The Roller Coaster Ride of Transitions: The Joy of Beginning...and Completing

This piece was in my latest coaching newsletter and several people wrote to me about so I’ve added it here, in an edited version.

On a recent sunny day, I went to an end-of-summer amusement park with friends and we rode one of the thrilling roller-coasters. As we looped around, getting tossed about in our seats, my palms got sweaty and I wondered to myself how interestingly similar this was to completing the “Our Thoughts On Aging” interview project.

It has been six years in the making and finally it is here: I am writing the final chapters of the book, the storied interviews have gone through their first manuscript edit, the artwork for the book cover is in progress, the “As I Get Older” greeting cards and poster are completed, the new RT Coaching website is launched with an online store, and the book will be published in — I hope — early 2017.

"As I Get Older" poster

"As I Get Older" poster

What a roller coaster ride it has been, and that is true for anything we mostly choose to start:
a life stage, a goal or dream, a project or business, a diploma or degree, a new health habit or lifestyle, a career change or residential move.Strap yourself in and hold onto the handrail ‘cause it’s going to be a heck of a ride.

It starts off gently enough and soon you are climbing upwards, ever so slowly, and when you reach the magnificent height of the apex, you can see the beautiful big perspective where the view will catch your breath. The view is sweet from this high.

Credit Morgue File

Credit Morgue File

Not a moment later, the roller coaster ride thrillingly swooshes you to the deepest low giving you an adrenalin rush, sweaty palms and a jolt to your stomach so intense you think you might vomit. You can’t believe how fast the ride took you down. It’s The Dip.

Then you’re heading for another slow climb, not as high this time, slow enough to release the handrail and wipe your sweaty palms dry just in time for the next plunge. Only this time you’re hurtling forward upside-down in some gravity-defying position. No words can describe the rush that comes with putting yourself “out there”.

And in between the climbs and dips, there are the hair-pin turns. Sometimes you can see them coming and sometimes they catch you by surprise, jostling you about sharply and shaking your equilibrium.

Finally, finally you see the end of the ride approaching. As you disembark, you feel a simultaneous sense of joy and relief, depending on how intense the jolts, upside-down twists and hurtling-towards-the-ground manoeuvres landed for you. Your wobbly legs grateful to touch land as you leave the thrilling ride behind.

As you glance back at the roller coaster, you can see the twists and turns, the steep slopes and enormous dips you were on. You are suspended for a moment in disbelief or awe, perhaps wondering about the next one you might go on.

Unlike a roller coaster ride though, when we start something new we can’t see the entire ride or know how long our ride will take. This is what makes it scary thrilling, this element of the unknown. Figuring out how to go with it is part of the ride, of life and of change.

However, there are safety mechanisms and systems set up for roller coaster rides. It includes a team of people staffing it to make sure that safety is enforced, like the man who was doing calisthenics as he waited for our ride to approach the return gate. We need safety systems, and they can be amusing too, for those challenging and thrilling rides we go on in life.

When I planned to complete this interview project and transform it into a book, poster and greeting cards, I needed to find the people — professionals, colleagues, friends, and family — to support me on my ride. I also needed tools and resources that gave me structure and accountability, lifestyle habits that nourished, energized and motivated me, and celebrations to acknowledge the teeny tiny steps taken.

Completing the ride, we walk away with that experience in our toolkit. We know what it feels like. We have the confidence that we can handle it or what we need in order to handle it the next time. We know we can do it again if we choose to or go on a different one — maybe less scary, maybe scarier — the next time. It's the personal growth ride of transitions!

What transition(s) in your life have felt like a wild roller coaster ride?
What and/or who helped you on your ride?
What would you do differently next time?!

A Late, Great Update On "Our Thoughts on Aging" Interview Project

Since the last update in August 2015, this project has moved forward slowly and greatly. The interviews are storied and they are now beginning to go through the editing process. I have almost finished writing my strand and it will be included among them. Writing my thoughts about my own aging and the experiences I had with dying and death has been powerful in ways that I did not foresee, could not have foreseen. It is all coming together in a book of our collective experiences and stories, one that I hope will be moving, compelling and resonant. After reading over the many interviews, I realized that there was a list of over 170 things that the interviewees said they appreciated about aging, what they learned as they grew older that they didn’t know when they were younger. The collective list is rich with lived experience and the kind of wisdom that reveals itself through the voices of many, with universal themes and ideas that have been condensed into beautiful quotes. Now I am collaborating with a couple of artist-designers to create greeting cards with original artwork and a striking poster which will be available on my upcoming, new website.

In a few weeks I’ll be travelling to meet some of the interviewees in person, for the first time. I can hardly wait! This is not the regular way to meet someone, having a deeply personal conversation on the phone about taboo topics and collaborating online for years afterwards. And now we will finally meet. It feels to me like a reunion, a very meaningful one.

This project is continuing to unfold and expand in ways that I do not know. I’m enjoying each moment of the process and welcoming the uncertainty with open arms.

The Visioning Stage of Transitions and Why You Don't Want to Skip It

In this theory of the stages in transitions, we reach the Visioning stage after moving through the previous stage, Death, The Unknown and Rebirth. We grieved our loss(es), are aware of what we are letting go of and cleared space for what’s next. We begin to feel re-energized and ready to dream our future. Visioning is a process that picks us up out of today and puts us someplace in our future, in our imaginary ideation of fulfillment. We use the right side of our brain when we vision, the part of our mind that is abstract, creative, intuitive, imaginative and sees the whole picture, rather than the left-sided linear, concrete, analytical brain.

Visioning brings into our awareness what lies deep in our core: our core values, our core truth, our creative energy, what gives us joy and peace of mind. We become aware of our intuition, paying attention to what our mind, body and spirit are telling us, listening for their whispers, shouts and aches.

Visioning is a helpful tool, especially when we find dreaming a challenge. Many of us want to get into action mode, to plan and do stuff, to feel that we’re moving things forward and accomplishing. Honouring this stage in our transition, especially when we let go of our past story and identity, and create space for the new to be imagined and intuited, is a powerful process maybe even transformative.

Emily Carr, “Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky”
Emily Carr, “Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky”

When Canadian artist Emily Carr painted “Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky” in 1935, she was 63 years old. She wrote:

“There is nothing so strong as growing. Nothing can drown that force that splits rocks and pavement and spreads over fields...Life is in the soil. Touch it with air and light and it bursts forth like a struck match."

As children we visioned our dreams all the time. We pictured ourselves being and living our dreams. We are born with this ability to dream a spectacular future. The stage of Visioning is an opportunity to re-visit old dreams, resolve our disappointment and explore how we can fulfill their essence now.

I had one client who was going through both a career transition and a life stage transition, wondering “What’s next?” After clarifying her core personal values, I led her through a guided visioning (imagining) exercise. A clear picture came to her: of where she wanted to live, of her community and who was surrounding her, of how she wanted to feel, of what she wanted her lifestyle to be. She took gradual steps to make that vision become a reality. She emailed me recently,

“It was quite an undertaking and a huge transition. I remember waking up early one morning thinking, 'What the heck have I done?' When I doubt that I made the right decision, I remind myself about the core values that are so important in getting me back on the right path.”

It does not always happen that way. Another client going through a career transition drew a complete blank when he visioned his future self. He felt disappointed that he saw nothing, and that turned out to be a great launch pad for him. He learned about his intuition and grew it, discovering what and who resonated for him and what resonance felt like. He gradually trusted himself to try all kinds of new experiences, making choices that aligned with his core values, his passions, needs and strengths. He knew his present Purpose and built a successful business. What surprised him is that he has also grown his social network, feeling like he has found his tribe. He said, “I know it will be okay. My self-confidence keeps growing and I trust myself. I trust the Universe.”

Here are several different ways to vision.

  1. Attend a guided visioning workshop led by a life coach. There are in-person and virtual events. Check out the International Coach Federation Credentialed Coach Finder. I do offer occasional visioning workshops and individual visioning sessions, usually based on a theme, e.g. the New Year, retirement, career, health/wellness.
  2. Create a dream (vision) board, a collection or collage of images, text, meaningful quotes, poems, personal values that connect to your dream, your yearnings. It is not intended to be an artistic or crafty experience although it might be, and it will likely stir your creative and intuitive juices even more. You might want to create a scrap-book of personal visions for different aspects of your life.
  3. Write your vision in story format can be anyone who enjoys words, writing or writing stories.
  4. Write vision lists. The infamous “Bucket List” is exactly that, a list of your dreams. You can give it another snazzy title of course. I’ve tried this and it became so huge that I created categories. Then there’s Jerry Seinfeld’s take on the bucket list, “I made a bucket list, turned the "b" to an "f" and was done with it.” There’s also that.
  5. Watch films including documentaries that inspire visioning. Documentary and biographical films are great visioning tools. 15 Reasons To Live is one example. And there’s always *the* film, The Bucket List.
  6. Read books that inspire you to dream. Biographies and non-fiction like Callings by Gregg Levoy, and Martha Beck’s North Star.
  7. Notice what energizes you, makes you come alive, gives you pleasure and gives you thrills.
  8. Understand where and how intuition signals to you in your body.
  9. Travel. It’s a way to get out of your past story and identity very powerfully and see your life and yourself from a different vantage point.
  10. Be your own fortune-teller or astrologer. Look into your crystal ball or imagine your annual horoscope. What do you see? Write it down!
  11. Notice metaphors and symbols that come into your awareness and intuition, i.e. token animals.

Allow yourself to dream, intuit, yearn, create, and be inspired. Give yourself permission to dream, again.

Stages in Transitions: Death, The Unknown and Rebirth

This stage is one of the more challenging ones in the transition process. It usually follows the stage of Old Fulfillment, and is all about dealing with change — which many of us resist, avoid or delay. Even writing about it is more challenging , it gets right into the heart of taboo topics. Here goes... Death and Re-Birth, and the space in-between, the Unknown are all part of this one stage.  We often have a foot in each one of these pieces so it can feel incredibly overwhelming. It seems so much easier to stay in the previous stage of Old Fulfillment for as long as we possibly can. We stay because of the financial security, because it pays the bills, because it is comfortable and familiar. We stay even when it is stressful and affecting our mental and physical health. We stay for so many reasons.

I_AM shattered
I_AM shattered

What we might not realize is the tremendous potential for personal transformation that lies hidden within the dark folds of this stage. It requires work and sometimes that kind of personal growth work that feels too daunting and scary to pursue but it will take us into new places of self-awareness, confidence, vulnerability and personal leadership.

In the sub-stage of Death, the work is to recognize what is ending or dying: a dream, a role, a belief, an expectation, a core personal value, and/or a part of ourselves. It is here when we mourn and are tasked to acknowledge what we are letting go, shedding or releasing. Sometimes simply recognizing all the things that are changing can help us understand why we feel as much or as shitty as we do.

When we are faced with death and grief in a transition, what can be really difficult is when our family, culture and society discourage us from being open about it. It is hard to explore our loss and grief when we do not have permission to be in it and process it and instead are supposed to mask what we are thinking and feeling.

Before we can move into Rebirth, we have to go through The Unknown. It’s the part where we don’t know, where we ask ourselves “What’s next?” and “Who am I?” so naturally there is a lot of anxiety and un-rootedness here. It brings up our discomfort with not having answers, feeling lost, and not knowing the outcome. Is it any wonder that many of us stay with what is familiar and do not make a change? Learning to accept the uncertainty while not spinning off into the emptiness and anxiety is an ability, a skill, a kind of knowledge that deepens with each transition we experience and each time we face The Unknown.

she hero
she hero

Rebirth involves being able to see and believe that it is possible to create a new life and a new identity. Birthing — a new aspect of ourselves, a new core value, a new role, or a new identity — takes energy and hard work. It really is labour, we are giving birth to our new self. This requires beginning again, dealing with feeling incompetent sometimes, knowing that we will be asked to take risks, and in so doing, grow our confidence and courage. What can be better than living our life being true to ourselves?

Some things that can help:

It can help to balance out the dark intensity and overwhelm with lightness, comfort and kind self-care. Have a few things or habits that are easy, do-able and familiar: have your morning ritual of drinking coffee, make time for favourite leisure activities, wear your favourite clothes. It can help to create and be creative when we are feeling lost and lossed: write, garden, cook, bake, play an instrument or your favourite music, dance, draw, make a film, take photographs, journal, make a collage, sculpt, make a mandala, etc.

It can help to clear new space for your new self: recycle, donate, give away, toss what you are ready to let go of. This happens in layers of readiness so do what you can, even if it means re-organizing a drawer or closet. It does not matter if you don’t use the empty space for a while, just having it creates space and energy for you to imagine and dream of new possibilities.

It can help to do things that are spiritually grounding and emotionally centering: spend time in nature, spend time with animals or pets (borrow one if necessary), connect with like-minded folks, read books that are spiritually meaningful.

It can help to be grateful for what we have during this stage when the focus can be on what we are losing. Louie Schwartzberg’s video “Gratitude" is a beautiful affirmation on appreciating Life.

It can help to surround yourself with positive, supportive friends and family members and to stay away from negative, energy-draining, judgmental people.

It can help to explore your experience of the Unknown. Go into it, see what is in there that scares you and learn about yourself in there.

And when you feel so stuck in grief that you can’t take steps towards self-care or to move forward, it can help to get support from a qualified professional. Qualified counsellors are available through many workplace Employee Assistance Programs or referrals for counselling can be made by your family physician.

The following is a list of books and resources that might be helpful as you transition through this stage of Death, The Unknown and Rebirth. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges, 2009 When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, 2000 The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell, 1990 Girl to Goddess: The Heroine's Journey through Myth and Legend, by Valerie Estelle Frankel, 2010