Guest Post By Meredith Whipple Callahan, Certified Life-cycle Celebrant®, Author, Coach
Some of our most under-ritualized, under-celebrated moments occur not in our personal lives, but in our professional lives. Specifically, while we have evolved a few secular rituals to acknowledge the end of our careers – most notably, the retirement party, we still lack the rites that help us transition into the workforce.
The Ritual Structure of Joining a New Organization
Starting one’s professional life – or even just switching jobs from one company to another – represents a major shift in personal identity. In some cases, the companies themselves more or less consciously choreograph some of elements of ritual. Mapping Van Gennep’s stages of rites of passage can help us see more clearly the incidental ways in which the shift in identity often takes place.
Separation First, as the employee starts their first day, there is a separation as the employee leaves their previous role as a general citizen of society and walks through the doors of the office. As they pass by reception, they may even enter into a secure inner sanctum requiring an employee or guest badge. They are leaving their external identities behind.
Transition Now physically admitted to the company’s space, they often enter a ritual time of ‘onboarding.’ In this transitional period, they are no longer external to the company but have not yet taken on their full-time roles within the community. In this phase they are often required to complete paperwork that represents a legal change of status. They may receive advice and training to help them on their journey. They are often oriented to the physical space and given full access via their own badge or proximity card. In some cases, they even receive clothing branded with the company’s identity; they are able to dress the part.
Incorporation Finally, as they transition out of the onboarding period and into their new roles, they are incorporated into their new community. A new manager, peer, or mentor may take them out to lunch – a common sign of incorporation. In their new identify, they are not only employees of the company broadly, but employees of a specific department, reporting to a specific manager, with a specific role. Their role within the new community is clarified and secured.
Enhancing the Ritual Elements Around Job Transitions
While much of this rite is choreographed by the company, it is likely insufficient. As individuals going through these professional transitions – and as celebrants – there are two ways that we can enhance and further support these transitions:
First, we may supplement the onboarding process with more structured ceremonies to mark these changes in status. While so many elements of a rite of passage are incorporated in the common onboarding experience, they are often not consciously held and invested with intentional meaning. This is where celebrants may play even more of a role in offering ceremonies for new entrants to the workforce – either to companies directly or to individual themselves.
Second and more subtly, new entrants to the workforce may simply adopt more of a ‘ritual consciousness’ in working through these transitions. Ceremony often brings a heightened awareness of how we are acting and whether that does or does not accord with our role in our community. Even without a formal ceremony, individuals can nonetheless adopt this consciousness by more closely assessing whether their behaviors are more or less in service of the role expected of them.
I recently published a book, Indispensable: How to Succeed at Your First Job and Beyond. Since the publication in June, I have found myself on radio and television interviews discussing what it means to start one’s first job and what advice I have for new graduates. So much of this advice is focused on common sensical approaches to being successful at work; that said, when seen through the lens of ceremony, the book is a call to consciousness for new employees to adopt exactly this intentional, reflective approach to figuring out what works within their new professional environment.
Ultimately, professional transitions provide another area in which our culture holds an insufficient appreciation of the ability of ritual to transform us from one identity into another. In the case of organizations, this transformation is essential to both individual and organizational success.
As you look at your professional life, how have the transitions between roles and your related shifts in identity gone? Have you honored them consciously – with ceremony or reflection – or moved through them more matter-of-factly? How might you, as a celebrant, think about supporting others in their times of professional transition?
Meredith Whipple Callahan is a thought leader and practitioner of leadership development as well as a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant. Meredith works at Bridgewater Associates, where she focuses on culture and management topics. Previously, Meredith worked at Bain & Company, where she co-created the firm’s Inspirational Leadership program, building the training curriculum and development tools. She also brings over a decade of experience in strategy consulting to her work in leadership. She has worked around the world, developing leaders in dozens of countries. Meredith is also a certified executive coach and facilitator. She holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BA in Religious Studies from Yale University. Meredith is the author of Indispensable: How to Succeed at Your First Job and Beyond (available on Amazon) and also writes the site The Intentional (www.theintentional.net). Meredith lives in the greater New York City area with her family.