Seven ways to deal with transition in your life
Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, was written by William Bridges when he was going through a period of change and found there were no guides to help him. To his surprise, Transitions, published in 1980, found an immediate niche.
Transitions is one of those books that can really help you if you are experiencing a lot of change in your life. Changes can sometimes be great and welcome or, sometimes, awful. There are times when we can cope with these changes but if you are also thinking about your life in general and you are questioning your values, beliefs and decisions, then the changes will seem more difficult because you are also going through a time of inner transition.
I first came across the book 10 years ago when I was going through my own major life changes. The external changes meant I spent time questioning my life, values and beliefs. It was a difficult time and I found this book helpful in that it helped me see that changes in our lives are a natural ebb and flow of life. One of the messages of Transitions is that we can’t be the same person all our lives. When you are young, you imagine that after you reach 30 life is stable. However, this is rarely so.
Bridges distinguishes from changes we experience which are external - such as redundancy, having a baby, marriage or divorce - and focusses on what goes on internally. He is interested in our reactions to the changes and the process we go through to manage these changes. He calls this internal process ‘transition’.
These external changes can be negative or positive. Of course, it's easier to explain why someone may experience internal transition if the change is perceived as negative such as a divorce, redundancy or bereavement. However, when the change is positive, such as getting married or being promoted, it can trigger the internal transition process we may need to go through which can feel confusing. Bridges refers to the three stages of transition as the ending, the neutral zone and the new beginning.
The internal process of transition is really tough for us, though. Endings are hard, especially when we are letting go of how we perceive ourselves. It means we need to let go of old beliefs and attitudes that may have served us well in the past. It's difficult because, when we are in transition, our sense of who we are as a person is in question.
Our identity is wrapped up in the story of our lives so far. What has happened to us shapes us and, when we are in transition from our old life, our experiences and circumstances that shape our lives are also in question. Two of the biggest aspects that affect our lives - relationships and work - are chapters in his book.
When we enter into a significant relationship, we take on certain roles and identities in that relationship, either implicitly or explicitly. Bridges writes: “To become a couple is to agree to play a pre-arranged part in another person’s story, although it sometimes takes a while to get the part down really well”.
Even if to the outside world the relationship appears to be solid, a transition will happen if one partner wants to change the rules of the relationship or their identity within it.
Bridges writes: “Whatever the current antagonisms and topics that a couple is trying to deal with, a life transition brings them to the point where each party has the opportunity to discover new inner resources that have hitherto been lived mainly through the other person.”
Work and career
We often go through a transition with our work after our mid-thirties. When we first start out in work, we are focused on becoming competent at what we do and we may also be driven by financial success. The emphasis on financial success may even dissuade someone from going down a path that would have fulfilled them more.
Sometimes there comes a point when a big truth emerges that we no longer want to be just competent at what we do; we also want our work and career to have meaning. We shift our questioning from how we are going to do things, to why do we do things.
Change always happens at work; we are living in an age when change is constant and rapid. How much these changes at work will affect us depends on what is going on internally for us. If the changes at work coincide with personal growth inside of us then that change will mean more to us. Redundancy in this context could be seen as a sign that we may need to explore other dreams or ideas about how we spend our time.
Here are seven things you can do if you are experiencing a transition in your life:
1. Take your time
The outer change can be very quick and you may need more time to deal with how you make that ending internally.
2. Arrange temporary structures
You need to find ways of carrying on with life while your inner work is happening. It may mean you take time out of your day, even if it is only for 10 minutes.
3. Don’t act for the sake of action
You do not need to make any decisions if you are not ready yet. You may also feel like you want to move on quickly so you can ‘get on with your life’, but it's really important to spend time on yourself and learn what you really need to do to move on. Often, when we rush things, we will find ourselves in similar situations - as if the problem follows us around.
4. Take care of yourself in little ways
Understand that your energy levels may be low. You may need to be around supportive friends and family and avoid people who may not make you feel great. Do whatever you need to do to look after yourself, even if it is just to take time to have a coffee and chocolate bar!
5. Explore the other side of change
If the change wasn’t instigated by you, you may be resisting the change. It is difficult but try to explore the positive benefits of the change. You may, in fact, see that the old situation was not really serving you well after all.
6. Find someone to talk to
A friend, family member, professional life coach or therapist. What you need is someone who can listen and let you explain what is happening in your own words so that you have space to make sense of what is happening to you. Steer clear of people who only want to give you advice or tell you what you should do.
7. Think of transition as a process of leaving the status quo
You are living for a while in a fertile 'time out' zone and, eventually, you will have an answer.