The Dragon Slayer in You Moving into a new type or phase of work can seem terrifying. This speech-language pathologist’s struggle with transitioning propelled her to help others like her. Learn what she learned. Features
Features  |   November 01, 2015
The Dragon Slayer in You
Author Notes
  • Melissa Page Deutsch, MS, CCC-SLP, a certified personal development coach, is owner of Inner Voice Coaching ( She will present on “Navigating Professional Transitions: An Evidence-Based Coaching Approach” (Session 1244) at the ASHA Convention in Denver this month.
    Melissa Page Deutsch, MS, CCC-SLP, a certified personal development coach, is owner of Inner Voice Coaching ( She will present on “Navigating Professional Transitions: An Evidence-Based Coaching Approach” (Session 1244) at the ASHA Convention in Denver this month.×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   November 01, 2015
The Dragon Slayer in You
The ASHA Leader, November 2015, Vol. 20, 38-44. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.20112015.38
The ASHA Leader, November 2015, Vol. 20, 38-44. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.20112015.38
“Transition is the natural process of disorientation and reorientation that marks the turning points in the path of growth … transitions are key times in the natural process of self-renewal.” —William Bridges
When I returned to work as a speech-language pathologist after 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, I was stunned by the fear and hesitation that blasted me like a fire hose.
“What happened to that brave person I used to be?” I wondered. My mind flitted back to the days when I treated critically ill patients at a fast-paced, tertiary-care teaching hospital. My hand poised to knock on a new patient’s door, I’d think, “I don’t know what to expect and I don’t know if I’m the one to help here. But let me see what I can do.”
Fast-forward a decade-plus, one husband and two children. My identity had shifted. I had finally learned to surrender to motherhood, rarely struggling with my decision to devote myself full time to my family. But now, as I read and re-read the job application on the kitchen table, I felt a pull to stay put conflicting with an undeniable urge to move forward.
The job was full-time clinical supervisor of graduate students at our local university, something with which I had no experience. It seemed equal parts exciting and daunting. This time, my hand lifted with trepidation, not quite poised to knock on this new door, and I wondered, “Have I lost my professional mojo?”

As I read and re-read the job application on the kitchen table, I felt a pull to stay put conflicting with an undeniable urge to move forward.

Examine your ‘why’
Just contemplating this change knocked me off my axis. I was plagued with worries and visions of disaster. “Am I still qualified? Do I have what it takes for this—and do I still want to do it? Will I lose all flexibility with my time? Will my marriage suffer? Will I become a permanently grouchy mom? Will we all start eating junk food?”
With all these imagined threats to health and happiness, I was tempted to retreat back into the known world of carpools and Costco runs. Why even attempt this new challenge?
Why indeed.
There were plenty of valid and practical reasons for me to return to my work as a speech-language pathologist:
  • A population existed out there that could benefit from the specialized skills and experience I had. Was it even ethical not to help them?

  • I craved intellectual stimulation.

  • I’d be a good role model—someone who has the confidence to pursue her dreams—for my daughter and son.

  • I’d once again earn a paycheck.

But you know what it came down to? Something inside me needed to keep growing. An important part of who I was felt like it was withering. I wanted to reconnect with that brave person I used to be professionally. Returning to paid work felt like the first step of this new and needed journey.
“Our deepest fears,” wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, “are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure.” Getting to “why” is key to taming those dragons and moving forward with a growth mindset rather than a constrictive one when confronted with an important change. Examining our why allows us to make decisions that are informed by our logic and our passion, not by our fear.
One thing is for sure: Contemplating a big change that takes us outside our comfort zone conjures resistance. There is a scientifically sound reason for this. The part of our brains that is concerned with survival perceives change to the status quo as a threat to our very existence. Our instinctual resistance serves to inhibit our investigation of new territory. Self-imposed deterrents might come in the form of:
  • Fear: “No way. I can’t do this.”

  • Ennui: “I don’t have the energy.”

  • Procrastination: “Yeah, great idea … maybe I’ll look into it later.”

  • Minimization of one’s dreams: “It’s not really that important.”

  • Perfectionism: “I’m not qualified/organized/young/old/fill-in-the-blank enough.”

  • Distraction with other activities: “My schedule is too packed to do this.”

Understand transition
I now know that my trepidation about going back to work was normal, a predictable phase I needed to go through. And guess what? I didn’t get hired for the full-time supervisor job. But the university offered me part-time work on a research team. What a gift that job was. The researchers were brilliant scholars and, by the way, moms. Their passion for their work inspired me.
I landed a part-time job supervising graduate students at the university a year later, a position I had for two years. Though I knew this wasn’t my “forever” job, I loved the one-on-one contact involved with helping people directly.
I remember how often I stared at the key to my new office in those early days. This key meant a lot: It wasn’t to my house and it wasn’t to my minivan. My journey had begun.
But I was haunted by the thought of all the talented people who might feel stalled in their growth, who might never begin a process like mine. Especially folks in communication sciences and disorders.

I was haunted by the thought of all the talented people who might feel stalled in their growth, who might never begin a process like mine.

There is so much talent sitting on the bench, I realized. And thus, my own professional path veered into coaching.
After securing training and certification in coaching, and four years after applying for that first university job, I began my coaching business. Here’s what I tell clients: If you are anticipating a change or are in the midst of one, be assured that questions, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, and a dash of hopeful excitement are all parts of this passage. Get comfortable with the mess. And be ready for some new discoveries.
“It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”—William Bridges
Bridges, a respected authority on change and change management in the workplace, distinguishes between change and transition. According to Bridges, change is external, related to our circumstances (a promotion, job loss or move to another state, for example).
Transition is internal, a psychological re-ordering we go through to accommodate an external change (“owning” our new position or identity). Change is fast. It might be welcomed or dreaded. Transition, on the other hand, takes a long time.
Transition requires us to go through a restructuring of our psyches. For any change to be successful, we have to make a successful transition from what used to be to what is. Change without accompanying transition will fail.
  • Change

  • Transition

  • External

  • Internal

  • Fast

  • Slow

  • Environmental shift

  • Psychological re-patterning

In Bridges’ model, the three stages of transition are:
  1. Ending, losing, letting go. This is a time of saying goodbye to old ways and to an old identity. We cannot move forward until we acknowledge and let go of what was.

  2. The neutral zone. Here, we are in uncharted territory where the old is no longer there for us but the new isn’t yet established. This is an anxious time. This stage cannot be rushed. Bridges describes it as a winter, during which spring’s growth is taking place underground. It is here that we begin to cultivate our new identities.

  3. The new beginning. Finally, we step into our new identity. At this stage, we experience hopefulness and a surge of energy. This infusion of optimism and confidence fuels us to do the work required to make the change successful. Each stage can overlap. And we can regress to an earlier stage—for example, feeling sadness about the loss of our old role—even as we embrace our new one.

Studying Bridges’ model, I could not help but be struck by parallels with the “hero’s journey” described by mythology scholar Joseph Campbell. When Campbell examined the myths of the world, he found a common theme among them, which he described as the hero’s journey. The three main stages of the hero’s journey are:
  • Departure: The hero is called from home because of an external or internal change (Bridges’ “ending, losing letting go”).

  • Initiation: The hero embarks on a quest marked by trials and battles with known and unknown forces, and discovers untapped resources to meet these challenges (Bridges’ “neutral zone”).

  • Return: The hero emerges from the quest a changed person, with a gift to share (Bridges’ “new beginning”).

Get out your map
You are embarking on your own journey into a new professional realm. Equip yourself with tools to support you through the inevitable challenges you’ll face along the way. The most important piece of equipment to guide you is your compass—your core values. To pinpoint your own values, see the sidebar below: “Set Your Life’s Compass by Your Core Values.”
Using the exercise listed there, I identified the values that I hold dear: integrity, creativity, intellectual stimulation, humor and connection. When I looked at my week through the lens of integrity, for example, I asked myself throughout each day, “How am I respecting my value of integrity right now?” This was a great value to start with, because for me it meant, “How faithful am I being to my own standards of staying true to my word and to my values in general?” I was fascinated to see how this value played such a pervasive role in so many aspects of my life, from whether or not I got up to exercise when my alarm went off to how much time I allotted to develop my business each day.
Set ‘me’ goals
As SLPs and audiologists, we are pros at setting goals for our students, patients and clients, right? Surprisingly, I’ve found with my coaching clients that we are not always so good at applying this skill to our own lives. I know I wasn’t, at first. But you, my friend, can be more organized in your own transition.
Using the vision exercise online, identify one to two long-term goals that bring you closer to your ideal life. Then create doable short-term goals that support your long-term goals.
As an example, when I went through my own process, my vision included contributing to and supporting my colleagues in the field of communication sciences and disorders. A long-term goal that supported that vision was to design a workshop for navigating professional transitions and to present it locally, at the state level, and nationally. My initial short-term goals—for one week—were to connect with my vision daily (three minutes of quiet focus), peruse the Speech-Language-Hearing Association of Virginia (SHAV)website for information on paper submissions for the state conference, and brainstorm a rough outline of salient points to share with my audience.
Step by step, week by week, I went forward, eventually renting space in an art gallery and promoting my first workshop locally, then submitting a proposal for the same workshop to SHAV and, finally, to ASHA. Staying connected to my vision—to support and empower others in transition—gave me the focus and the courage to experience my values in my heart and to express them in my community.
Writing down our values and goals is the difference between living on autopilot and taking ourselves and our dreams seriously. Invest in yourself over the next week. Try these exercises and see what you discover. Not only will you be energized by your vision, you also will be able to identify your core values and the character strengths you have to achieve your goals.
Reconnect with your values. You are the one and only you this world has. From the essence of who you are, show yourself and the world what you have to offer. It’s a great way to live, you dragon-slayer, you.
Set Your Life’s Compass by Your Core Values

When we keep our values front and center, it helps us stay grounded through the ups and downs of transition. We get in the habit of looking at our actions and attitudes in the context of how they measure up to our values. Here are some ways you can identify and focus on your own core values.

Values Exercise One: Values List

Find 10 minutes to do this crucial, foundational exercise. Your answers will serve as a guidepost for your next actions. Take out your journal or a blank piece of paper. At the top, write “My Core Values.” Then, answer these questions:

  1. What values are most important to me?

  2. What do I want to make sure is always included in my life? Don’t censor your responses, Write down whatever comes to mind, the serious and the frivolous. This is a brain dump.

  3. Whittle your list to five to seven core values. Likely these will mostly be serious, but you can have some fun, too. I had a coach who listed chocolate as one of his core values. Now why didn’t I think of that?

  4. Look at each value and ask yourself, “What about this is important to me?” For example, if wealth is one of my values, I might note that having money makes me secure so that I can pay my living expenses and have the freedom to take vacations. Security and freedom, then, are two of my core values.

  5. Look at your week through the lens of each value. Notice where your actions and attitudes honor that value and where that value is getting stepped on.

Values Exercise Two: Best Possible Self

This is an exercise developed by Laura King, a professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri at Columbia. In a 2001 study, King found that students who spent 20 minutes a day for four days writing about their “best possible self” experienced more positive affect and better health than their peers assigned to control groups who wrote about neutral subjects.

Here are her exact directions:

“Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all your life dreams. Now, write about what you imagined.”

As you look over your writing, note what you see in multiple domains: relationships, finances, career, personal development, fun and recreation. What values do you notice? Examples might be: health, service, balance, adventure, financial security.

This exercise helps us solidify what is important to us, further enhances our knowledge of our core values, and helps us to connect with our vision for what’s possible in our lives.

Read more about handling transitions in William Bridges’ book “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.”

November 4, 2015
Cheryl Brown
Need a tattoo of this on my forearm
this was such as timely article for me. So often we get mired in our own rat race and day to day toil. I loved the core values section at the end. All professionals should have this tattooed on their forearms as a mantra for when the going gets challenging and we start to question ourselves!!!
November 25, 2015
Dawn Thomas
Great article
I thoroughly enjoyed this article. It was so timely as I am in the process of transition. It is a scary place to be but I am grateful to know it is just a phase that will end. I will just prepare for the next phase.
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November 2015
Volume 20, Issue 11