Older Women & Friends

Giving Oxygen to Your Wonderful, Untapped Self with Linda Rossetti

December 21, 2023 Jane Leder
Older Women & Friends
Giving Oxygen to Your Wonderful, Untapped Self with Linda Rossetti
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

     We all have bumps in our lives ranging from not-so-major (Think: a fender bender or a lost credit card) to the big stuff, like divorce, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job. The challenge is navigating life’s biggest changes and coming out stronger and happier on the other side. How the heck do we do that? 

     Linda Rossetti, business leader and author of Dancing with Disruption, shares more than a few suggestions in this thought-provoking conversation. She encourages us to welcome instability. Yep, welcome the stress and the self-doubt. She challenges us to sit with the instability and to take our time naming and exploring our emotions.  Sit with uncomfortable, often painful emotions? What’s she talking about? Listen as Linda gives listeners a series of steps that can help women (and men) change their personal lives and find their own, true voice.

 

https://lindarossetti.com/
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/destination-unknown-a-field-guide/id1445942178

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/destination-unknown-a-field-guide/id1445942178

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Speaker 1:

Do you feel overlooked and invisible because you're an older woman? Have you had those age jump days when you look in the mirror and swear that you're looking at your mother? Do you feel the clock ticking and wonder whether you have enough time to check off all the items on your bucket list? Hello, I'm Jane Leder and I'm the host of Older Women and Friends, a podcast about and four older women that kick stereotypes to the curb. We older women are the keepers of stories, and guests on Older Women and Friends share their stories about love, loss, dreams, friendships. But let's not kid ourselves Aging can be a messy, complex affair. But older women have been around the block a few times and learned a thing or two, and this podcast celebrates their lessons. So put in your earbuds and join me on Older Women and Friends. You know what they say the one constant in life is change, and yet none of us is very good at it. We all experience events, big and small, that can take us for a ride, and often it's bumpy. Maybe it's the loss of a job, a divorce or an empty nest, or maybe the change doesn't seem monumental but causes you to question who you are and what you want to do with your life. That's where speaker, author and researcher Linda Rosetti comes in. She's talked to thousands of folks over many years about the disruptions in their lives and she's discovered that we often misunderstand what happens at these pivotal times and we miss the opportunity to reframe our emotions and reimagine who we are. Linda's new book, Dancing with Disruption, is in many ways a toolkit. Her hope is that through the many stories she tells, including her own, that you will come to know and trust and turn up the volume on your own voice. Linda Rosetti, welcome to Older Women and Friends, Jane, thank you, and thank you for that beautiful summary.

Speaker 2:

I'm so smiley right now. It's lovely to hear.

Speaker 1:

Thank you. I mentioned that you include your personal story in your book and we'd like to know what that is and how you got on this path in the first place.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely, jane. I appreciate it because you very clearly centered on this notion of these bumpy times in our lives and how we respond. So interested in changing how we respond to those bumps, because when I first had a colossal, big bump, I didn't know how to respond and it was very difficult for me to get resources that I thought were valid and had integrity, and I was very lost. And so, more than a decade ago, I was somebody who was working at the upper echelons of corporate America. I was the number five person in a 21,000 person global organization. I had responsibility for all those folks and I did laps around the planet on an airplane and I had spent nearly my entire life trying to get into that place and I found myself. I remember very clearly one day I was sitting in my boss' staff meeting my boss was the CEO of this big company and I said to myself this is it, you've got to be kidding. And it was really stunning because this identity that I had pursued in such a significant way had some major cracks in it and I didn't know how to respond and, in fact, my first response was fear. I was like, my goodness, there must be something wrong with me. What's the matter? There was this deficit, and I remember at the time turning to trusted others and trying to get some guidance. What should I do? I couldn't even put into words what was happening and people kind of looked at me like Linda, what are you talking about? The response I got back was kind of this marginal, like oh, just get through it, you'll be fine, like pull up your big girl pants and keep going, and I was like no, there's something more. And, jane, I think the combination of how frightened I was and the flatness of the response that I got really kind of inspired action. And that's when I began a research project that now has spanned nearly a decade and brought me to hundreds of people, and what started as an issue with my work has now mushroomed into changes in my personal life and, frankly, in how I see the entire world, and so it's been enlivening and joyful and I'm so happy that this work found me right. I don't believe I found this work.

Speaker 1:

I think this work found me Well, you have interviewed so many people and I'm curious to know if there are similarities or patterns that you discovered in all or most of the stories that you heard.

Speaker 2:

Yes, and Jane, you're right on the point, because, yes, the thing that was fascinating is, you know, people would come into these interviews and most of them were one-on-one and there were some focus group ones. So people would come in and say, oh, you know, I've had a recent divorce, or I've lost a spouse, or I've just retired, or I've got a radical change in my physical capabilities, right, all sorts of things. And they would believe that, in fact, that was unique and that was an individual experience. And yet, when I stepped back and looked at the stories from all of these people, the patterns were unmistakable, regardless of the initiating circumstance. Our experience of transition is exactly the same. And I use that word cautiously. And I wonder if you'd permit me to talk a little bit about the vocabulary, right? Because the thing that I would say is that, of nearly 400 people, more than 90% struggle to find a word to describe this moment of uncertainty or instability that they were navigating. We don't really have the word in society and very often we use two words interchangeably when we're going through these periods. May, I guess.

Speaker 1:

Go for it. Is it the gateway?

Speaker 2:

disruption it is related to that. But the two words are actually change and transition, right, and when they are apparent is when we're experiencing a gateway disruption and in my work I use the term gateway disruption to mean those times when our sense of self gets interrupted in some way. Right, you know we can have a disruption on our way to the grocery store, right, you know there's a traffic accident and you know we're stopped unexpectedly for 20 minutes an hour, what have you? And yet that disruption virtually does nothing for our overall level of functioning or how we think about ourselves. Right, those happen, and maybe we're delayed for the rest of the day, but maybe by the next day that you know traffic, you know expectation or you know missed event is gone. But there are other disruptions, which I call gateway disruptions, which really do impact our functioning or how we think about ourselves and when we're in that zone. And those typically happen when circumstances like you've already described you know a retirement, a loss, you know a geographic move, you know those are the times when we are thinking about who we are and how we make meaning in the world can shift, and in those times those two words, change and transition, mean very different things. Right, and that was so apparent from the research. Right, because changes in those circumstances are really used for a known outcome. We can usually articulate exactly what we need and what we're doing is we're making alterations or variations on a static or intact self-concept, right? We're saying, look, I'm a butcher, I'm a baker, I'm a candlestick maker and I'm going to make this change or that change, but our self-concept is really static. Those are changes. Transitions are different. Transitions occur when we welcome instability in our self-concept for a time, and in those cases what's happening? What's occurring is that there is a shift in what holds value and meaning to us. So transitions really invite us to re-examine the assumptions we use to define our expectation and definition for who we are. So can you?

Speaker 1:

give me an example, and in a little bit I'm going to have you take me through in more detail but if we are defining the difference which you have done between change and transition, but can you give me a concrete example?

Speaker 2:

Yes, lots of them. But there's one in my book which I love, right, it's this woman, lakshmi, who was in her mid-thirties and she was having debilitating headaches and couldn't really figure out what was going on. But ultimately, she had spent the prior decade and a half in an MD-PhD program at a very prestigious Big Ten university. And she said, you know, I really I recognize that this is not who I wanted to be. And she had spent, you know, nearly her entire life nourishing this identity. Right, this I was going to be an MD-PhD. And when she thought about it, she had made lots and lots of changes, you know, trying to stay within this identity, right, you know she's like well, you know, I asked if I could go part-time to try to address the physical challenges that I was having. You know, I was making a lot of accommodations, but she said, you know, ultimately I realized that what was crushing was and she was actually somebody who was very self-aware, right, she was very physically fit, her physicality was so much a part of who she was. She said, you know, I was wondering what my body knew, that my mind didn't understand yet, and she said, you know, ultimately she said I realize that this is not who I want to be. And she said that realization alone was crushing. She said I had never even dreamed outside of being this MD-PhD. Right, it's how I thought I was to be in the world. Right, everyone had always acknowledged it, rewarded me, seen me through my affiliation with that identity. And she said it was terrifying to step beyond it. And so she went through a period of steps. Right, this is not. You know, we realize this and we do one swing of the bad, jane, and we're done. Right that what that does, that realization is really an invitation that invites us to take a series of steps that allow us to kind of go forward. And Black Schmi started by taking the leave of absence, a full leave of absence, and switching her focus to the AmeriCorps, where she was affiliated with some community-based health care. And then she progressed beyond that and ultimately went into some technology companies that were investing in some community capabilities in social services. And she said, you know the fascinating thing, and this took many years for her to progress through this transition. She said, you know, my colleagues now describe me as funny and as a good leader. And she said, you know, this is astonishing to me. Right, these were never part of the persona that I cultivated, that I even envisioned for myself. And she said you know, that's stunning to me, right? So I think that in her story, jane, we hear a lot, right, one is, oftentimes, when we get into these bumpy periods, our first reaction is change. Right, we reach for change. And, as Black Schmi understood it, more and more she leaned into her transition and she realized what nearly everyone in my research did, which is those who are willing to sit with that instability in their self-concept are given gifts beyond their wildest dreams. Right, you know, they're expansive, they're optimistic, they're enlivening. And you have Black Schmi saying I would never have thought I was funny, let alone a good leader.

Speaker 1:

Well, it's interesting because we live in a society where we want things settled and completed. If you're watching television, you want that done in 20-some minutes. If you're reading a book, by the time you get to the conclusion, and we are just not trained, encouraged to take our time. And is that one of the roadblocks, then, moving between change and transition?

Speaker 2:

Absolutely right. You know, we are conditioned by our society to be settled right, to be a settled quantity like, okay, I am the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, and so society sends us all these cues. And so part of the work that I do, right, this book that I've written, in every one of the 10 chapters there is a self-reflection exercise and an example of someone who went through that exercise so people can see. But that is all about inviting people to recognize that they can take a step and then take another step and take another step. Right, this isn't I have to like have the genius idea and hit it out of the ballpark first time, up at bat. That's not what this is about. It really is about, in a series of activities, raising our awareness to who we are and what holds meaning for us and then beginning to live in alignment with that, and those are things that will happen over time. But we have to begin, and you know I come from the technology industry, jane. I spent most of my career there and in that space we talk about agile, right, and agile is an approach to project development, like if we want to build a broadway once upon a time, we would get this massive project plan in place and we would then just send the legions out to do their thing and we would hope to have a beautiful highway done at the end. Since the technology industry has come up in the last 20, 25 years, we've said, no, that's not the way to build a big highway. What we need to do is what we call agile, which is every day we agree on what the task is and we go out and we do it, and then we come back and talk about what we learned. So tomorrow, when we allocate the tasks, we have that learning already in our brain and we can apply that and what all of our history of learning is to the next day. And so you can see in my work a big influence of agile. Right, it is look, we're going to take steps, we're going to learn, but we're going to be informed in a growing awareness of our voice. And when I say voice, I don't mean when I'm audibly speaking, I mean kind of the, our essence, our truth. And some people find that truth when they're 87 and some people find that truth when they're 27. And it doesn't matter, because age is totally decoupled from this process. What matters is that we have the desire to continue to understand what that voice is and then a willingness to act in alignment with it, and those are two steps right. We can see in Lakshmi's example right. First she had to become aware that in fact things were not right, and then she had to be willing to take steps to explore what it might mean to address it.

Speaker 1:

I was just going to ask, in addition to the cultural attitude that we need to finish things as quickly as possible and I think you mentioned fear I'm curious to know what other emotions stand in our way when we are trying to navigate the changes and then move into a much more transitional phase.

Speaker 2:

Yes, and it's fascinating to think about emotions. Emotions really mobilize to keep us safe during these disruptive times, and that's a very important thing to consider, right, because you know, very often we say, oh, I'm terrified or I'm anxious or I'm sad or I'm heartbroken. And it's fascinating because our emotive system really is like this perfect generative AI system. Right, it knows how to slow us down and, as we're kind of rethinking our assumptions about who we are, our emotional system reads that as unsafe. Because it's unstable, right, so it's unsafe. So our emotional system will pull emotions out that it knows can slow us down, and so the whole act of moving forward in this really requires a new set of skills around emotions, and a lot of what I talk about in the book and in my work is reframing emotions, which allows us to change our relationship with an emotion. Right, because very often we have these almost automatic protective responses, right, these emotions you know how we experience fear or how we experience joy, that we've learned these and they become automatic behavior, and so the work that I do is often teaching people how to reframe and what that means in light of the emotions that appear for them.

Speaker 1:

Well, I realize that this is going to be an oversimplification big time, but I wondered if we could give the listeners and also myself, a situation and just some basics as how, in this case, I or somebody else might move through this. And again, I'm not necessarily taking this from my own life, but rather I asked other women in my Facebook private group what kinds of issues they have or might be facing or anticipate facing. So one of them said yes, it's divorce, but it's coming from my end. I want to end the marriage. This has nothing to do with my husband having had an affair or claiming that he's in his midlife crisis, and I just don't know what to do because I am overcome with guilt. How can I do this? And I just don't have a clue how I'm going to maneuver this very bumpy adventure.

Speaker 2:

Yes, and thank you for appealing to your friends on your Facebook group for that excellent example. Right, and let's talk about that? Right, because, as I listened to this woman who has initiated the divorce right, she's the one that started the process it sounds like that guilt is something that she's carrying, or this fact of not having a clue. Sometimes that can be overwhelming or really destabilizing when we're not entirely sure which way to go. And so the technique that I talk about in the book is an externalization technique, right, so externalization means we try to recognize that the emotion is the emotion. We are not the emotion, right, so I am not somebody who has a characteristic of guilt, like I'm not a guilty person, I'm experiencing guilt for this time. Right, so the impermanent state of it is all about what it means to reframe. Right, we want to change, kind of the distance between us and the emotion. And so in the book I introduce a four-step technique called HAIL, and HAIL stands. There's four letters H-A-I-L, and in each of these four we ask ourselves a question about the emotion that we're experiencing. Right, so, right up the top, if we had your friend here, I would ask her to describe the situation. We say let's talk about the disruptive situation in which she's very clearly said I've initiated a divorce, right? And so H asks us to name the emotions that are present for us. So we would work with your friend to come up with a full list, right? Because if we sit down for a moment right, you know this, you know cultural theme that you've already alluded to, jane we don't really give emotions time, right. So the first step just gives space and time to recognize the emotions that are present and guilt, maybe they're fear, shame, who knows what else right, I wish your friend was with us, we'd have great fun, right. So we'll take that list and I would encourage our listeners to say you know, sit in a quiet place for a moment, or when you're walking the dog, or in the aisles of the supermarket, see if you can come up with a list. And it's fascinating, when you give that space, how big a list you can create. So the first step in reframing is really honoring or naming what is active for you, and that in and of itself is groundbreaking, right? I just was on a call earlier this week and we had a dozen women who we were planning to go through the whole four steps with, and it was so cathartic just to go through and name the emotions. It took the entire time, right? Everyone's like, wow, I haven't thought about this ever this way. So step number one hail, honor, name. The second step is we ask ourselves about the emotions that come up. Right, so we ask ourselves what might guilt mean in our experience? Right, was there a time when it was active, you know, in our lives? Right, there may have been a period when circumstances were such that was something we carried a lot. Right. So the second step in reframing asks us to situate our experience of the emotion in our lifespan. Right, so it's an important step. Right, and what that begins to do is it invites us to make connections, to say, wait a minute, this situation, while I've initiated a divorce, may not be so different from that time when I I don't know left that job, or when I decided not to go to college, or when I moved out of my parents' home. Right, so it invites us to situate the experience in a broader place. Right, we go broader instead of now we go broad. The third step is I, which is influence. Right, we say, okay, let's come back to the moment of being guilty and we say how is it influencing me? And we bring our awareness to the impact that the presence of that emotion can have on us, right? So someone who feels guilty may over commit to other things. I would say I feel so guilty. So, okay, I'm going to, you know, bake cookies for the entire neighborhood and then I'm going to go visit every one of my siblings and I'm going to make you know, and and I'm going to go home and, do you know, I'm going to go visit my kids and do their laundry and the grandchildren's laundry, whatever. It is right, I'm just pretending. But we understand, right, that when we sit with an emotion and consider its influence, we look to behavior that we currently embody when that emotion is active. Right, and again, what we're doing is we're teaching ourselves how to think around the emotion. Instead of letting the emotion just have power over us. I'm so guilty we're training ourselves to step around it. And then the final step is all about learn. We consider, or we imagine, I guess, that the emotion is a dear friend and that it's here to try to teach us something. And you know, we say you know what might we learn from guilt's present? And usually that is something that's quite powerful and it benefits from the earlier steps that we've taken. Right, remember, we've situated the emotion in our experience, we have thought about how it influences us in the moment, and now we step even farther away and say, wow, I wonder if guilt is really teaching me that I don't have to over deliver for everyone, I can just be me. And so the notion of the technique, jane, is inviting people to change their relationship about the experience of an emotion. And, from my research, this is a critical step in allowing us to move forward. Right, when we're in an unstable time. Right, Our friend has initiated a divorce, you know, after we don't know how many years. Right, but all of a sudden is in this new place and our protective behaviors are going to be right there, they're ready to deploy. Right, but what we're trying to do is slow down that protective so new behaviors can come. Because ultimately, what's happening as we're transitioning is we are making room for more and more of our truth or our essence to come up. Right, so we're inviting our voices to turn up the volume. And so to do that, we need to slow down our rapid fire reaction to emotions, because what they will do if unaddressed, they will just shroud us and keep us kind of in the moment, and in FELAX, if we just change our relationship, we can give oxygen to this wonderful untapped cell, and that is really the invitation that I advocate for right. Let's go there because there's so much potential of everyone, I don't care their age, I don't care their circumstances. There's too much that we're leaving on the sidelines and it's techniques like these that allow us to take a step and take another step, and you mentioned all of us.

Speaker 1:

I guess my last question simply because we're running out of time has to do with gender, and I'm curious because women in the main seem to be more comfortable exploring and talking about emotions and feelings. So I am just curious to know whether this is something that is honored more by women, by men, or is it kind of an equal toss up?

Speaker 2:

I wish I had excellent data on that in terms of empirical studies. What I have is a lot of observational data, and I can say that women tend to be more willing to explore this. That doesn't mean that men are not, however, right. There are many who need the cape. Some would say that the tool is that much more beneficial for men because it provides an on ramp to a place that maybe they're not so comfortable. I can tell you that, sitting with men and women, they both have astonishing learnings from using techniques like the ones that are in the book, and so when I first started my research and my first book was called Women and Transition I was convinced that women, more than men, had to navigate these very significant periods of instability. Since that book was published, I've added men to my research and done both genders, and I don't mean to be binary about genders. There's lots of derivatives of gender today in our society, and I'm convinced that we all have an equal opportunity to navigate transition. My suspicion is that women may be the first ones to accept that invitation, for a host of reasons that include how we're socialized and the roles that we've played in our society. That doesn't mean we don't all have the capacity and the tools that I offer in the book have been tested on both genders.

Speaker 1:

Well, let's talk about the book. It's called Dancing with Disruption and I am assuming that it's available on Amazon, on all online book sites and maybe on occasion, at your local bookstore.

Speaker 2:

Yes, and so at your local library as well, right? The publisher, roman and Littlefield, has a big commitment to local libraries, so the book is available online, and it is available in audiobook and Kindle versions as well as print, but it also is available through public libraries. My work is very dedicated to changing a conversation that everyone in society can benefit from. That's why I was happy to go with Roman and Littlefield, because they have such a commitment to public libraries.

Speaker 1:

Can you have a website and what is that address or link?

Speaker 2:

Yes, it's my full name and it's a tricky one Linda L-I-N-D-A, and the last name is Rosetti, which has two S's and two T's, so it's R-O-S-E-T-I, so it couldn't be more complicated. But on the website you can find links to my podcast. You can find links to a blog that I've written for several years on this and lots of other appearances that I've had on excellent podcasts, just like this one, jane, so there's lots of information for folks who want to go deeper. There's also a sample chapter of the book there. But the end of the day, I think we're at a moment in our world right, there's such instability in every corner. I just we could talk all day. For this. We need a new response, and the work that I do it's really educating people so they understand what's possible and then inviting them to take a new risk.

Speaker 1:

My last question is in addition to reading the book, are there groups available? Is one-on-one working with you a possibility, and, in these instances, how would people reach out?

Speaker 2:

Yes, so there is a contact form on my website that people can reach out, and also, if people are LinkedIn users, I'm very active there and it's easy to send me a note. There are folks who are certified on the methods in my book and those coaches are available. I'm happy to give people lists of them. I don't work with people one-on-one, but I do host free online sessions. The third Thursday of every month I host a drop in the evening. We go through methods from the book and it's really very exciting. I do the same thing at a public library. All that information is up on my website, and so there's plenty of free ways for people to start and get involved in the work. And then if there are coaches or social workers or other professionals who want to get trained on the methods I offer, my organization called the Transition Institute offers certification courses for continuing education credits. That information is also available on my website. Our next program is December. We offer them regularly throughout the year.

Speaker 1:

Well, this has been terrific. I'm so glad that you have been my guest today. I've learned a lot. I'm sure the listeners have learned, and I'm hoping that people will go out and buy the book and go through some of the exercises. I've looked at them and I have to say they're very thought-provoking. It's not something that you can just fill in with a check or multiple choice, and I highly recommend the book and I want to thank you so much for joining Older Women and Friends today.

Speaker 2:

Jane, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much for joining me on this episode of Older Women and Friends. Speaking of friends, please tell yours about this podcast and if you'd like to contact me with comments or suggestions, you can email me at Older Women and Friends podcast at gmailcom. And while you're at it, please take a few minutes to write a review. It's really easy. Go to Apple Podcasts, type in Older Women and Friends, scroll down the page and click on Reviews. Until next time.

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