Updated: Jun 13, 2019
After a glorious summer month together at the cottage, my family and I are struggling to get back into our usual routine. At daycare drop-off, my toddler was sad and clingy. He didn’t want me to go. I think he misses the long, lazy days of summer and being with his family all the time. Or maybe that’s just me.
Seasons change gradually and effortlessly, but for the rest of us change isn’t easy. Particularly when we are moving from a place of comfort and expertise into the unknown.
Transition can be explicit: a recent promotion to a leadership role, a shift into a new company, or out of a long tenure at a company that felt like home. For many of us, transition is ambiguous . Not much around you is tangibly different, yet you feel a yearning to change and don’t know why or what you want instead.
I like to think of transition stages as the space of becoming. It’s an intermediate stage of change—a phase when you aren’t (or don’t want to be) the same person or professional you were before yet you haven’t arrived at the next version of yourself. Transition can be a result of a conscious choice or it may have been thrust upon you. Transition stages signify renewal but also provoke stress and anxiety because inherent to them are uncertainty and inexperience.
According to Victor Turner, an anthropologist who helped conceptualize liminality (in between stages) in ritual practice, the attributes of these stages “are necessarily ambiguous. One's sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation, but also the possibility of new perspectives.”
When I think back to various transition stages in my life—when I didn’t yet know how to be an adult, a recruiter, a parent, a coach or a business owner— I recall the feelings of disorientation, vulnerability and existential stress I felt.
A client of mine recently compared the space of becoming to a ship at sea. She doesn't want to go back to the port she departed from and yet the destined land is nowhere in sight. Often it feels as though there’s a storm at sea, the waves come uncontrollably and there’s nothing she can do to make them stop. Other days she’s comfortable with having only hope and trust as her companion, knowing that she will get through.
Balancing our fear with trust is key to weathering transitions. Given that transition stages are stressful, it’s helpful to find ways to cope with the anxiety of being in between. If we can't control the waves, what can we control?
Here are some suggestions of strategies that can make the space of becoming more productive.
1. Adopt a Learner’s Mindset
Approaching your situation with curiosity and the desire to learn allows you to be more patient and forgiving with yourself. This mindset enables you to seek out support and help. Instead of adopting a judgmental attitude toward yourself and situation (for example, “why can’t I figure this out and just be done with it?”), adopt a curious, learning attitude (ask yourself “what can I learn? Who can help me?). With a learner’s stance you’ll be able to view your transition period as a necessary step in your growth.
2. Write About Past Positives
Think of something difficult you accomplished in the past (even if you think it was small or insignificant compared to other peoples' accomplishments). It could be taking a lead role in the school play, giving a speech in public or winning over a new client. Write about it in detail- what was the challenge, what about it was difficult, how did you overcome the challenges, what character strengths did you use, what skills? Consider whether there is any useful information or capabilities you may draw upon now.
3. Cultivate Hope
Use writing or other creative means to try to envision what could be on the other side. Is it more freedom? Community? A sense of fulfillment? Wealth? Dig through magazines and cut out images that represent what you desire in the next stage. Make a collage and keep it somewhere when you can look at it to remind yourself of what is important to you.
Or write a vision of what your ideal life looks like on a specific day in the future (3-5 years from now). Everything has worked out in the most ideal way, describe what’s happening on a specific day in the future.
4. Manage Stress
What helps you deal with stress? Is it exercise? Sleep? Nutrition? Avoiding social comparison? Meditation? Commit to building your resilience muscles and don’t beat yourself up when you fall short.
5. Trust and action.
Trust yourself and the process of change. Commit to the idea that you are trying on new ways of thinking and being.
And remember, both in good times and bad, this too shall pass.