One thing that life does not spare for any of us are transitions. Existing as a human on this beautiful planet of ours means that inevitably and intermittently, we’ll experience changes in our lives. These changes may come as a gentle pull forward or a sudden, harsh push. Regardless of whether or not we care to travel to such new destinations, we are always nudged forward amid the constant flow of life. Sometimes we move into transitions by choice, and sometimes they come unexpectedly, forcing us into a new territory. Either way, transitions beg the question: “Now what?”
If in the throes of transition you pause and unpack that question, you’ll discover feelings of two general varieties: the uncomfortable ones — uncertainty, doubt, worry, fear, anxiety, loss, and insecurity — and the uplifting ones — hope, possibility, growth, excitement, and joyful anticipation. You’ll encounter this colorful mixture of feelings as you navigate new places and possibilities.
One of the main reasons people seek me out as a life coach is for support when facing a transition. There are multiple kinds of transitions — from high school to college, college to career, or from one career to another. Other transitions include going from being single to being in a relationship, in a relationship to marriage, marriage to parenthood, active parenthood to empty nest, marriage to divorce, health to illness, or illness back to healing and health. The list is endless. And from any of these vantage points, one is called upon the face themselves in unique, new ways.
From No Longer to Not Yet
Here’s my best guess as to why, at a transition junction, one often seeks guidance. First and foremost, I believe it’s because moving from one milestone to another stirs up uncertainty. A state of uncertainty is not the easiest or most comfortable state to hold. One can feel quite vulnerable sitting in it. It’s the land of the unknown, a rugged landscape of foreign terrain. One can see, and more importantly, one can feel what they are about to let go of or lose, yet not have a clue as to what life will look or feel like on the other side. This lack of clarity often traps us, causing stress, doubt, and hesitation.
This unsettling state occurs in part because at some stage, we have to leave familiar schemas — those known cognitive frameworks, concepts, or ways of being that help you confidently organize, interpret, and process information. Inherent in the process of rolling through a life transition is the challenge of leaving known schematic shores and setting out to sea, to a destination unfamiliar and unclear. For many, this can bring just a tad of anxiety or discomfort, even if one is choosing a specific change.
Leaving the comforts of known shores often conjures deep feelings of loss. You are called upon to let go of what will no longer be. If you’re not careful, you can get stuck focusing on this loss, especially because it is easier to recognize that than what lies ahead. The future is unknown.
Life transitions therefore involve learning to tolerate a state of not yet arriving someplace new. This is what can derail us. Why? Because shifting your gaze toward strange or unpredictable circumstances can bring feelings of loss of control. The in-between path is blurry. One might feel unprepared or lost — ultimately, we don’t like not being in control. It’s no fun, yet not necessarily unmanageable. Letting go of the past isn’t easy, especially when the future, even if desired, remains a big question mark. At the same time, it can truly help to remember that letting go always sets us on a course of dynamic personal growth.
What’s Under Your Control
Life transitions call for courage and a focus on what you can control. Rather than dwelling on the uncertainty, I love encouraging my clients to remember all they do know, possess, and have control over. They are resourceful and resilient, and have numerous strengths they can call forth to see them through the rough waters of change. Empowering confidence and comfort arise when you can remember all the skills and abilities you already possess and can, if desired, bring to the table of changing tides.
Character traits such as humor, intelligence, patience, compassion, self-awareness, and creativity as just a few of many useful talents one can access during times of transition — not to mention the ability to connect with others and enjoy their support and care. This simple change of perspective — from what is out of one’s control to what is in one’s control — packs a magnificently powerful punch. Worries or anxious negative self-talk cease quickly when you can concentrate on the strengths you’ve got in your backpack as you move through any transition.
I know for myself, probably one of the most significant things I’ve learned about traversing life’s transitions is to do so slowly, if at all possible. This is because rarely can one see the whole picture of what’s ahead. Taking pause, I’ve discovered, can be a good thing. It allows one to catch their breath. To survey the big picture. To consider the next inspired steps — one-at-a-time steps. And with time for lots of reflection! Rounding each turn on a new path carefully and mindfully fosters that all-important state of rich self-awareness. Heightened understanding of one’s self is a gift of life transitions.
Know Your Triggers
To grow in understanding yourself during a transition means to also know how the current situation you are facing may trigger memories of past shifts you’ve made in your life. How did those go? Remembering and registering such can bring fruitful insights to your present process.
Were you terrified or overwhelmed as you moved from one place in your life to another, yet perhaps discovered peace and exhilaration on the other side of that change? If so, what did you learn that can be applied to your current reality? Or, maybe the present challenging transition you are approaching can serve a healing corrective for a previous change gone less favorably. What key learnings can you apply to the transition you’re standing in front of?
Arriving on the Other Side
Opportunities abound on the other side of your transition. This I guarantee. For now you get to know and feel that which your previous self could not! Arriving on the other side of a change lets you experience yourself as someone who has successfully done it. You get to savor the fruits of your labor, courage, and capacity to weather change. Perhaps best of all, you get to realize a new you as you land in a new place in your glorious life. Fresh starts and new beginnings rock!
“Light precedes every transition. Whether at the end of a tunnel, through a crack in the door, or the flash of an idea, it is always there, heralding a new beginning.” ~Theresa Tsalaky
This article was also published in The Brick Magazine