In this episode, transition strategist Sue Ryan offers advice on how to intentionally navigate change and make transitions in your life with confidence. Sue uses the phrase massive acceptance and radical presence as a reminder of what is needed during times of change. She highlights ways people can raise their emotional intelligence by raising their awareness. She also talks about The Caregiver’s Journey program which she has developed for non-professional caregivers, and leaders who have caregivers on their team.
Brown: Welcome to the Menttium Matters podcast, where we talk about leadership, life, and the transformative power of mentoring. I’m Solveig Brown, and today I am so lucky to have Sue Ryan, who is a transition strategist. As my guest, our conversation is going to focus on how to navigate, change, and make transitions in your life with confidence and how to bring emotional intelligence into all aspects of your life and work.
Sue will also talk about her Caregiver’s Journey Program, which she designed in response to her long-term caregiving commitments while working full-time. Sue Ryan is a speaker, educator, coach, mentor, and author. For the past thirty-five years, Sue has been helping leaders in more than seven hundred organizations successfully navigate transitions in their business and life.
Sue is passionate about helping individuals understand themselves in a meaningful way while becoming the greatest leaders of themselves and others. She helps people navigate change with decisive wisdom and confidence, achieving peak performance that results in them feeling great about themselves and satisfied with their achievements.
Sue has also been a non-professional caregiver to family and loved ones eleven times. She uses the lessons she has learned and continues to learn to create The Caregiver’s Journey Program. Sue has also been a longtime mentor for Menttium. Welcome Sue, I am so happy to have you as a guest today.
Ryan: Thank you Solveig. I am excited to be here, and I am proud of having been a part of Menttium for so many years. I have tremendous respect for your program and what you do and the lives of the people who you’re touching for making a permanent difference in their lives.
Brown: Thank you so much for saying that. It’s because of you and all the other mentors who make up our amazing community of mentors, but it really does make a huge difference.
Sue, you are a change and transition strategist who helps people navigate change with decisive wisdom and confidence. People are experiencing so many transitions during this time. Can you talk about the strategies you teach people on how to intentionally navigate change?
Ryan: Yes, that is a great question.
We are all going through change. Change is constant and change is happening in different areas of our lives continuously. One of the things that is important for us to understand as we get started is change is an event that happens at some time in our life. For instance, you did not have a child, but then there is a birth, so there is the ending of you not having children or there is the changing of a job. So, every change is an ending and yet it is also a beginning.
So, we have change, which is the event or experience itself and then we have transitions. Transitions are our personal journey. What we do with that change and how that change impacts our lives and how it creates the transformation in our lives for where we get hopefully to what we want to do. That is where the word intentionally comes in. When we look with clarity and confidence at what we are doing as far as making those changes in our lives become transitions that are for us, then we can move better in our lives. When we look at it, what we want to do to begin with is to understand ourselves in a meaningful way.
We are made up of our thoughts and our feelings and our actions. Our personalities are formed based on how we were naturally wired, how we came into the world, our early childhood experiences, and our early family environment. By the time we are about seven or eight, our beliefs and our personalities are formed and off we go to the next thing. Unconsciously, we live from those things throughout our lives and research shows, it is like more than 90% of our lives are unconscious to us. So, we are not consciously thinking, and it is like our subconscious is running who we are. When we intentionally, and I used the word intentionally because we raise to our level of consciousness, and we become unquenchably curious about our personalities and about our thoughts and our feelings and our actions.
When we do that, we can look at, for example, our beliefs and see if our beliefs still support us. As you mentioned, we are going to be talking about emotional intelligence. If we look at our emotions and what we can be doing better with them without exploring why those are our emotions, then we may be having the wrong equation with which we are working. What I’d like to offer for everyone who’s listening to this, is a very simple exercise you could be doing at home to raise your level of curiosity and awareness so that you are able to intentionally navigate transitions to have a specific process that gets you from where you are to where you know you want to be.
In the beginning of that, in raising your level of awareness, is asking yourself when you go through the day and you do something, is that what I really want to do? Am I choosing to do that? Or is that just something that I automatically do, I automatically reach for something to eat at 3 p.m.? How about your beliefs? When you say, I am a procrastinator, stop and ask yourself, am I really? What does that really mean for me? And so just raise things, raise yourself to your level of awareness and start becoming curious about it. So, when a change happens, you are thinking more about what it is and what it can be.
This is where one of the big shifts comes with change is many of us feel like change is happening to us, we are the victim. Yet when we become aware and we know we are at choice and we are making those choices intentionally, change is happening for us.
Brown: Wow. I love that distinction, and I like that practical idea for how to stop some of those unconscious patterns, how to be more intentional, to pause, and reflect on what you are doing at any given moment of the day. When I was doing the research on all the amazing work that you have done and looking at your website and other presentations you have done, the term massive acceptance and radical presence is important to what you do. Can you explain a little more about that?
Ryan: Yes, I coined the phrase massive acceptance and radical presence, and it came from an experience in my caregiving journey with my father. It was from my not being fully present and my not having completely accepted the fact that he had a type of dementia. I was trying to get him to act the way that he had taught me throughout my whole life to do, and he did not have access to that because he had dementia and our experience was not very good.
When I reflected on it later, I realized that I had not massively accepted that he had dementia. Massive acceptance, this is so important when we are navigating change in our lives; massive acceptance is when we accept exactly where we are, exactly what happened. We accept it. It doesn’t mean we have to like it. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with it. Doesn’t mean we have to understand it. Some of those lessons will come years later, and an understanding may come years later. We don’t even have to agree with it. We just must accept this is where we are.
When we do that, we can pull the emotion from it. We can see it more clearly, and then radical presence, fully embraced in the moment. This is what we have access to at the moment, which is all we really have is this moment right now. We are not clouding the moment with, well, I wish it were that way, and why did it have to be that way? We are not fortune telling, well, if we do this and this and this, it could become this, and we just keep it in our mind.
Massive acceptance and radical presence allow us to make the wisest choices in the moment because we see what we really have. It slows us down. It also allows us to maximize the potential and possibilities of each moment. We can see the beauty in the tiniest of experiences, and yet when there is something that is challenging, instead of having that challenge overwhelm us, we realize we are at choice. We also can give ourselves permission not to have the answer and be able to seek counsel from someone else.
Brown: I love that, Sue. I have goosebumps from your explanation of that because, I think so much in life when you are experiencing that change, there’s so much resistance and so much of your time and energy is spent resisting that of, why did this happen? Or what if, or should I have done this? I just love that massive acceptance. Not just acceptance, but accepting it all, even if you don’t like it, even if you don’t agree with it. And just that radical presence because that really is all we have is just each moment. But what a great reminder and I love that phrase.
You already touched on emotional intelligence a little bit, and I want to go back to that because that is Menttium’s theme for August. Why do you think emotional intelligence is more important now than ever?
Ryan: When we understand ourselves in a meaningful way. When we understand our emotions, we can’t change who we are, we can’t change the path, we can’t live our best life if our emotions are not supporting us. Our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions combined form who we are. One of the things that is important to understand about emotional intelligence is it is not just where we are today.
There are some people who will look at emotional intelligence based on the emotions they have right now. It is extremely important for us to understand them because when we are aware of what they are, we can understand where we have challenges regulating them. We can understand the components of emotional intelligence. One of the things though, that’s so important, and this is why I proceed a focus on emotional intelligence with understanding where our beliefs are and if our beliefs are supporting us, really is if our emotions are not accurate reflections of where we are today, of who we are today, if we don’t understand the why of those, then we are not assessing ourselves correctly and our emotions can’t accurately reflect us.
I’ll give you an example of that. I have a friend who is the nicest person when things go well. She would give you the shirt off her back. She’s given me permission to share this story and we laugh about it now. Yet, in stressful times, she was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and she would be the first person to throw you under the bus. Several of our friends got together and we all said we must do something about this, this is really getting out of hand. When we asked her about it, she simply said, “Well, that’s just the way I am”.
That’s because getting back to what I was saying earlier, when we’re highly unconscious of our emotions, of what our feelings are, when we’re highly unconscious about our beliefs and we haven’t reevaluated them to see if they’re current and they’re supporting us, then we can’t possibly be living our best life or becoming our best because we’re coming from something that’s outdated. As we look at the importance of emotional intelligence and now more than ever, they talk about empathy being one of the top leadership skills. If we can’t connect effectively and accurately with our own emotions, we can’t express empathy because it would not come off as real or authentic and we would not be able to support it. When we have all the challenges that we are having right now in our environment and the things where patience is helpful, and we really want to understand our emotions, we want to make sure they are current and up to date.
Focusing on emotional intelligence is huge for us, and it also helps us, again, raising our level of awareness, becoming conscious of them, and figuring out what they are and why they are so that as we move forward and we apply the five components of emotional intelligence, we’re doing it to where we know is our best.
Brown: I like that idea of pausing to be curious, like you mentioned earlier. So that moment where you start feeling reactive, you think, is this current? Where is this coming from? And just start asking yourself these questions as opposed to just reacting from habit. Your concept of radical presence is also crucial as well.
Ryan: It is. In both of those, one of the things is that when we practice massive acceptance, when we stay radically present, when we raise to our level of consciousness what our emotions really are, when a change occurs, rather than unconsciously reacting to it the way that we have in the past, we have what I call the grace of space that we’re able to reflect just that brief instant. They use a different expression for it, but they talk about emotional intelligence is that we are not just unconsciously reacting what we want to do, because remember, we are always at choice, so we want to make sure that we are coming from a place of choice.
We’ve got that little bit of a grace of space to say, what do I choose in this moment? If we’re conflicted, and this is such a powerful thing for us to be able to do, when we feel that little nudge and we either feel it in our head, heart, or gut, when we feel like we can listen to it and reflect on it and say, okay, we’re being told something. Let’s become aware of this so we don’t just unconsciously react, and we are choosing, so we have the best choice and the best output for what we are doing.
Brown: That is so interesting. That space between stimulus and response and in that space is where you have the choice, and you can make a change.
I also like that you talked about the three centers of being, your head, your heart, your body; and to really pay attention to the messages you are getting from each of those centers. I think that sometimes people have one center that is more dominant, and you don’t necessarily listen to your gut, or you are not listening to your heart. I really value that idea, that emotional intelligence comes from all those areas and to really pay attention.
Ryan: It is, and it is helpful for us when we recognize that. Every emotion we have in our lives has a purpose. Every emotion is valuable, every emotion is important.
One of the sad things I hear from coaching clients is, I just don’t want to get upset. I don’t want to be sad. I don’t want to be mad. Each emotion serves a purpose for us. The thing that we want to do, raising things to our level of consciousness, is we want to make sure that we are prepared to have the correct emotion for the experience, so we process that experience with the right emotion, and then we can let it go.
For example, one of the things that people will say, and this again, often comes in the caregiving community, is “I feel so guilty”. For example, “My friend asked me to go out to lunch and I could not take my husband because he has dementia. I just feel guilty going out and having a good time when he can’t”. Guilt is not the correct emotion. Guilt is when you have done something wrong. You feel guilty, but you have said that and then off you go. So, you have that, and it just lingers underneath, and you constantly have an emotion that is incorrect.
When you say what emotion really serves the fact that “I wish my husband could go out to lunch and yet he can’t, I would love that if it were something he could still do”, you have access to consider other emotions. One of which is it makes me sad. It makes me sad that he can’t do that, and you can process that sadness and then you can move on. What we want to make sure we’re able to do is to evaluate our emotions and make sure that we’re having the correct one for the experience and not say, I don’t want to feel that, but rather say I want to feel the correct emotion and process it through that.
Brown: Thank you for clarifying that. That is one of the best explanations I have ever heard. I especially liked your example of guilt because that is a go-to emotion for people in many areas, especially caregivers.
Let’s switch to talking about your caregiving journey. So, you have been a caregiver to eleven family members and loved ones over the past several decades. Currently, more than one in five employees are in roles of non-professional caregiving in support of a loved one. Can you give us an overview of what you have learned from this experience and talk about your passion for helping others navigate caregiving, and for helping leaders support employees who are caregivers?
Ryan: Yes, it is a global crisis, and the numbers are escalating all the time. I have created several programs. One is called The Caregiver’s Journey, and it helps non-professional caregivers go all the way through the five phases of their caregiving journey from before it begins, to moving forward, and to after their loved one has passed. I have also created another program called Leadership Cares, and its focus is from a business perspective on leading the entire organization through caregiving, awareness, resources, empowerment, and solutions.
One of the things that is helpful for all of us is when we are working in teams, to be sensitive and be aware of people who are non-professional caregivers. There are tremendous amounts of overwhelm in that many caregivers feel uncomfortable sharing because they are afraid people will think they can’t hold their job. And they need to have their job, but they also come in and they are exhausted, so it is harder for them to be as creative. So, from a sensitivity perspective, it is great for us to look around, and with more than one in five people now being non-professional caregivers, you look to your left and you look to your right and you’re in a team meeting and someone there, at least one person is a is a family caregiver.
I wanted to make sure that the lessons I have learned over the past thirty-five years can become of value to other people. Wisdom is not wisdom if we don’t share it. As we look at the crisis of what it really is, financially and relationally and in our health, look around you, ask people, and check in. If it seems like somebody is a little off, see if that’s part of their journey. If you are in an organization and they are not focusing on it, this is something that is important for everybody to know about, so bring it up.
Brown: That is such an important work that you are doing.
Ryan: It is. We’ve had issues like ten years ago when we didn’t talk about mental health. There were times when if you had children that it was not discussed. Now there are organizations that embrace from a cultural perspective that this is really a part of our everyday working environments. There will be a day when we are more caught up culturally and with each other, understanding the impacts of it so we can support each other better. And so right now we are in what I call the messy middle. It is a crisis, there is a lot of it, and we have not figured out completely what to do with it yet. Where we can be part of the solution is seeing in others what they’ve got going on. If you are a family caregiver, share and reach out and ask questions.
Brown: I was on a panel recently and the topic of caregiving came up. One of the women who spoke started crying because she was so appreciative of her manager’s willingness to accommodate her needs with having one of her parents dying and in hospice. She said it makes her loyal to the organization because she is forever grateful that she had that time and space to be there when it was so important. I love the work that you are doing and like you said, especially being in the messy middle, it is great to have some structure to help people navigate that.
Sue, we have time for three final questions. Do you have habits that you feel have contributed to your success?
Ryan: With your permission, may I please change that question?
Habits are unconscious patterns of behavior. I talk about being intentional, and so one of the things that I do every day, I start my day with a reminder of being intentional. I also select gratitude; I tend to come every single day and I choose to be coming from a place of gratitude.
Whatever the experience is, there is a lesson for me in this experience, and there is something for me to learn. Then, I live from unquenchable curiosity of what else is possible. And so rather than having a habit, my choice is that I am intentional, and I become conscious increasingly every single day of what is going on around me, being radically present, accepting it, massive acceptance, and living from a place of gratitude, and there is something here for me to learn.
Brown: I love that. Thank you so much. What advice would you have for up-and-coming leaders?
Ryan: The number one thing I would have as advice for up-and-coming leaders is one of the things that can happen is that as we are on a path, we are working hard to do something well, and we excel at that. People recognize it and say, you’re great at that, come do this, and come do this, and come do this. We can be pulled along the path of our career, and at some point, in time we can quit, being very intentional and looking at, is this where I really want to go? Is this what I am really passionate about?
What I ask for everyone who is an emerging leader, and a leader of anything, whether it is the PTA, no matter what it is for all of us in any area of our life, is reflecting on is this what I am really passionate about? Questions that you get to may be like exploring your beliefs, exploring what is important to you, your values, and seeing if that is aligned with your purpose. As you continue to perform, make sure that everything that you are doing is aligned with you being current with what you believe to be true, so you are not living from beliefs that are no longer true for you. That you focus on what is important to you, what you value the most, so you are not sacrificing those things.
And then what really calls to you. Our purpose statement is not that formatted thing we do at work and things like that. Your purpose statement is what fills my heart. What breaks my heart? What can I not do? As you look through what you are doing, continue to live your life through the reflection on those, and at every step, live from the intention of that, because it shifts over time. If we stay on the same path and we don’t explore, we could be missing that, what else is possible what am I here for?
Brown: That is great advice. Sue, final question. Do you have a favorite saying, quote, or motto?
Ryan: Yes, I do. “Each of us is a treasure in our world. When we know the gifts of our treasure, we transform our world by sharing them. It is not why you, it’s why not you”. And that is a quote that I created.
Brown: That is a fantastic quote. The quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson, always says what his dad used to say to him; why not you? That mantra’s in his mind, that why not you?
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and strategies for being more intentional in everything that you do. I will remember your definition; change is something that happens both to us and for us, and how we navigate that transition that is required is our choice. I love your term, massive acceptance, and radical presence. I appreciated your great tips for how to bring emotional intelligence into everything that we do and thank you for telling us about your Caregiver’s Journey Program that is a much-needed resource for so many people.
If you would like more information on this, please visit Sue’s website, https://sueryan.solutions/. Thank you for listening to this episode of the Menttium Matters podcast. We look forward to having you back next time.