Transition is the most common, most unsettling, and most intriguing topic that I’ve seen my clients address. It doesn't always come up in the beginning; it might sneak in. Sometimes a client will name it during the consultation:
“I became a widow a few years ago and I want to transition toward the next chapter of my life. I’ve been in this awkward in-between phase long enough. I want companionship again.”
Other times a client will identify a developing transition through the coaching process:
“I want to find a new job but I know if I keep looking for the same thing I’ll be right back where I am now . . . I’ve always really wanted to . . .”
Even when transition doesn’t come up explicitly, it’s not unusual to find it on a client’s agenda:
“I’m excited about my promotion but I’m unsure how to go about my new role. I’ve always been the go-to person in the department. Now I have to encourage my team to go to each other to find solutions. But I'm hands-on.”
How we get into, through, and out of transition is unique for each of us. And we may experience transitions differently over the course of a lifetime. Fortunately, researchers are identifying transition phases. We might zig and zag between them or not recognize them when we first enter them. But being aware of them can help us take a deep breath and lean into the process.
William Bridges offers a three-stage model based on over forty years of study: Endings, In-Between, and New Beginnings. We will look at each in a series of posts.
An external change can spark us to transition. The end of a relationship or a role as care-giver, the beginning of a committed romantic relationship which is also the ending of single status, a new job, a move to a new town, or a new success can prompt us to let go of old habits and information and seek new strategies. Endings bring us face to face with who we are and how we navigate our world.
Elements of our identities are often wrapped up in our routines and our relationships. Family systems theory tells us we create roles for ourselves to fill a need in our unit or network. When the behavior of someone in our network changes, we are challenged to adapt. If we change others will react to us. Then we react to them. Exasperation follows.
Shifting dynamics, on any scale, are unsettling. Even when we initiate a change we’re often tempted to avoid dealing with its implications. A move to a fabulous new home might mean leaving a cozy community. What happens to that sense of comfort? A useful process at the beginning of a transition is grieving and honoring the loss we feel.
To become more aware of yourself in transition, list a few endings in your life. What happened? What happened next?