Have you quietly quit? Your next step: Go to the neutral zone

Nov 9, 2022 /

Do you delight in learning new ideas that could change your world and your everyday life? If so, you should check out TED Courses — all designed to inspire you to think, live and connect with others differently. You’ll learn skills from beloved TED speakers, plus interact with a global group of fellow learners. Read on for a sneak peek of insights from podcast host and producer Manoush Zomorodi, instructor for the TED Course “How to reimagine your career.”

Over the past few years, a lot of people have gotten fed up with the way they work for a whole host of reasons.

Climate change, racism, the wage gap, the pandemic … you name it, they’ve made us see the world differently. Our psyches and the planet feel maxed out. More of us want to find ways to align our work with our values. And for some of us, those values have changed.

But I know that reimagining how you exist in the world is a scary prospect. Where do you even begin?

When I quit my job, I immediately plunged into a new, extremely intense project … and when COVID happened two years later, my business partner and I had to end our relationship.

Looking back on that moment and so many other career crossroads, I wish I had known about the ideas of a man named William Bridges.

William Bridges was a philosophy professor in the 1960s. He spent years researching why some companies manage major transitions without missing a beat — while others completely fall apart.

Bridges found that the best leaders, the ones who kept drama to a minimum and got their employees through the stress most smoothly all did something very important: They did … well … not too much.

They let folks be — they gave themselves and their staff the time to process the period that was ending before implementing big changes.

Bridges called this period “the neutral zone.” And he believed that it was crucial for keeping a big change from turning into a big crisis for both companies and individuals. And I think it definitely applies to this period in our lives when so many of us want to change the way we work and live.

I love how Bridges describes the neutral zone:

“This is the time between the old reality and sense of identity and the new one. People are creating new processes and learning what their new roles will be. They are in flux and may feel confusion and distress.”

So, confusion and distress are normal! Not only that, they’re necessary.

Often we want to rush away from what isn’t working and begin anew, already! But before we take the first job offer or move across the country or take out a big loan to start a company or even consider what we want to do next, we need to make peace with the old chapter ending and sit dormant for a bit.

The neutral zone may mean deciding to say no to new opportunities; telling yourself that that tight feeling in your stomach is to be expected; coaching yourself to stick to a routine that includes healthy food, good sleep and some exercise; or something else.

The neutral zone is a period of lower expectations or, as my mom would say, “good enough.”

Now, I can understand why, for some of you, being in the neutral zone sounds like a nicer phrase for “spinning your wheels.” Please trust the process and consider that maybe this fear of being stuck in a rut, is our pre-pandemic values talking? A decade ago, Bridges wrote that Americans feel the same way about change as they do about crossing the street — “something that is dangerous to do slowly.”

But what if you race across the street and get to the other side safely … only to realize you raced across the wrong street? I’m mixing a lot of metaphors here, but I think Bridges’ point is that if we skip the neutral zone, we run the risk of repeating — even possibly regretting — where we end up.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is very simple: Just observe yourself.

Take your own pulse. Don’t think about your next career move, or try to pin down your ambitions. Just be with your brain. Rev your engine in neurtral.

And, when it feels right, fill in the blanks in this sentence:

I would describe this moment in my life, work, or career as [blank] and [blank]. And I wish I could [blank].

Don’t overthink it. Don’t chastise yourself for not hurrying up and starting a new job or going back to school or even just figuring out what to do next.

Just practice being in the neutral zone. Go for long walks, vacuum the bedroom, pet the dog. Do something inconsequential, and observe yourself. Feel the feels.

And maybe you’ll secretly enjoy this contemplative phase that you wouldn’t have given yourself permission to take otherwise.

Get the full scoop on how to make your work more meaningful by signing up for Manoush Zomorodi’s TED Course “How to reimagine your career.” You’ll learn how to develop a clearer vision for your future and stay on track with your career reset plan.

And if you decide you’d like to stay in the neutral zone a bit longer, check out our other TED Courses for more life-enhancing lessons, including “How to nurture your imagination” with writers Charlie Jane Anders and Wanuri Kahiu; “How to become your best adult self” with educator and author Julie Lythcott-Haims; and “How to connect in a divided world” with podcast host Dylan Marron.

Watch Manoush Zomorodi’s TED Talk now: