone who would find value in hearing how to handle transitions in life, please share this podcast with them. For Julie Maloney and the entire team at GreenUp Wealth Management, I’m Aaron Kirsch. Thanks for listening. 

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