The Cycle of Renewal

One of my coaching engagements has led me to learn a theory which is known to many but is new to me.  It is The Cycle of Renewal and was developed by the Hudson Institute.  Renewal is the reverse of burnout.  It is about deliberate rehabilitation for finding what you want to achieve because it meets your values and needs in a programmatic yet cyclical and unsurprising manner.

Winston Churchill said:  “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without the loss of enthusiasm.”  And Robert Louis Stevenson wrote along the same lines: “You cannot run away from a weakness.  You must sometimes fight it out or perish.  And if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?”

Both of these wise men knew — one through experience and one by understanding human nature — that life does not run in a straight line.

I think many of us who work in corporations believe that linearity is the natural career trajectory.  In fact, it’s not that at all.   Rather, it’s bumpy, uncomfortable, unpredictable, not always fun, and can lead us to places we don’t want to go.  Not every MBA ends up as COO or even staying in the field in which she started.  I recall a New York Times article about a firm that deferred its new annual hires, suggesting they take jobs with nonprofit organizations in the meantime.  What they found was that a fair number of these individuals chose to remain in the nonprofit sector.  Who could have known this in advance?  People re-evaluate all the time.

What does one do when faced with this dilemma?  According to The Cycle of Renewal, we enter a series of phases that help us transition gradually and in the right amount of time (this process cannot be rushed), though unless you do so deliberately and with full awareness, it can be quite uncomfortable because it makes you wonder if you’re okay.  Actually, all of this is perfectly natural.

The 4 phases of The Cycle of Renewal are:

Phase 1:  “Go For It — A Period of Stability” that has purpose, focus, is directed, and you feel like you’re accomplishing your life’s goals.  It may be the culmination of a life-long dream or ambition and give you the sense that you’ve really arrived.

Phase 2: “Doldrums — A Period of Detachment and Restlessness.”  Despite achieving what you thought was essential to your life and you as an individual, instead you are now disenchanted, feel trapped and are likely angry.  Disappointment runs deep.  When your work and your values are no longer a good fit, it’s a clear call for you to reassess your situation.  A time-out is in order.  You begin to develop an exit strategy and another route forward, transitioning gradually into phase 3.

Phase 3:  “Cocooning — Coming to Terms with Yourself.”  During this phase you’re likely to be quiet, introspective, will tend to explore and reconstruct parts of your life and dream.  It is here that you nurture new ideas before entering phase 4.  It’s very important that you let it happen. Be patient and let go, as scary as it is.

Phase 4:  “Getting Ready — A Time for Experimenting.”  As you have moved from stability to instability and from being unhappy to moving in another direction, during this phase you are ‘testing, experimenting, taking risks and exploring.’  I think of it as similar to all the learning we did when we were young — we were constantly trying on new ways of being, of thinking, of speaking and of dreaming.  In fact, these are all necessary steps to lead us back to Phase 1 — our dream.  Eventually you will find your way, with a renewed sense of purpose.

The Hudson Institute crisply describes the process as:  “Hold On   Let Go   Take On   Move On.”  What I like about it is the recognition that we are never a finished product and that it’s perfectly natural to become unhappy and disenchanted after so much deliberation, investment and excitement.  The real knack is not fighting the urge not to let go.




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  1. Frank — I heard a presentation from the Hudson Institute about their Cycle of Renewal and was really blown away by it. It’s even more impressive and resonated with me when I saw the diagram they use to illustrate the cycle. It hit home because I believe it’s true. The fact is that we are always moving through one phase of the Cycle. It’s a life-long process. Thanks for explaining it so well.

    • Thanks, Jeannette. I wanted to include their diagram, but was concerned about copyright infringement. There are other diagrams out there, but none quite as descriptive as theirs. And, of course, thanks for reading what I write and for your comments. Regards, Frank

  2. A very well written and concise explanation of what should be an accepted and encouraged process of a healthy and necessary cycle. I have always found that people are hesitant to admit that professional trajectories are not straight upward lines, growth is fluid and bumpy, and that the greater logic is to view this from the eyes of human behavior which reinforces the Cycle of Renewal more than anything else..

    • Hi Mimi,

      Thank you for reading my blogs.

      I think many people from when I went to business school (graduated in 1977) have been both disenchanted with and disengaged from work for a long time. But they resist for a myriad of reasons the internal urge to move on and reconsider other choices. Not that this is easy, especially when you have financial commitments. The level of discomfit is almost an indicator of the importance of renewal.

      Despina’s still on the mend — internal would has yet to heal. Doc said a few more weeks.

      All the best,

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