Transitions – The Process of Change
The problem is not the change — it’s the transition
What is a transition?
Are you feeling a sense of loss, disorientated, fear, uncertainty, confusion, anger and fear?
My forties were a time of absolute turmoil. It was indeed a time of loss, disorientation confusion and fear.
The industry in which I had spent my entire working life was changing dramatically. We sold our beautiful home and moved into a rental property in a new suburb.
And my marriage of 20 years was experiencing some difficulty. It was an extremely stressful time and I was having a lot of trouble coping. The changes had happened but I hadn’t made the transition! And that is what this section is about.
Is Transition simply another word for change?
No it isn’t.
Change is the situation. It is when your industry is disrupted, you change a job, move from one home to another, get married, have a child, divorce, or lose a loved one.
Change is what has happened. It is concrete, tangible.
Transition is psychological. It is internal and it is this internal adjustment that our society so very often ignores.
If we ignore the transition, then our troubles begin. We can flounder, feel fear, denial, sadness, confusion, uncertainty, and a sense of loss.
And we don’t know why or what to do about it! We are confused.
We can make the change but if we don’t make the personal internal change, the transition, we become uncomfortable and feel that everything is up-in-the-air. We struggle.
We become stuck in-between the old and the new. We look back and see that the old relationship or situation is no longer there. We’re adrift, isolated, alone. We know we need to move forward but don’t know how.
Learning to adopt change
If you follow this process and engage with your inner self then you will be able to navigate a successful transition.
You will be able to let go of a long held belief or a situation and enjoy the confusion of betweenness before launching into a fresh start.
The successful transition process:
1. An ending
2. A neutral zone
3. A new beginning.
This is a natural process and each step needs to be experienced before the fresh start can be made.
The ending. Before spring can begin winter must end. The soil needs to absorb the warmth of the sun so new seeds can germinate, grow and eventually burst into flower.
If the soil remains cold then nothing new can grow. So springs begins with an ending.
Then comes the neutral zone. This is where we can feel adrift, confused, uncertain and afraid.
A friend of mine was experiencing all of those emotions as he struggled to decide about his career. I spoke with him about transitions and the concept of ending, enduring a period of confusion before he could make a new start.
He made a decision and 6 months I saw him. He greeted me with the news that he knew what he wanted to do but enjoying his ‘time of confusion’ so much that he was going to wait until the end of the year before making a final decision.
It’s one thing to know what to expect at an intellectual level - it’s another thing entirely to live the experience.
When change has occurred the inner feelings we have are mysterious.
We can feel unsettled. Vaguely aware that something isn’t right, but we don’t know how to deal with these mysterious feelings of unease. (Dis-ease)
And that is the problem. These feelings are buried deep in our unconscious.
We are unaware of the role they are playing and how they determine our behaviour.
These feelings challenge our very identity. Our deep-seated belief of who and what we are.
The old internal view our identity conflicts with the new reality. We need to change that old identity and of course, as human beings, we resist that to the death.
Who am I really? Have I been living a lie all these years? If I am no longer who I thought I was who am I?
These are questions that go to the very core of our being and they can terrify people because the answer is yes - well sort of anyway.
The longer you hang onto endings the longer (and more painful) the period of confusion!
What makes endings so challenging?
The biggest and scariest issue is one of identity. If I am not who I thought I was, who am I?
When external or internal change occurs in our lives it stirs things inside us as well.
And when we come to a transition that old perception, that old identity no longer fits the new situation.
So, we need to dismantle that old identity and rebuild it.
Example: Having a child
Six months ago, a young woman and her husband celebrated the ultimate experience. The birth of their first child.
But she is struggling!
Why would this young loving mother be stressed and anxious about having a new baby in her home? She is coping very well and the baby is healthy and happy and so is she - most of the time.
But there's a deep-seated mysterious feeling that all is not right.
She is feeling guilty, selfish, stuck, controlled, angry and even a little resentful. Why?
“What is wrong with me?” she asks.
Fact 1: Change happened with the arrival of a gorgeous beautiful new baby.
Fact 2: The new parents didn’t prepare for the internal change they would experience.
Prior to the birth the enthusiastic mother-to-be had read many books, browsed mountains of information online, gone to pre-natal classes with her partner and talked to as many experienced mothers as she could.
She thought she was prepared for everything and up to a point she was.
But here she was.
She was worried because of this uncomfortable and unsettling feeling that was lurking deep inside her. No matter what she did it wouldn’t go away.
She was confused.
There was no way out!
However, our young mother wasn’t prepared to live her life in confused and uncertain. She wanted answers.
She was lucky. She attended a Transitions workshop organised by William Bridges, now a well know author on the subject.
At the beginning of the workshop all she wanted was to move forward and enjoy her knew baby. She didn’t want to know about endings. I’ve only just got him. I don’t want it to end.
However, as the workshop progressed she began to understand that the nagging feeling deep inside was a longing for the freedom of life before the baby.
During the workshop her real dilemma surfaced.
1. My husband and I have little alone time
2. We can’t be impulsive like we were before the baby came along
3. It’s as if I am controlled
4. My life is no longer my own
5. It’s like I have crossed a threshold and there was no going back
6. My old life was gone forever.
7. I feel felt guilty for feeling that way I do.
I don’t want to feel like this! It isn’t right that a mother should be feeling like this is it? Then why am I?
“What is wrong with me?”
As she shared these feelings, she was surprised to hear several other women in the group relate similar feelings.
This was a revelation for her, and she gained some clarity. The problem was identified and now she knew what she had to do.
She understood that the old ways had ended and that it was time to move on.
She was no longer the foot loose fancy-free young woman without responsibilities.
Now she was a mother and she had entered a new exciting phase of her life.
Before she would be free to fully embrace and enjoy the excitement and challenge of her new life and her baby, she had to end her inner desire for the freedom of yesterday.
The new mum was growing up. She understood that she needed to change her perception of who and what she was.
The type of change is irrelevant
It maybe moving into a new home, a new suburb or state. You may be on a spiritual journey of discovery or you might have won that promotion you have worked so hard for. It may be that you have started or ended a relationship.
It's possible that you have experienced the loss of a loved one or maybe you lost your job. It could be a sudden illness in the family, or you may have just watched your child walk into school for the first time leaving you behind.
Whatever the change it will require you to let go of your previous way of life. And it must start with an ending.
The problem is that we avoid endings like the plague because they awaken old memories of hurt, shame or some old belief or image of yourself well past its use by date.
One of the huge issues is the way we perceive ourselves.
Internal change is so difficult because we are having to deal with our own identity. Over time our experience When it comes to change Because our subconscious past becomes our identity, we need to dismantle the way we have viewed ourselves at all identify. The period of confusion is when we need to
Now we move onto the middle stage - the period of confusion.
The importance of the Period of Confusion - A time of renewal
Yes, the time of confusion is important because it is a time of renewal.
The second important note about the period of confusion is simple; once you’re aware of what is happening, you are able to embrace it and it ceases to be scary.
I have always found it to be a marvellous time and I have come to enjoy it immensely.
Once I understood the process that was going on inside, I was free to simply let it run its course. Overtime I realise that I am in this state of confusion I feel the stress literally leave me like water down the drain.
I wonder how the worm feels as its transforming from a wriggle worm into a beautiful butterfly that can fly with the wind.
However, before I was aware of the transition process - it was a fearful experience. I was in my 40s and enduring a seemingly non-stop period of anxiety.
I was lucky. I was invited to attend a workshop where the transition process was discussed. It was a life-changing revelation for me.
Example: A career change
During a story listening session with me a friend of mine kept repeating the phrases ‘in a state of decay’ and words like ‘death, stagnant and dying’. I asked him about it and he was mystified.
Two weeks after that session he came to me and said you know when you asked me if there was something in a state of decay or dying in my life and I said no? Well there is. It is my career. My career is in a state of decay and I don’t know what I want to do anymore.
His career had been his entire life. When people asked him what he did for a living he had a label, a profession, and he identified himself with or as that person. His self-identity was inextricably linked to that career. So this was no laughing matter.
Endings typically result in a person experiencing an identity crisis.
He wanted to quit his job and look for a new career.
After some discussion around the transition process of endings, a period of confusion he decided to take leave for a year without pay and enter his time of confusion.
He took a job that required little thought and he stopped thinking about his career and just let things happen.
6 months into his time in the wilderness (The Hebrew word wilderness also means sanctuary) we met and, with a wide happy smile on his face, he informed me that he had pretty much decided what he was going to do.
But because he was enjoying himself so much he was going to stay in his state of confusion until the end of the year. He would let it run its course.
At the end of his time in sanctuary he returned to his chosen profession renewed and full of energy and new vision.
It had been a time of renewal.
In the in-between time you can find yourself in nowhere land. You may feel like you have been cast adrift and, if you’re unaware of this, it can be a time filled with fear. It can be scary!
However, this time of feeling a lostness and emptiness is critical because it enables you to start the new beginning with new purpose, energy and direction. Without it there can be no new beginning.
You may well quit your job, leave a relationship but if you do that before opening time in a state of not knowing and go straight for a new beginning it will not work. All you will do is delay the process for a few more years until you are forced to go thought the process.
In my experience I came to know a part of myself that was previously hidden from my awareness and I discovered a new direction and a passion that I didn’t know I had.
If you have the courage to recognise what needs to end and enter the period of confusion, then you will also experience a renewal that may surprise you. At the very least you too may discover a new and deeper you.
And that has to be good doesn’t it?
If you skip the time of confusion and go from the ending to a new beginning immediately you miss out on this vital process and it will catch up with you down the track. What you wild is make the same mistakes again and again until you reach a breaking point and that will be a major reconstruction that will require the help of a counsellor or psychologist.
Most people wait until most of the physical changes have been made
Endings morph into a time of unknowing which gradually morph into a new beginning.
Sometimes it’s like taking one step forward and sliding two backwards. That is how it goes. Take it easy and let your subconscious reveal to you what is best for you.
It will protect you and ease you into your new beginning.
Some endings are sudden, dramatic and even shocking and some are gradual. However, all endings must be dealt with internally which takes time, sometimes a lot of time.
Over time, the internal ending fades and you enter a period of confusion for a time before a new beginning starts to emerge.
Eventually, out of the fog you start getting hints about your new beginning. This is your subconscious mind at work giving you hints. The fog lifts, becoming a light mist giving you a glimpse or a new vision, a new feeling and a renewed you before it rolls back in.
We often dismiss these glimpse and fleeting feeling quickly as fanciful, unrealistic or simply not possible. However, your subconscious will continue to bring these hints to the edge of your conscious awareness making them more and more obvious until you take notice of them.
In my experience it took over 10 years before a very close friend asked what appeared to her to be an obvious question.
When I heard that one simple question all the previous hints that I had been given leaped my mind with clarity. At last, I got the message.
It may have appeared to be sudden, but it wasn’t. It was a coming together, an understanding of the years of hints and clues.
It was then that I started to write this program and produce the videos so that other people could make sense of their transitions with reduced stress and even enjoy their transitions.
For most of us simply being aware is enough to effectively deal with and even enjoy our times of transformation. Others may need a psychotherapy to guide them through.
Unlike the butterfly humans experience numerous transitions as we grow and mature. How many times have you said, “if only I knew then what I now know.”
Like the Beatles song, ‘Yesterday’, some people long for yesterday. But would you really want that? I think it would be a very lonely experience because you wouldn’t fit in. Everyone around you would not have had the experiences of growing and maturing and it would drive you nuts. Well it would me anyway.
It would be like a snake living in the same skin all its life. Extremely uncomfortable.
Look for you revelations in dreams, the random book you pickup, a comment someone will make or something you see on television or read in a newspaper.
These are seeds being sown by your subconscious.
A few things to expect
New beginnings can upset long standing arrangements and can result in some conflict. You may find that people around you become uncomfortable.
They may not like the ‘new’ you. In the past you were predictable. They knew what to expect. But now, what used to work for them no longer works because you are changing which can set off danger signals for them.
This is where the relationship needs to be renegotiated. The only way out is for them to change too.
But, as in everything in life it isn’t that simple.
Some of us mistake a new beginning as a way to avoid an ending, calling the result a new beginning.
Here are two ways to check.
1. Ask your close friends. Not to seek an opinion but to see if they recognise this as one of your old patterns repeating itself.
2. Is this a genuine new beginning? Have you really passed through the endings into the formless fog of confusion? Genuine beginnings come from with the unshaped, nebulous fog taking shape as the fog begins to lift.
Genuine beginnings come from within.
Once the new beginning takes shape there are many things you can do.
1. Take Action!
As with everything, a new beginning only becomes a new beginning if you take action. You may experience some self-sabotage and be tempted to avoid action by continuing to get ready.
Timing is important if when you are ready to take action don’t procrastinate. Do it!
Another thing to do visualise yourself having completed the new beginning. See what it looks, feels and sounds like.
Imagine yourself living the new you.
3. One small step at a time
And thirdly, take it easy and go step by step. You have set the goal now you need to progress slowly. Keep your eye on the goal but do one task at a time.
You have probably heard the joke, how do you eat an elephant? Yes, one bite at a time.
4. Follow the process
And fourthly, focus on the process of achieving your goal. Give your internal self time to make the transition and identify and engage. Like endings, the period of confusion the process of a new beginning takes time.
Come what may, if you open yourself to listening and watching for the seeds presented to you by your subconscious you will recognise your new beginning and you will be filled with renewed energy and direction as I have been. The seeds germinate and spring is on the way.
Be gentle with yourself as you experience your life's transitions because each transition is a transformation that leads into a new and exciting phase of your life.
Next we have a look at the typical stages of transition.
Our Life Journey
We are not a machine.
A machine has a predetermined life cycle. It is assembled, sits in a show room all shiny and new until it’s sold. It then starts a useful life and, when it fails, the faulty part is identified and fixed. However, it signals that it is approaching the end of its life cycle. Eventually repair will become too expensive and the machine discarded.
The human being is not like that. We evolve. We grow. We mature. We change.
From birth we start a gradual separating from the parent, the journey from dependency to independence. As you know this is a gradual process that takes many years. From the growing awareness that we are indeed separate from the mother we enter the ‘terrible twos’ where we start to assert ourselves. Wow I am an identity!
It isn’t long before we reach adolescence and start struggling with just who we are. We seek our own identity.
That’s when the fun starts. Sometimes we see evidence of this in physical change. We dye our hair green, change hairstyles, wardrobe, and experiment with relationships. We may adopt controversial opinions and we dream. We’re a Hairdresser, mechanic, business tycoon, mother, father, athlete, adventurer.
Out of this confusion a clear sense of self must emerge.
This is the main task of this phase of our unfolding. If this sense of identity is not completed, you will move into the next phase with baggage and unfinished business. This unfinished business will come back to bite you later in life.
Because we do change, our development (which means unfolding) is a process that continues all through our life.
Each stage of development has a particular time and purpose. Daniel J. Levinson calls this phase the “entering the adult world.”
Ericsson says that our main developmental task at this time is the forging of strong new interpersonal relationships and thereby exploring your capacity for intimacy.
William Bridges refers to it as “searching for a place” and that the transitions involve experimenting with an eye for making commitments.
Some find their place quickly. For example, I started my career at 16, married at 21, had three beautiful children by the time I was 30.
Other friends travelled the world for several years before settling down.
Some returned to school after a time off.
There is no right way or wrong way. Just your way.
Take a few minutes to reflect on how you made your entry into the adult world.
So, the first stage of development is the establishment of our own person as a separate social being. We are an individual.
The young teenage years are when we begin to establish our own identity. Who are we? If I am no longer identified as my parent’s child, then who am I?
The young adult. 18 - 25
The tasks here are many.
- 1Who or will I marry?
- 2What do I believe?
- 3What are my values?
- 4Is what my parents told me true for me?
Young adults will not verbalise these questions.
Having established our sense of identity we move away from the security of our parents and set up our own home. We are on our own.
Once again, we must complete this transition. Some people get married so quickly they simply switch dependencies.
Every transition that is missed stockpiles until you are forced to deal with it.
30 - 32 - The years of boredom
The next ‘life transition’ may occur in our early 30s.
These days this transition may happen a lot later and research has shown that it is more of a suburban transition. It is a time when we tend to question if we made the right choices.
Life has become routine. We have probably got our home and family and we think, is this all there is? Do I have to live my 30th year 40 times?
- 1Should I have settled down so quickly?
- 2Have I missed an opportunity?
- 3Have I missed out on a lot of fun?
- 4Then some other questions start to form.
- 5What is the real meaning of life?
- 6Why am I really here?
- 7Is this all there is?
Well it could be all there is if that’s what you want.
38-42 - A time of significant change
All of these transitions have one common element. They are years of being stripped down. They are the years of letting go. Once again, we question just what do I believe? And we give up some of them up. You will hear a lot of stories with confusion and uncertainty at this time.
Why? Because we discover that the behaviours that used to work for us no longer work. What used to protect us now harms us.
The Odyssey's story.
Odyssey was hanging from a cliff with all his armour on. To survive he must kick off his armour before it kills him and he hangs there totally naked.
In the 40s, everything that protected you has to go. You are vulnerable. The very things that protected you will now kill you.
All of the strategies that you used in the first half of life will no longer work. They got you to where you are today but will stop working. In fact they will cause resentment.
This is also a desert time. Many of the great spiritual leaders spent time in the wilderness.
In the desert you will find new identity, and healing - but you will be left with the scars.
50-55 The years of the empty nest
Some of the issues during this transition are:
- 1Dealing with the family structure in the home
- 2What do I do in retirement?
- 3Will I be financially secure in retirement?
- 4The loss of closeness to your children and parents
- 5The search for meaning and quality of life in life intensifies
- 6You begin to focus on a few tasks, so you do them well
- 7You become intentional about spiritual search
- 8When one of your parents die you realise that you’re next!
- 9To understand that we are temporary. The realisation that we are here as spirit and flesh and then gone, is very important to deal with.
- 10As we seek purpose we reinvest in activities besides work
Facing approaching death. We can experience existential anxiety which is the fear of one’s own death.
The loss of a spouse. This maybe the single most traumatic event in life. Especially is you have had a wonderful long and fruitful life together.
End of employment
This time your beliefs are forged out of your own personal experience.
Work, or perhaps even life, has lost its meaning.
70 and up - time of approaching death
Loss of mate and the fear of being alone.
The sale of the home (The one person can’t maintain the home = cluster)
If you haven’t made any of the other transitions at this stage you’re in trouble.
A person who has failed to make any of these transitions can become bitter, brittle and critical. All they do is gripe. They feel that life has done them in.
It is when you are in transition that friends are vital. If they reject you, screen you out, don’t respond to you then these transitions become far more difficult because they become very lonely periods of time.
They are anyhow because no one can enter your desert but yourself.
Interpersonal relationships are very important, but you must still do the work.
Life is like a rose
In order for the rose to produce vibrant healthy beautifully perfumed flowers it needs to be pruned regularly.
During the summer all it needs is a gentle trimming down allowing new flowers to blossom. But then, in winter it gets a severe pruning the branches cut back to the older woody part of the stem.
At this time the rose needs to be shaped and the centre branches cut away to give the new spring growth room to grow without being entangled with old thorny dead wood.
Our life is like that and if you don’t prune regularly your inner growth becomes stunted, strangled. If you haven’t done any pruning by you 60s and 70s, you’re in trouble. The inner core of the rose is so tangled with hard thorny none productive wood that it can no longer flower.
It becomes hard, brittle, thorny, and the flowers are weak and lake vibrancy.
This is the story of a person who avoids all of the transition stages of their life. They end up hard, brittle, thorny and complaining that life has treated them harshly.
I can honestly say that although some of the stripping down or pruning process has been painful but every time, I have come out of it a far better person enjoying periods of strong growth and spiritual maturation before the next growth spurt.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Somewhat scary at times? Yes. But rewarding? Absolutely. Every time.
What will you do?
It isn’t about the end goal - it’s about enjoying the journey come what may. So, the question remains…
… Are you going to be a rose that never gets pruned? The choice is yours.
…you can end up like the unpruned rose full of thorny, twisted, dry, brittle branches all intertwined sucking the life force from the rose preventing it from producing beautiful scented flowers that fill the air with its delightful perfume.
So, do you want to live an enriched meaningful life or a life that ends in emotional poverty.
As always, the choice is yours.
Have a look at the Mindful Communication eLearning course and become a mindful listener.