The start of a new year is a great time to talk about transitions, for many of us it’s the middle of winter greys and we’re looking for something that will motivate us and give us a boost of inspiration. As a life and transitions coach, people have shared their worries and fears about transitions. It can feel really overwhelming, confusing and isolating to go through a transition, knowing you are not alone in what you are experiencing is truly calming and reassuring. Learning about the stages of transitions has helped me personally, in my career, health, and relationships, and during my dad’s transition to death. I’m grateful to having this knowledge and awareness, I wish I had known this when I was younger and many of my clients and students have said the same. So I want to share it because you might find this helpful now.
The transition process that I’m going to share on this blog has four phases. I developed this version from a few resources including the theories of William Bridges, an educational consultant who first wrote about transitions, and Martha Beck, a prominent life coach featured by Oprah who offered wonderful new ways of approaching transitions. I have added my own adaptations and woven them throughout, trying to make it simple and also introducing some critical, heretofore missed elements.
Transitions are a normal and necessary part of life and living. We go through all kinds of different transitions in our lives — school, work, friendship, life stage, relationship, health, financial, residential, family. The longer you live, the more transitions you’ll face.
Each transition is unique and has its own special aspects or qualities. Regardless of what kind of transition we go through, it will touch other facets of our life. For example, you might be going through a health transition which may have ripples of impact on your career/work, your finances, your lifestyle choices, your relationship, and your social network/friendships. These parts of our life and ourselves are inter-connected after all, and knowing this can be used to our advantage when we want to create a positive change in our lives.
Transitions can happen with a shocking event that forces you to make a change. It can be a positive or negative shock (i.e. receiving a proposal of marriage, finding out you are pregnant when you were not expecting it, receiving a diagnosis of an illness). It can be man-made or natural (house fire, earthquake, tornado, motor vehicle accident). And also, opportunities can evoke change and bring about a transition.
Or, a transition can begin slowly, developing from within you. It can begin when the life you set out to live is no longer fulfilling or when an external event acts as a catalyst and begins to shift your perspective. You may notice that you’re yearning for something else, something more, and your essential self is doing all it can to call you forth and forward towards a change - in your career, your relationship, your health, your environment, in yourself.
In this transition model, there are four phases: 1) Death and Rebirth, 2) Visioning, 3) Stepping, and 4) Fulfillment. These four phases are fluid and dynamic, linear yet they flow into each other so you can find yourself stepping into or straddling several phases at one time. Sometimes it can feel like you are dancing back and forth between them, so it can be quite chaotic!
The four phases can be emotional in different ways: unsettling, anxiety-provoking, overwhelming, sadness, anger, confusing, frustrating, surprising, exciting, inspiring. The worst of it for many is the experience of feeling stuck in one of the phases. Ugh.
Where the transition process begins is complicated. Sometimes it can start with a shock, the sudden loss of your relationship or job or your health, that takes you right into the phase of Death. Other times it begins with a gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction with your work, your lifestyle or your relationship, and eats away at you in the phase of Fulfillment. So there is no one place where transitions always begin.
We first learn about transitions as children watching our parent(s): when they get a promotion, fired or bored with their work, move to a new home and community, become ill or diagnosed with a health condition, experience marital separation or divorce, go through mid-life, menopause, and/or the death of their parent. How did they cope with the transition? How did they manage their stress, stuckness, and grief? What did they do and not do?
Then we watch our friends to see how our peers deal with transitions: leaving primary grade school to start secondary school, starting puberty and exploding sexuality, increasing rights and responsibilities when transitioning from childhood to adulthood.
Each time we face a transition, we have an opportunity: to observe ourselves, reflect, and learn. It adds to our understanding of ourselves, for this and future transitions. It is an important process that is resilience-building and awareness-raising, possibly even transformative.
This is the first in a series of blog posts on transitions. Stay tuned for more posts where I will elaborate on each of the phases, and much more!
Resources:Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the life you were meant to live, by Martha Beck, 2001 Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes by William Bridges, 2004
Copyrighted 2016, Life Changes blog, Ruth Tamari