Recently, I have been thinking a lot about change and transition. I have a little niece who just turned two. It has been amazing to watch her development through so many stages – her first smile, turning over, crawling, taking her first tentative steps, and now – running all over the place with so much curiosity and wonder. It seems she is changing almost daily.
Other times though, life changes and transitions can be more difficult. Last year, unexpectedly, my sister passed away from cancer. I have known the stages of grief for years, but knowing is different than experiencing the shock and the adjustment of a family to this new reality. Life is clearly not a straight road. It can be confronting, amazing, exciting, sad, or even scary especially when there is unexpected loss.
William Bridges, an author, speaker, and consultant has transformed our understanding about life’s journeys. He states in his book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” He talks about change as being situational and transition as being psychological.
What does that mean? According to Bridges, transition is the “inner work” that we go through when a change happens. He proposes that individuals experience change in three stages – starting with endings, followed by what he calls “the neutral zone,” and ends with new beginnings. It may seem strange to start with “endings”. However, to create space and move forward, we may need to let go of some aspect of our lives. The neutral zone is that in-between time. It could be a time of confusion, distress, and uncertainty that we would rather avoid – yet, it’s critical and essential for us to experience this phase to set the foundation for growth, new beginnings, and when needed – healing. New Beginnings involve new understandings, new values and attitudes.
Whether the catalyst is a change in relationship such as marriage or divorce, coping with the passing of a loved one, the start of a new career or the loss of a job, or the changing needs of children as they grow, or any other life events – change and transition are ongoing parts of our lives.
A few days ago I met up with a former client. For many years she had owned a successful business, but she started thinking about making a change. She was at a point in her life where other life priorities were pulling at her, and she was overwhelmed and confused about what to do. She came to me looking for help to figure out her next step. I referenced Bridges’ materials as we put together a framework for exploring and understanding her journey. We looked at questions such as:
– Who am I if I’m not doing this work?
– Could I change the work and still have a business?
– What are my true priorities and passions?
– What are my financial considerations?
– Am I going toward something or running away from something?
– What skills/knowledge do I have to offer?
After much review and testing of ideas, the direction became clear. She chose to move from her business to a new career as a freelance writer/editor – a dream she has had for many years. We talked about the steps needed for such a change, and then together, we developed a transition plan. Now that she is well into her “New Beginnings” stage, I could see how happy she was. It was clear she had made the right decision. She recognized however, she couldn’t have reached this “New Beginnings” stage if she hadn’t worked through the endings and the “neutral” stage of not knowing.
Some studies say the average person will change careers 5-7 times during their working life. Transitions of any kind can sometimes feel scary, overwhelming, or create anxiety when we don’t know what our lives will look like. Whether it’s a family going through the journey of loss, or someone opening up to a new career and stage of life, or even a child and her parents discovering a new world, together we can move forward to those “new beginnings.”
Contact me if you find yourself in transition!