Welcome to the Neutral Zone

Welcome to the Neutral Zone

We’ve been waiting. Waiting for 2020 to end and 2021 to finally arrive. But the turn of the calendar didn’t solve our problems – in fact, not much feels different at all. If anything, it feels like a continued or even an increased sense of unknown, uncertainty, and chaos.

Since March 2020, I’ve often felt like I’m in the middle of a dense forest with no obvious way out. My “way” has become one of putting one foot in front of the other, literally taking the next step, and then the next. Most days, this helps me feel like I’m making progress, albeit slow.

My consulting and executive coaching work focuses on helping leaders and their organizations navigate change and transition. These days, I lean on my own practices…a lot. One of my favorite sources is the work of William Bridges and the Bridges Transition Model. In his book, “Managing Transitions,” he presents the stages of transition: Letting Go, the Neutral Zone, and the New Beginning. Let’s take a look at the Neutral Zone he describes.

The Neutral Zone

“It’s a time when all the old clarities break down and everything is in flux. Things are up in the air. Nothing is a given anymore, and anything could happen. No one knows the answers: one person says one thing and someone else says something completely different.”

Sound familiar?

This Neutral Zone is a huge chasm of discomfort between an ending and a new beginning. We’re waiting – for a new president to take office, for spring to come, for a vaccine to be widely available, to return to school and work, to hug our friends and family, and to travel. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Telling yourself it’ll be worth the wait, but also feeling exhausted, isolated, and worried because time can feel like a finite resource.

Bridges continues, “One of the most difficult aspects of the Neutral Zone is that most people don’t understand it. They expect to be able to move straight from the old to the new. But this isn’t a trip from one side of the street to the other. It’s a journey from one identity to another, and that kind of journey takes some time. The attitudes, outlook, values, self-images, and ways of thinking that were functional in the past have to ‘die’ before people can be ready for life in the present.”

So, what do we do in this neutral zone? What do we do while we wait? How are you in this zone? Probably like you, one day I’m up, the next I’m down. Some days I’m optimistic, others, I can’t find that optimism no matter what I do or how hard I try.

But hang on…there’s hope!

As we’ve sustained in this abyss now for nearly 12 months, I’m learning to be with it and also recognize it for its gifts and opportunity. Somehow, it helps to know we’re all in it together…it literally feels like there’s not one person on the planet with a “ticket” to escape this time of pandemic, social and racial injustice and unrest, and political turmoil. We’re faced with doing our work and living our life the best we can. What feels most right to me is openness, kindness, compassion, flexibility.

“This is not the wasted time of meaningless waiting and confusion that it sometimes seems to be,” offers Bridges. “It’s a time when reorientation and redefinition must take place, and people need to understand that.”

Yes, it’s a time of anxiety and even chaos, but also it is a time when we’re more open to new ideas and opportunity. I remind myself daily that there’s power in this place. For me:

  • Priorities have become clearer, and I realize what’s most important in my life.
  • I can do with less. A lot less, in fact: money, material things, activities, work hustle…all the busyness
  • Losing what “was” is teaching me to exercise my creativity and look for new opportunities to cultivate and apply myself – my interests, skills, talent, and experience. Coupling this with new insight around my priorities is giving way to a new and more aligned path.
  • I’m reminded to celebrate the highs and the wins, even the smallest wins (especially those!)
  • I look for the lessons in the lows and greatest challenges.
  • I realize that my happiness and power come from within. I’m developing my spirituality practice to help me tap into that.

Since March, I’ve discovered that not only does my old way not work now, but I no longer even wish for that way. There are many things I quite like about this middle place and how the present is informing what I’m building. I’m learning to trust myself and my intuition and inner voice much more every day.

How are you finding ways to maximize and leverage your neutral zone?

Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Seismic Shifts From the Tried-and-True

Seismic Shifts From the Tried-and-True

A few weeks ago, I began the practice of “morning pages” again, and I feel the shifting of my internal tectonic plates.

For those unfamiliar with morning pages, the tool comes from Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, where she guides readers on a path to freeing their internal creative self, and introduces this pivotal daily morning writing ritual.

The idea is that you awake and, first thing as you rise, free write for about 30 minutes, emptying yourself of thoughts, ideas, wonderings, and such. Keep the pen moving for 2–3 pages’ worth and whatever comes, comes. The purpose isn’t to produce anything spectacular, although sometimes you might! Simply write.

For the last ten years, I’ve been on again, off again with this practice. Every time I start back, I wonder why I ever stop. For in these pages over time, I’ve scoped out a yearlong sabbatical, launched a business, and discovered and claimed my identity as a gay woman. Shifting plates…

I think of morning pages as a writing meditation of sorts – I watch my thoughts and feelings flow from my pen onto paper as I release about events, experiences, and dreams, and with them, anger, fear, love, joy, loss, excitement. I let go, I imagine, I question, I leap. I’m safe here – free to be whoever I am in this space and be with whatever emerges.

A practice so simple, yet I feel its quake. This time, it’s revealing my inner creative, me claiming who I am as a writer. A professional writer. Not an amateur, or hobbyist, and my craft isn’t play or my sidekick – although the roar of resistance sometimes tries to convince me otherwise.

This time around while reading The Artist’s Way, a particular passage really stood out to me – the one where Cameron describes the shadow artist…

“Artists themselves, but ignorant of their true identity, shadow artists are to be found shadowing declared artists. They often choose shadow careers  – those close to the desired art, even parallel to it, but not the art itself.”

“Artists love other artists. Shadow artists often gravitate to their rightful tribe but cannot yet claim their birthright. They want to write. They want to paint. They want to act, make music, dance…but they are afraid to take themselves seriously.”

“In order to move from the realm of shadows into the light of creativity, shadow artists must learn to take themselves seriously.”

I thought, “Could this be me?”

As I process coming out of this creative closet, it feels like the fruition of a decades-long crescendo.

  • As a child, I grew up with arts and creativity. My older sister, Melinda, and I took piano lessons and played our entire childhood. I performed flute in the school band, sang in my church choir and school chorus, wrote for my school yearbook and newspaper, and took up photography as a hobby when I got a camera for high school graduation.
  • In college, I studied journalism and wrote and photographed for university publications. And although I didn’t plan it, my early work out of college took me down a professional path of nonprofit arts administration – my first job with a private music academy, and a dozen years later I became CEO of an urban arts council…truly my dream job.
  • When I left that post, I took a sabbatical for a few months to gain clarity on what would come next in my career. How did I spend the time? I painted for the first time in my life, I learned Spanish with my son, I took up guitar lessons again, and I started a blog as a new writing challenge – all arts-related pursuits. I’d spent so many years helping arts organizations and artists build capacity and develop resources, that I was drawn to finally explore my own creativity again. The space and playground of the sabbatical inspired me to start my own business focused on my passion of helping people and organizations transform.
  • So attracted to artists I am, that I fell in love with one, and in October this year, I married Lyn Koonce – a professional contemporary folk musician. Music fills our home, and I have a front row seat to her amazing work and recent new album launch.

As I reflect back on this trajectory through my recent morning pages, I can see how central art and creative expression have been to who I am and who I’m becoming.

If indeed I have been the shadow artist Cameron describes, I feel myself emerging from that and claiming my artist self. I’m a bit in awe of the revelations that come from this practice. Plates shifting…

Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation.







Do The Work

Do The Work

Fear. Self-sabotage. Procrastination. Self-doubt. I’ll bet you know some of these “characters” first-hand. I do. I know all of them…and then some, sometimes all at once! Right now, this is where I am.

Earlier this year, I shared that I’m writing a book. It’s a book on knowing and living your truth. I’m embarking on this, my most creative undertaking yet, and as I do, it’s awakening Resistance (yes, with a capital “R”) like I’ve never experienced. I’ve done hard stuff in my life. I’ve done big things, creative things and things that have terrified me. But this venture has me searching for a new way, new tricks, props – anything! to keep me focused and move me through the process.

What’s helping most is a platform of sorts that I call “Do The Work.” It may sound ridiculously simple. It kind of is. And yet, it’s bullishly hard. So, I have little reminders, like the sticky notes pictured here, posted around my office and home to keep it front and center. This maxim is becoming my #1 defense to the Resistance – this multi-headed fire breathing monster – I experience every day.

First, it has helped me to acknowledge that this project isn’t really about writing a book. In the beginning, I thought I was simply writing a book. Instead, it’s a meandering, soul quaking undertaking to:

explore what it means and what it takes to know yourself at your core

understand and challenge your deeply held beliefs

get clear on what you most want and desire in this life

realize you’re always in choice to claim and act on that desire

know that it takes a hell of a lot of courage to take that action and live the life you most want to live

What I now know is that when you begin work like this…a deep, life transforming undertaking  – where you stir up the molecular juju within yourself – you awaken God and all her angels as well as the darkest dragons and demons. Daily, the battle between these allies and adversaries rattles my bones! If this sounds intense, it’s because it is.

This project as a whole is much less about the art and skill of writing (although this is important!) and far more about – Doing The Work – the discipline of showing up every day, committing this as a core part of my professional full-time business, and engaging in the physical activity of producing words on paper.

This project is also acknowledging a very important shift in me that writing is not my fluffy, amateur, side kick hobby. It’s my profession. I’m a writer. There. I said it. I AM A WRITER. My internal battle to slay the dragon is as much about claiming and owning who I am as a writer as much as it is the writing process and content itself.

Every. Single. Day. Resistance slithers in on my scene with a mission not just to slow my work or redirect it, but to derail and destroy it. It’s sneaky and cunning. It attacks not as a single strike, but rather as a slow, steady, relentless invasion. It’s deadly. And I refuse to be taken out by it. It requires me to be diligent, resolute. I engage everything at my disposal to slay the beast. In my world it shows up as:

  • my other work clients needing my attention
  • urgent (but not always important) project needs that spring up
  • my elderly mom and her many demands of my time and focus
  • a workout that I suddenly am hugely motivated to do
  • the compulsion to organize my bookshelf…again, this time by title and in alphabetical order!
  • monthly finances that must be reconciled NOW
  • the overwhelming desire take my dogs for a walk

Early on, it tricked me. I had no idea all the attractions and distractions were Resistance.

Some of the above tasks seemed like legitimate priorities, and I thought my unquenchable desire to read more, study more, and research more were all forces to sharpen me, enhance my work, make me better. While all these certainly are important – there is a time and place for them, and it’s not during my writing time.

Resistance is seductive. The more I fall victim to Its force, the more and more and more It wants.I see you, Resistance. I’ve learned. I’m smarter now. And you will NOT beat me. You will not win.

Do The Work keeps me focused. Do The Work centers me. Do The Work has me keeping the main thing the main thing.

Now, in the mornings when I rise, I imagine the hoodie, sweatshirt, or suit I put on as a powerful, protective “Harry Potteresque” cloak – an impenetrable “Do The Work” shield to all the distractions, chaos, and fires attempting to kidnap me from my writing. I put it on. Lace it up. It’s becoming my super power.


Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Practice Productive Procrastination

Practice Productive Procrastination

I’m sitting on my back porch today enjoying lunch surrounded by what sounds like a tropical aviary – ahhh, theporch benefits of a home office. I brought with me some rich lunchtime reading material, “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon, one of my all-time favorite books.

I randomly flip it open to the section “Practice Productive Procrastination.” I swear it’s true! (Just two days ago I posted a blog piece on being frustrated with my procrastination.) This, naturally, piqued my interest…giving me hope and maybe validation in support of a personally plaguing condition.

“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” – Jessica Hische


Ok. I’m really not sure I can convince my husband that I should sit daydreaming all day long. “Trust me, baby, it’s good for my business.” Or go trail running and never come back. Or curl up in the hammock with my Labrador, Hendrix. “Bye honey. Have a good day! – hours pass – Back already? Wow, I’ve had a great day, how about you?” That would go over splendidly in my house.

Austin offers up “It’s the side projects that really take off. By side projects I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens.”

I completely relate.

When I started my business four years ago, that’s how it began. I just started doing the kind of work that I love to do – the kind of things I would do whether I got paid or not. And at first, I didn’t – offering my services pro bono to a key organization or two. Before long, my business pipeline was full (yes, with paying clients), and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve since sharpened the focus of my work, honing my niche and services more and more around what feels ideal and fun for me. For it’s in this space that I’m my most true, authentic self. And I am concerned far less with what others think, how ‘perfect’ the result is, or how ‘good I am.’ Here, I lead with natural instincts and tap into my skills, strengths, and passion. Isn’t that what play is?

This sounds so simple and straightforward. But its simplicity is its complexity. Every day, I have to be conscious and purposeful with this, otherwise I can get ‘wrapped’ quickly. Client priorities and deadlines build tension. I over-think and analyze things. I work and drive too hard.

tools of the trade for the Center for Arts and CraftsTo help combat that tendency, I have a few ‘structures’ and people who help hold me accountable to play, fun, and creativity…to procrastinating and finding joy in those side projects and hobbies. For example, I keep my guitar in my office. Part of my desk is covered with art supplies and funky objects that inspire me. I’ll spontaneously go for a run or workout. My son is a great instigator too and has been known to drag me out to play basketball mid-day.

It’s been said, “When I get busy, I get stupid.” Isn’t that the truth! When I find myself in overdrive, my performance actually goes down. I make careless mistakes. I send emails I wish I never sent.

Can you relate?

I was on a trail walk the other day with my daughter and she commented that it was boring. I smiled and thought to myself, “Exactly. It’s boring. That’s what is so beautiful about it.” For me, getting in the woods – and doing anything – is a complete escape. I take in the smells, sounds, textures, the peace. And it becomes a meditation…melting tensions, dissolving barriers, and creating flow. Boring? Bring it.

As Austin says, “Take time to mess around. Get lost. Wander. You never know where it’s going to lead you.”

So, let us hear about your wandering and wondering. How do you practice productive procrastination?


photo credit: pennstatenews via photopin cc






Expanding Time

Expanding Time

appointment, setting a dateAbout a month ago, I started putting an appointment on my calendar each week called “Time to Think.” Don’t laugh. Stay with me for three minutes…

When do you make time to just think? Devoting dedicated, uninterrupted time to think about your business strategy, debrief learnings about a recent project, or assess progress and refine your plans? Maybe you can relate – I get so wrapped up in my day-to-day and the “doing” of my work, that time to plan and strategize often gets pushed aside.

So I decided to make a weekly two-hour appointment to reflect over the last week and look ahead to the next. I ask myself a series of questions, like: What went well? What can I leverage to produce even greater results? What didn’t go well, and why? What brought me the most joy in my work? And on the contrary, what gave me the biggest headache?

In just four weeks, this “thinking” appointment actually seems to expand time. I thought it would be so hard to dedicate the time and stick with it. I was sure that client projects and priorities would override this new commitment and I’d fall off. And that the anticipated benefit would turn out to be fluff. Not true! I’ve experienced immediate, powerful benefits.

–       Before, I never stopped to examine all that I actually accomplish in a week. Probably like you, I move quickly from one thing to the next, and it all blends together. This new commitment has taught me that taking the time to reflect (and also to celebrate the “wins”) is meaningful and has a direct, positive impact on my business and on me personally.

–       By simply paying attention, I’m noticing things and becoming more efficient. I’ve outsourced or eliminated tasks and changed the way I prioritize and invest in what matters most. Its as if I have more time and other resources.

–       It reminds me that I have the power to choose…to create the life I most want to live. I firmly believe that we create that to which we give thought.

–       In my work, I love innovation – experimenting and trying new things, then observing its affect. In doing so, it’s beneficial to reflect on what worked and what didn’t and use those findings to inform future action.

I agree that this isn’t some wild, new idea. But for me, this simple action is yielding some very meaningful results. Give it a try and see what happens. I think it might surprise you!

Shaping a New Venture: Play and Creative Exploration

Shaping a New Venture: Play and Creative Exploration

Planning a new venture while taking a sabbatical

Have you ever dreamt of taking time off? I’m not talking about just a week’s vacation, but longer – a month, two months, six months, a year? What would it be like to wake up at your own pace, spend the day doing exactly as you please, and sleep like a baby through the night? Sounds blissful, doesn’t it?

For me, time off had always been postponed indefinitely to ‘someday’ until November 23, 2009. I had arrived at a sense of completion with my tenure as President & CEO of the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro (a post I held for nearly seven years), having achieved the goals I had set for the organization: debt elimination, significant revenue growth, focusing of organizational priorities, creating a new business model, and shoring up board and staff leadership. I knew the moment was right for me to depart, unplug, and give my careful thought and energy to shaping what came next.

It was then that I began a one-year sabbatical – a luxury of time and space to hit the pause button, play, explore some creative pursuits, and see what possibilities would emerge.

Before I left the UAC, a good friend of mine offered some sage advice. It began with a question, “So, what are you going to do the day after…when you wake up and you’re not President of the UAC?” she queried. Then she continued, “You’ve been with the organization for twelve years. It’s a consuming, very public and high profile position.” It was true. I always felt ‘on,’ the work absorbing every available moment of time like water rushing over rocks, filling every crevice. And I had loved it. I silently realized that her question more specifically was “had I become the role?”

I let this question marinate a bit in my mind. “I don’t think I am the role,” I thought. “I surely hope I’m not.” But it did make me think. And it did make me a little more planful, especially with the first few weeks of my time off…if only to avoid the potential meltdown (or ‘breakdown’) that my friends worried about.

I can say that the initial transition was a non-event; it was just fine, even great. I woke up that first morning and treated it like the beginning of a lengthy vacation that it was. I stayed in my PJs all day…maybe even all week. I really don’t remember. What I do remember is that I knew immediately I was not ‘The Role’. I never – not once – looked back or felt any remorse. It was so reassuring and validating for me to realize that the time truly had been right for me to leave the UAC. I was indeed satisfied with what I had set out to do for the organization, and I had reached my professional goals.

I began to know then what I have now tested and proven to myself: It’s okay to slow down. I needed time to just be. We all do. To be still, to think, pay attention, be aware, actually stop and notice things. Anything. Everything. To look at people – really see them. To sit down and enjoy a meal – savor it. Read a magazine – every page cover to cover. Breathe. Do you ever pause to notice your breathing? Ever catch yourself taking those short, shallow breaths? Or maybe even wonder if you’re hardly breathing at all?

Like all those work goals I had targeted and endless to-do lists, I prepared and approached my sabbatical in the same purposeful way. But I was careful about it. I avoided the tendency to try to do too much…thanks to lots of coaching by family and friends. They knew me. My list was whittled down from 63 to 48, then 12 and finally about six items. After these early adjustments, I avoided the “do everything you ever wanted to do but hadn’t had the time to do” approach and set out to explore these priorities.

I had this bookshelf filled with books ‘collected’ to read one day. Well, one day was now today. It felt so good to stand in front of those books stacked to the ceiling and make my first selection. It felt even better to give myself permission to read…all day long, every day for a week or longer. To get into the flow and stay there for a while. Now that is living slow! It also fulfilled a “journey of the mind,” so to speak, to explore and learn new things.

All the “white space” on my calendar gave me time to tune in to personal health and wellness; while this had been a focus, I now had newfound time and energy to devote to it. I began running about three years ago, in 2008, participating in a few 5k events and built up to 10k’s the following year. Now, in January 2010, I decided I would train for a half marathon – only now, I didn’t have to work in my runs between sundown and sunup. I hardly knew what it was like to run in the daylight. This would require more planning. My bed head definitely would have to be tamed. And now, I could even relax and enjoy a cup of coffee before heading out. I was used to gulping it down as I raced to the shower then dashed out the door to work. Ultimately, I ran two half marathons that year and continue it today.

Days, weeks, and months were filled with these interests and others – writing, playing guitar, painting, and spending time with friends – relationships for which had previously been pressed short, squeezed out, or simply not possible with the once-hectic pace. I learned so much during the year, not even remotely limited to:

Become a student again. It felt so good once again to approach learning new things (painting for example) like a five-year-old. It was fresh, freeing, exhilarating. And I could relax, listen, and absorb myself into the experiment without being concerned if the outcome was right or wrong, good or bad.

Immerse yourself in the moment. Often, life is consumed by such intensity and pace that you seldom enjoy a moment for what it is. In playing the guitar, I relished the learning experience, and I began to hear music like I’ve never heard music before. Now, when I listen to a song, I enjoy it not only for the whole, but also for all the different parts and what they specifically contribute. Similarly, in learning to paint, I see – really see – all the dynamics of a piece: Where’s the light? Where does it come from? What’s in the background, foreground, and the layers in between? What tools were used to create the piece? What mood or tone do you interpret? It has affected how I view everything in my everyday. I literally feel like the Vaseline has been cleared from my windshield.

Live fearlessly. Much of my play and creative exploration over the year, like life, provided me with second, third, fourth chances. As with painting, ‘paint is only paint.’ If you don’t like it, take a do-over and just paint over it. Simple things like this reminded me to give myself permission, take a leap, and fear less.

Present your true authentic self. In her book What Would You Do If You Had No Fear, Diane Conway writes, “If I be you, who’ll be me?” My time off has helped me gain greater awareness and a truer sense of self. In our careers, we spend so much time answering to a boss and working with groups and teams that we can lose site of who we are ­– our true voice – in trying to please others.

Having had this rich sabbatical, I’ll plan for another one in my future, perhaps five, ten years from now. In talking with others who’ve had similar experiences, I believe that there is a great void in the American workplace for this practice. And it’s a hugely missed opportunity for re-energizing and re-engaging an organization’s greatest asset ­– its human capital.

Time off can take many forms and be for varying lengths of time. People can take a break for a few weeks or more extended periods of time, hours can be shortened, and employees can job-share, work from home, or take an intra-company transfer to a different post/division. The important thing is to discover what is right for you and commit to taking time off. My advice is to approach the idea as if it were your next biggest project: pick a date, plan for it, think through your approach and how you’ll spend your time, and allow the process and your experience to shape and inspire you.

My sabbatical was an opportunity to unplug, pause, and live slow. Through it all, I realized that the sky wouldn’t fall. And not only that, but also the playful, creative process ultimately ‘woke up’ cells that had been asleep for a very long time and ‘birthed’ new ones that felt fresh, alive, and infused with energy and enthusiasm. I gained clarity around my unique assets, particular passions, and the importance of flexibility, autonomy, and overall quality of life. Ultimately, it sparked my internal entrepreneur, and I launched a new business focused on helping individuals and organizations develop, navigate change, and realize their greatest capacity.