“The best way out is always through.” –Robert Frost
An amazing number of people have gone through major life changes this past year. Just a few examples: Over 21 million students will enter college in 2014, over 2 million people will marry in 2014, millions of people moved and 288,000 people started new jobs in April alone. Each individual represented by these statistics share one thing in common, they experienced change.
Most of us recognize that change in life is inevitable and that life is full of transitions. These transitions can be good and bad, planned and unexpected. While they may be exciting and exhilarating they can also be fraught with anxiety and trepidation. Sheryl Crow’s song, “A Change Will Do You Good” and Beyonce’s “Irresistible” address the emotion that change can bring. Upon closer examination, life and work present us with a myriad of changes and transitions. It’s important that you learn to manage both in order to successfully deal with your new situation.
Dr. Spencer Johnson, bestselling author, ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ uses cheese as a metaphor for what we think will make us happy, and when circumstances take it away, shows how different people deal with change in different ways. He shows how you can let change work to your advantage and let it lead you to success: Some wisdom in a nutshell from “Who Moved My Cheese?”
- Anticipate change
- Adapt quickly
- Enjoy change
- Be ready to change quickly, again and again
- If you do not change, you can become extinct
- Movement in a new direction helps you find New Cheese
- Noticing small changes early helps you adapt to the bigger changes that are to come
- Change happens. They keep moving the Cheese
The Difference Between Changes and Transitions
William Bridges, PhD author of the best-selling book ‘Transitions” says that it isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. They aren’t the same thing. Change he says is situational: attending a new school, accepting a new job, the birth of a child, the loss of a friend, the break up of a partnership, losing a job. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological; it is a three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about. Getting people through the transition is essential if the change is actually to work as planned. He describes three phases of transition:
- Letting go of the old ways and the old identity people had. This first phase of transition is an ending, and the time when you need to help people to deal with their losses.
- Going through an in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational. He calls this time the “ neutral zone”: it’s when the critical psychological realignments and repatternings take place.
- Coming out of the transition and making a new beginning. This is when people develop the new identity, experience the new energy, and discover the new sense of purpose that makes the change begin to work.
Because transition is a process by which people depart from an old world and engage into a new world, we can say that transition starts with an ending and finishes with a beginning.
Why are Transitions So Difficult?
Transitions can be stressful because we are shifted out of our comfort zones, must re-examine how we fit in a new situation which may require us to acquire new skills. Transitions require us to leave something behind so that we can move forward. This sets in motion a departure from what we know and is familiar to something new and less predictable.
Six Strategies to Make The Most of Your Life Transitions
1. Give it Time
We have become accustomed to instant results from e-mailing and text messaging to same day delivery and instant downloading of videos. Smart phone apps eliminate the wait for a cab, a date, or a table at a hot restaurant. Movies and TV shows begin streaming in seconds. But experts caution that instant gratification comes at a price: it’s making us less patient. We have difficulty accepting that some things take time to adjust to. Becoming acclimated to a new place, a new job or to a new stage in life doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourself time to adjust and make a constant effort to reach out to new people and make friends in your new home. Being patient will be an essential trait to develop during a transition and will help calm your nerves.
2. Develop a Proactive Mindset
Know that you can’t control what happens to you in life, but you can control how you react to it.
If you’re moving to a new city to start a new job, find things you will enjoy in that city and look for social opportunities there. Learn everything you can about the city’s cultural, sports and entertainment scene. (Meetup.com and The Chamber of Commerce are good places to start). Also, investigate the company’s culture by reaching out to people who work there on LinkedIn so when you start, you already have some familiarity with your new office environment. If possible, go visit the city. Explore the area and find things you enjoy about the area. Scope out the neighborhoods prior to making your move and select a location that suits your needs. At the end of the day it’s okay to recognize this could be a challenging time. You can expect to have some lonely moments so find some activities you enjoy doing by yourself. The more you know about your new environment the less awkward you’ll feel upon arrival.
3. Develop a Support Network
Developing a support network is a key element to reduce your stress level and make your transition successful. There are many ways to develop a support network. A good first step is to recognize the support network that is already present in your life — friends, family members, and teachers. One person in your support network may be an excellent resume writer, another may be a great listener who can help you clarify goals and another might have more experience in a situation that’s new for you. Let the people who provide you with motivation, encouragement and practical assistance know you appreciate having them in your life.
4. Recognize the Growth Opportunity
The upside of a painful transition is that it could become a path toward growth and deepening wisdom. Take time for self-reflection. If you assume the mindset that your new experience will teach you something about life, you eventually might come to appreciate the change. Each challenge you overcome when faced with a life change could fortify you with new skills that could allow you to manage the next one with greater ease and finesse. Making a successful transition could help you become a more resourceful, adaptable and relational person. You might even gain new insights and wisdom for helping someone else in the future.
5. Focus on Helping Others
Sometimes the best remedy for making a good transition is to take a break from your worries and reach out to help someone else. It not only distracts you from becoming self-focused, but when you help someone else, you feel better. Dr. Barry Wiser, a clinical psychologist practicing in southwestern Nova Scotia says “We’re all programmed to have the ability to be empathetic, People need to have meaning, to feel appreciated. “
6. The Only Constant Is Change
Marc and Angel Chernoff’s best-selling book, “1000 + Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently,” reminds readers “Every time it rains, it stops raining. After darkness there is always light—you are reminded of this every morning, but still you often forget, and instead choose to believe that the night will last forever. It won’t. Nothing lasts forever. So if things are good right now, enjoy it. It won’t last forever. If things are bad, don’t worry because it won’t last forever either. Just because life isn’t easy at the moment, doesn’t mean you can’t laugh. Just because something is bothering you, doesn’t mean you can’t smile. Every moment gives you a new beginning and a new ending. You get a second chance, every second. You just have to take it and make the best of it.”
As people grow in life, change is inevitable. Although change can be difficult, it’s also possible to reap benefits when you make a good transition. Whether you’re starting school, leaving school, switching jobs, newly married, moving to a new house, or retiring, change brings both opportunities and turmoil. Most of us struggle through such periods. Focusing on things you can control could help alleviate some of your anxiety and trepidation about the changes you face. When you embrace the change with a proactive mindset and a determination to grow from the experience, you may find that your effort pays off in making you a stronger, more capable and adaptable person. These challenging times could become building blocks that define your new and improved identity.