By Joy Birnbach Dunstan,
MA, LPC, MAC
Making the Most of Change
As I work through the huge task of packing up my entire house and settling into another house here at Lakeside, I can’t help but thinking a lot about change and transitions. Though the two terms are often used interchangeably, change and transition are not the same. Change is really the “what” that is happening, a situational shift. Transition is the inner process through which we come to terms with the change.
In my case right now, for example, change refers to leaving one house and moving into another. Transition is more about letting go and saying goodbye to all the aspects and memories of my former home and then creating a new home in a different house.
There are many varieties of transitions. Some come as a result of changes we may have chosen to bring into our lives: moving to a new home, taking a new job, getting married or divorced, having a baby. Some are part of a normal progression of life: graduating school and joining the work force, aging, retirement. Some are forced upon us by circumstances out of our control: job layoffs, illness or injury, death of a loved one. Whether the change is chosen or imposed, sudden or gradual, expected or unexpected, it requires numerous internal readjustments to manage it in a positive manner. The usual routines of our life will be disrupted, and new ones need to be established. Even if the change is a welcome one, transition can be a difficult time.
A wonderful book on this topic is a classic by William Bridges called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Bridges points out that there are three parts to all transitions. First, there is an ending. We must say goodbye to things as they were, the “good old days.” If a change is unwelcome, it can be especially difficult to let go of what was, and without letting go it is impossible to move forward. It helps to acknowledge the change or loss with rituals. We can honor the change with moving-away parties, graduation ceremonies, funerals, etc.
The second part of transition is what Bridges terms the “Neutral Zone.” This can be a period of confusion, uncertainty and distress. We no longer have the familiarity of the old, and we don’t yet have any clarity about the new. There is a disconnection from the past and still no emotional connection to the present. It can be difficult to know if our decisions are good ones or if we are on a wise path. This in between place is the most uncomfortable and difficult to tolerate for most people.
The third part of transition is the new beginning. It can be scary, but it is also exciting and filled with promise and opportunity. It is a time for setting goals and priorities as you establish a new stability.
Transitions are a wonderful opportunity for personal growth. To help yourself navigate successfully through the murky waters of the “Neutral Zone,” ask yourself, “What is it time to let go of?” “What needs will I have to find other ways to get met?” “Because of this change, what habits or parts of myself are now out of date?” These are important questions that can benefit us throughout our lifetime, yet they are often left unasked in ordinary times and forgotten in the chaos of change.
Even if there are no dramatic shifts going on for you right now, the very process of aging is a gradual change and transition that affects us all. Make the most of your transitions, and use the answers these questions provide to give impetus and direction to your growth in everything you do. And if you’re facing changes that seem overwhelming, remind yourself that “The very things we now wish we could hold onto and keep safe from change were themselves originally produced by change.”