Last month we hosted 12 worldwide dinners on the topic of TRANSFORMATION. From Buenos Aires to Paris, Caracas to Nairobi, Belize to Zurich, women gathered to share and listen to each other’s stories.
We heard so many different versions of what it means to transform. We transform as we enter new roles and as we move to new places. Our bodies transform over time. Our relationships transform and we see transformation happening in nature everyday. But at the end of the night, we wondered: can we sometimes mistake “external change” for transformation? What does it mean to truly transform?
In our dinners we learned that while change is inevitable, transformation is not. Our lives can change drastically, yet sometimes we resist going through the internal process– perhaps because it can feel messy, uncomfortable, and lonely. We hope these findings can bring more clarity and support you in your journey.
Here are our key takeaways…
Most stories around change and transformation start with a CATALYST
This catalyst can be internally or externally driven, wanted or unwanted:
Internally driven — We hear an internal call, sometimes it’s just a whisper, urging us to make a change. Some of us listen to that voice and take action right away (i.e moving countries, traveling, changing careers), and some of us fight it or ignore it, allowing relationships or behaviors to persist even when they are hurting us or/and affecting people around us. How can we become more attuned to the first “signs” indicating something is not working for us before building resentment? How can we listen better to our inner voices?
Externally driven — This is when life hits us hard — getting sick, breaking up, losing someone, experiencing trauma or abuse, getting old. It can be challenging to accept what we don’t want–yet what happens when we don’t accept it?
Whether the catalyst is internal or external, big or small, most of us tend to build huge expectations around the future. What do we do with those expectations? Do they help us move forward or do they paralyze us with doubt and fear?
Does every catalyst lead to transformation?
Some catalysts can change our lives, but we don’t truly transform.
Perhaps we move to a new place, yet are not able to adapt; or we grow old, but we are still attached to physical youth; or realize there’s racial injustice, yet our actions are still colonized. Transforming requires an intentional process of self-discovery where we may find “dark” and hidden parts of ourselves that we don’t necessarily like. We may have to face our anger and shame. We may have to sit with a lot of confusion. We may feel triggered and our reaction might be “fight or flight.”
Yet, if we commit to sitting with the discomfort instead of fighting, repressing or ignoring it, we can bring those “scary” or/and “unwanted” parts of ourselves to the surface, where they can heal and be integrated into who we are. And in this act, we transform.
As author and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl so poignantly reminds us, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Transformation allies and foes
We identified 4 “allies” that can support us in our journey and 4 transformation “foes” that we need to watch out for:
Transformation allies: openness, grief, acceptance and resilience.
Sometimes the pain or shame are too strong (i.e., severe illness, an abusive relationship) and shutting down feels downright safer (and in some cases it is — read our nuance at the end of this piece). As we continue to protect ourselves, how can we also build our resilience to face what feels “unfaceable”?
When going through a transformative process, how can we open ourselves to all the emotions? How can we embrace the grief of a loss? If we fully accept our reality with self-compassion, how could that change the ways in which we relate to ourselves, to the situation, to others?
Transformation foes: resistance, control, shutting down, apathy.
Some of us may reject or ignore our reality. Some of us may try to gain control and change what is happening. And some of us may disconnect and detach ourselves from the situation. But is that productive? Does that give us what we need?
While these behaviors are part of the human experience, and we can welcome them with compassion, it’s important to be aware of them as they can lead to blaming patterns and victimhood (why is X happening “to me”?). How can we be more responsible for our emotions without shaming or judging ourselves? How can we build more inner resilience while also strengthening our self-love?
Ultimately, how can we accept our reality with fully open bodies, minds and hearts? Perhaps the process of transformation begins with acceptance.
Transformation can feel lonely –it’s a process of growth and creating new identities
When we are going through a deep process of transformation we can feel alone and even misunderstood.
For instance, as our roles and identities change over the course of our lives — getting sober, becoming a parent or the leader of a company — we are invited to enter a transformation journey. This process is even more layered depending on our intersections — race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc — as well as our background and upbringing. Who are we in these new roles? How are we being seen? And how do we relate to others as we continue to discover ourselves?
At the end of our dinners there was an exhale as we all remembered that we were “not alone” — we have all gone through big changes and transformations in our lives. While we don’t necessarily need to share our process with others (vulnerability has consequences), we can find spaces and people that can truly listen and be there for us as we navigated the uncharted waters of transforming ourselves.
Cultural and societal transformation — an evolution in consciousness
The whole world has changed in the past year, but are we truly transforming as a society? If we want to end all forms of oppression, classism, racism and continue to become a more kind, generous, and equitable society– what inner and macro transformations do we need to embrace? What do we need to accept about our current reality? And what are we still resisting?
The good news is that each moment is an opportunity to transform. Each time we are feeling discomfort — mental loops, emotional tension, lack of belonging, confusion, self-criticism, a heated debate with someone you disagree with etc — we can choose to accept or we can choose to resist. We can choose to open up or we can choose to shut down. We can choose to blame or we can choose to become curious. We can choose to speak up with confidence for what we believe AND ALSO have the humility to listen.
How we individually choose to relate to difficulties and discomfort can help us grow as integrated humans. And then, together, we will be able to transform our world. This is possible.
Caracas: Venezuela is a country that has completely transformed in the last decades. It went from being one of the countries with the highest “happiness index” to a failed state with people dying of hunger every day. There’s something to be said here about “Responsible Selfishness” — there are times when the tragedy surrounding us is so overwhelming that shutting down is what feels most safe and supportive. How can we tap into more self-compassion when apathy or guilt creep in?
The wisdom of elders: across our tables (both virtual and in person) we had attendees in their early 20s all the way to others in their 70s. We learned from our elders that while there’s still so much resistance (particularly in the west) to getting old, there’s actually so much wisdom and clarity that comes when we are able to celebrate our years. Who could we become as a society if we started embracing old age?
Women-specific transformations: becoming a mother is one of the most profoundly transformational experiences. Another big turning point is going through menopause as it can imply a sense of loss and new found identity.
Practice “Self-Active Listening” — the first step for transformation is to listen to ourselves. Reflect on all the main areas of your life — key relationships, your work etc. If each of these areas could speak to you, what would they say? Listen with openness.
Journal: what have been some major changes in your life — Is there anything that still needs to be processed or integrated?
Reflect on the moments in which you’ve transformed… How did you embrace your “your own truth”? How did you embrace your “wings”?
“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.” Dean Jackson
Written by Veronica in Miami, Julie in Rome and Roxanne in Edinburg, with contributions from Dinner Confidential hosts Vanina and Mariasu in Buenos Aires, Uditi in Stockholm, Alessandra in Zurich, Caroline in Nairobi, Esther in Caracas, Marie-Laure in Paris, Alexandra in Amsterdam, Chloe in London, and Veronica in Belize.