Helpful Hints for Those in Life Transition
So how can we best handle the uncertainty of change?
Just knowing that most transitions comprise the three different experiences (endings, a neutral zone, and beginnings) is helpful and reassuring. However here are some other suggestions for the journey. We’ve developed them from William Bridges’ checklist.
We can cope with only so much change and uncertainty at any one time. That’s why it may help to keep some structures and routines unchanged during the transition. This might be a regular meeting with a group of friends, family celebrations, a routine of some kind as simple as going for a walk each day, and so on.
There are times when the longing for security beckons the traveller to turn back to the familiar, or to race ahead – seizing hold of any kind of future that appears to offer the same sense of security. This is a time when the ability to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty becomes important.
Remember that you are on a well-trodden road. The temptation to make things happen is a normal experience in transitions. Don’t turn back just because of the discomfort associated with leaving the familiar. Likewise be wary of running ahead in an attempt to feel better. A time of reflection allows you to gain from the past before making decisions that will affect the future … whereas running ahead may propel you into a situation similar to the one you’re leaving, just because it feels familiar or secure.
The transition experience is not normally a comfortable one! As a result, you may easily misdiagnose change as something wrong or disturbing. It’s easy to equate stability and security with “godliness”. But when you leave behind old ways of doing things and embrace new ones ... suddenly the ground feels shaky!
Be aware too that the changes you are experiencing may create some confusion for those closest to you. They are accustomed to certain ways of relating to you. As you change, so will your responses. Family and friends need to learn to adjust to this. At first it may cause them understandable discomfort.
Your time of transition may even uncover some friendships that are not strong enough to handle growth. Remember that your change will affect those around you. Be prepared for (and understanding of) their reactions, which may include hurt, resentment and rejection. Other relationships may grow stronger through your transition.
Some insects make their great leap of growth during the time between the shedding of their former skin and the growing of a newer larger one. At this time of transition they are particularly vulnerable to predators. In the same way, our times of transition give us great potential for growth. But they are also times of vulnerability. Being aware of this will help you be kind and patient with yourself.
Give yourself space to work through the changes at a pace that is manageable for you. This includes practical things like sleep, diet, fresh air, exercise, rest and recreation … and time by yourself.
It’s easy to fool yourself into change by stacking the positives against the negatives. In the same way you can resist change by piling up the negatives against the positives! So be honest and try to think beyond the obvious pros and cons.
If the change is something you particularly desire, then explore the potential negatives. That way you’re less likely to be ambushed by unanticipated moments of grief. (Grief is inevitable when any ending occurs.) If the change has not been voluntary, try to see beyond the obvious disadvantages to the possible opportunities. This may not be possible at first, but should become so with time. Remember Trevor and Pat in our story at the beginning of this chapter. You will adjust.
We all need a listening ear. Find someone who is prepared just to listen – and to cheer you on as you make your own discoveries. Such a friend may also help you see the costs and benefits of changes that you find hard to see. When you are in the midst of transition you can become embroiled in the day-to-day details of just getting through, while others who know you (but who are less involved) can help by reminding you of the big picture. The support of encouraging friends who can pray and listen as you go through uncharted territory is beyond reckoning!
Some people make changes to move away from a difficult situation or relationship … only to walk into a carbon copy further down the track. Taking the time to carefully think it all through can help avoid this risk. Here again wise counsel from a trusted friend or counsellor/minister/careers advisor can help you be honest with yourself. Is the new beginning just a replay of an old scenario, or a genuine new start?
Choose a transition you have experienced in the past five years, and think through the following questions. (Remember that every transition is unique and the models suggested by Bridges and Caple aren’t intended to be comprehensive or prescriptive in any way. If parts of their models don’t fit your experience, that’s fine!)
What were the causes of this transition?
Did you instigate it or was it the result of external circumstances?
What aspects of the process identified by Bridges and/or Caple occurred in your transition?
Looking back, in what ways was God at work in the change that took place? What leads you to believe this?
In what ways has the transition brought new beginnings to your life? (Think particularly here of Connection, Fit, Service, Balance and Encouragement – see chapter one.)
What would you do differently if you were to go through the same transition again?
Look back at the time line you constructed in chapter ten. Now add to it times of transition in your life that were not simply normal development and maturing. For each transition choose a title which describes the main learning the situation brought you. Mark the transitions which you feel you’ve not yet come to terms with. These are starting points for prayer, and possibly helpful if you decide you would like to talk through the issues with someone you trust.
In what ways can you identify “seasons” in your life up to this point? What were some of the key features of each of these seasons? Think here of ways the seasons stretched and grew you, how your faith was changed, what you achieved, etc.
Think about your current season/time. Are any of the lines of Ecclesiastes 3 especially relevant to where you’re currently at?
Select for group sharing one or more of the four questions in the exercise above. Then in your group session allow members the opportunity to explain their experience. Offer to each person the support and assistance of the group as you help him/her understand more fully the lessons learned and the transitions made.
Question for further discussion: What are some of the main reasons transitions happen? Which reasons are largely external and which ones are internal?
William Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (Addison-Wesley, 1980)
William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change (Addison-Wesley, 1991)
J. Caple, Career Cycles: A guidebook to success in the passages and challenges of your work life (Prentice Hill, 1983)
Gail Sheehy, Pathfinders: Overcoming the Crises of Adult Life and Finding Your Own Path to Well-Being (Bantam, 1981)
“Love and Work: a transition checklist” in Bridges’ book, Transitions.