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Kenny Rogers, My Dad and The Cycle of Change

Updated: Feb 1

My father was an entrepreneur who loved making deals, riding motorcycles, rock & roll, and family. While he passed a few years ago after a long decline, he’s viscerally present to me when I hear certain songs. The one that follows me around whenever I’m trying to make a big change is The Gambler. You know the one:

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em,

Know when to fold ‘em,

Know when to walk away,

And know when to run. . .

I never got to ask my dad the question that often runs through my head. The song is awesome and I feel powerful when I hear it, but how do I really know when it’s time to hold, fold, walk or run?

Fortunately, I recently learned a new model for understanding change from IPEC. It's helped me a ton, so I thought I'd share it here with you.

The Four Stages of Change

I'll keep the card game analogy going. When you’re playing cards, one of four things is happening: shuffling, dealing, playing the game, or tossing in. Interestingly, when making changes in our lives, the same four stages happen. Let’s take a look. . .

One: The Shuffle

The Shuffle stage is a little like a time-out. It gives you space to heal, reflect, and find a new direction. Here you can also find closure on the prior cycle of change. The purpose of The Shuffle is to take stock of your life, review what is important and choose a new game to play.

  • What are you saying?

“I’m ready to find my purpose or next _____”

  • What are you feeling?

Fear of the unknown

Low level of excitement

Energetic ups and downs

  • What are you doing?



Turning inward/taking stock

  • What would Kenny say?

"Know when to hold ‘em"

Two: The Deal

The Deal is action time! Here is where you start moving in the direction that you uncovered in The Shuffle stage and begin to make solid plans for the future. When in The Deal, you are confidently exploring and pushing yourself through networking, training, and experimenting.

  • What are you saying?

“I’m putting all of my ducks in order”

“There is so much opportunity in front of me”

  • What are you feeling?



Fear of failure or success (potentially)

  • What are you doing?


Experimenting & practicing


  • What would Kenny say?

"Learn to play it right"

Three: Playing the Game

When you are Playing the Game you’re seeking to live out your dreams and reach a high level of success and well-being. This super-positive time is when you feel you are living your life fully and letting the process unfold before you.

  • What are you saying?

“I never want this to end”

“How can I find the time to do all of this?”

  • What are you feeling?




Fear of failure (potentially)

  • What are you doing?

Moving forward with your plan

  • What would Kenny say?

"Know what to throw away and know what to keep"

Four: The Toss In

The Toss In is the inevitable end of whatever you’ve been doing. While this can be because of a perceived failure or a perceived success, either way it’s over. As humans this is a tough time because we often feel immobilized by forces beyond our control when we're in the Toss In stage.

  • What are you saying?

“Why me?”

“I guess I have to move on”

  • What are you feeling?



Fear of the unknown


  • What are you doing?



  • What would Kenny say?

"Know when to walk away and know when to run"

We all have many different games going on in our lives at once. Between work, relationships, hobbies, friendships, family, etc. we are constantly rotating through the 4 stages described above at different times. By becoming aware of whether we are shuffling, dealing, playing the game or tossing in, we can understand the most appropriate action to take for the time in which we find ourselves.

While you could turn to Kenny Rogers and The Gambler to help as you rotate through the 4 stages of change, a coach could also be a useful partner, creating space for you to reflect, focus, take action and regroup in an intentional manner. If you're curious about coaching, I’d love to hear more about the changes you’re seeking to make. You can eamil me at or schedule a time here.

In the meantime, keep noticing which stage you are in and enjoy the games you’ve got going!

If you enjoyed this blog, join my newsletter for more insights, stories and actions for ambitious nonprofit leaders. And in the meantime, keep up with me on LinkedIn!

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