It doesn’t have to be an ordeal.
Webster defines “transition” as a passage or process of changing from one form to another. It has been said that we live in a time of transition, of rapid change, and things in our fast paced society don’t show signs of slowing down any time soon. Researchers tell us that the average high school graduate is going to have nine different careers in their lifetime! The people who are faring the best in these challenging times are those who have learned to ride out transitions and make the best of them.
We experience transitions throughout our lives. Some of them we choose, and some of them come uninvited. Transitions occur when we graduate from high school, leave college, get married, end or begin relationships, become parents, or change careers. We transition when we move to a different community or when we retire. These are some of the well-known markers that characterize maturation during our life span. There are, however, other transitions that while not as obvious, are nonetheless still very real. Examples of these are health problems, financial change for the worse or better, our children leaving home, or a loss that occurs through death, divorce or for any other reason. Some transitions are more subtle, such as the identity shift that occurs when we recover from an addiction, or become more forgiving or less perfectionistic or less ambitious.
Some people get tossed around by life changes that can affect them for weeks, months, or even years. Others may recover more quickly and use the crisis to prompt growth and the opening of new possibilities in their lives. These people are the ones who have cultivated the quality of resilience. They bounce back more easily. We can’t prevent life from slapping us upside the head, often when we least expect it to, and lucky breaks are random and unpredictable.
We do, however, have the power to determine how we respond to what befalls us. Each rupture in our life is fraught with opportunity for growth. Transformation involves a shift in our attitude or perspective that allows for the experience of new possibilities. Each transition provides a chance to come back to a truer version of who we are.
Although transitions usually look like problems at first, the option is always there to cultivate an attitude of curiosity and wonder. We can hold these circumstances as a message from the Dean of the University of Life, and take advantage of the teachings and gifts. It is not about denying the dark shadow side of change, which may include feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety, grief, disappointment or anger. But it has to do with holding an open mind, spacious enough to contain the dark as well as the golden. For those of us who are naturally resilient and optimistic, this will come more easily. Others may have to work harder and stretch further to respond to transitions as the growth opportunities that they are. For both groups, the big questions are: What is there for me to learn here? What do I really want? What are my true needs? What do I need to develop within myself to order to effectively meet this challenge? Who will be my supports?”
Remaining open in the midst of the chaos and confusion that often accompanies life change can be a huge challenge. Only if we look deeply into our own lives can we see what will be required of us to make the journey from the life that we have previously known to the rebirth on the other side.
Although transitional times, can be stressful, the process can also be profoundly energizing, life enhancing, exciting and even fun! You don’t have to worry about finding or creating the right learning opportunities. They’ll show up. Guaranteed. They always do. They always will. Once we accepting the challenges that transitions demand, what we had previously seen as problems become opportunities to create a richer and more fulfilling life.
Of course, our transitions affect others as well as ourselves, particularly those with whom we’ve been in relationship for a long time. Friends, family members, and romantic partners who have known us as our pre-transition self have some adjusting to do when they perceive that we seem to have somehow changed. Comments like “You’re not yourself any more” often reflect some resistance to accepting the self that our transition has influenced us to be, even if that shift is for the better. They may want to coerce us to change back to being who they had previously known us to be. When we resist their resistance, we are likely to affirm their assessment that our change is not one that is for the better. In truth, who we are hasn’t changed at all, but the way in which we are showing up to others may be different than it had been. Making an effort to be patient and understanding with our loved ones when they are fearful that they have lost the person that they have come to know and love for so long, will go a long way to reassuring them that we’re still here, and in some ways, perhaps better than ever!