Transitions and Other Life Shifts

By Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

The interval between the decay of the old and the formation and the establishment of the new, constitutes a period of transition which must always necessarily be one of uncertainty, confusion, error, and wild and fierce fanaticism.

John C. Calhoun

I do not think I agree with the above quote about transitions. It could be that a transition is well-planned for and is not as stressful as Calhoun’s quote indicates. If you are between employment opportunities by choice or necessity, it is important to understand where you are in your transition cycle. Transitions can be exhilarating or terrifying and various emotions in between. I enjoy hearing the stories of clients and friends regarding life transitions because each one is so unique and something so very personal.

As a coach I encounter so many different stories of life transitions.   One person recently told how he went from conducting orchestras and choirs as a profession, to becoming a leadership trainer, coach and keynote speaker. His transition was a long but intentional journey.  Another friend has transitioned from a full time position as a pastor to a full time regional sales director and now pastors smaller churches in a part time format. One Delta Airline long term employee I met now works as a real estate broker. My own transition has been an interesting journey and one that would never have happened if I had not had the courage to take that first step.

Transitions are very personal, sometimes painful and extremely real to those going through them. One person has had to go interview in areas of employment that are outside the parameters of their training, experience and comfort just to survive. Others I have coached were simply tired of what they had been doing and wanted to examine other avenues of interest and passion to complete their careers. Some coaching clients are searching for a transition that enables them more freedom; freedom from stress, freedom to make better choices and a freedom that allows them a different life situation altogether.

From Career Magazine, written by James Sofia, Ph.D. comes this excerpt.

This is an era of job transition. An abundance of professional and highly trained individuals are finding themselves displaced by company restructuring and downsizing, the rapid changes in technology and plant re-locations. Remember the days when we planned on the security of a stable job market and set our sights on that upward climb within the walls of a rock solid company who rewarded us with gold watches as a token of our longevity! This vision that we grew up with has been shattered by the ever changing pressures of global competitiveness and employee expendability. “So, James, what would you like to be when you grow up?” my father would occasionally ask me, as images of possible career paths came to mind.

It would appear that the vision of a “career path” is taking on a new dimension in today’s market. In this era of job transition, we are now continually asked to re-evaluate our skills, goals, values and aspirations in what would seem to be a set of crossroads. And, at this juncture, what information do we consider when we decide upon a career path? What other potential crossroads do we face as the global economy evolves? The ability to adapt to the changing times and make informed decisions is an important key to our survival in the world of work. As anxiety provoking as this certainly is, there are tools at our disposal which serve to broaden our horizons and explore new directions, especially during a time of transition.

Recently I heard a speaker at a luncheon say that most young managers change jobs six or more times before they are thirty five years old. It used to be that a person began their career as a professional in an industry and stayed there. Many of my father’s peers began and ended in the same industry or profession. Today it seems transitions are more frequent, more extreme and more acceptable.

When I finally made my transition, some of my lifelong friends, peers and association acquaintances were stunned and simply could not see it. Some even said that my “move” was a risk and wondered why I would leave such a secure and successful profession to pursue something so different. My story was personal and the pain, joy and hope were all to become the parts of my life experience.  Remember, when you try anything of risk and out-of-the-box in nature, you will have the doubters. A successful transition may take longer than you had hoped for. Transition means:

  • A Change
  • A Conversion
  • A Shift
  • A Move
  • An Alteration
  • A Switch
  • A Modification
  • An Adjustment
  • A Variation
  • A Revision
  • An Adaptation

Transitions bring vulnerability, fear and insecurity. Transitions bring excitement, anticipation and enthusiasm. It could be that you will possibly experience some of all these emotions.  I wish I could tell you that all transitions are absent of vulnerability, fear and insecurity, but they are not. Bracing for these feelings and thoughts is imperative to seeing transition through to its logical conclusion.

Having a plan to brace for change is crucial. Knowing your anticipated steps through transitions keeps the level of fear in check. A framework is needful to stabilize us during a transition. I will give you some ideas for this plan at the end of this article. Did you know that lobsters go through life transitions? I wasn’t talking about lobsters, was I? So, is there anything we learn from them?

From time to time, lobsters have to leave their shells in order to grow. They need the shell to protect them from being torn apart, yet when they grow, the old shell must be abandoned. If they did not abandon it, the old shell would soon become their prison–and finally their casket. The tricky part for the lobster is the brief period of time between when the old shell is discarded and the new one is formed. During that terribly vulnerable period, the transition must be scary to the lobster. Currents gleefully cartwheel them from coral to kelp. Hungry schools of fish are ready to make them a part of their food chain. For a while at least, that old shell must look pretty good. We are not so different from lobsters. To change and grow, we must sometimes shed our shells–a structure, a framework–we’ve depended on, as we build the next framework.

If you have transitioned you can relate to the pilgrimage of the lobster. We all know someone who has resisted change and transition. It is impossible to know if these people are really happy and satisfied. I suppose some folks live best trapped in their lobster shell without any need to break free and take the vulnerable leap of faith into transition. It seems in coaching scenarios and even in my training workshops that many people want a certain level of transition in their lives. Although transitions are frightening and bring feelings of insecurity and doubt, they can be invigorating for the initiated. My extremely successful colleagues at Trove, Inc. tell me of their coaching experiences with leaders transitioning into lives of purpose, passion and fulfillment, as well. Like the lobster, most people get gleefully tossed around a little as they transition to the next level of life. Others get tossed around but don’t see it so gleefully. Both attitudes – gleeful and not-so-gleeful, are matters of the heart not the head.

Disenchantment, whether it is a minor disappointment or a major shock, is the signal that things are moving into transition in our lives.

William Bridges

Many people that I have had conversations with through the years have feared a transition. They hold on to their status quo and stability. That is not necessarily a bad thing, unless the fear paralyzes one to never seek something better suited to fit their life’s calling and passion. Leaving your passion on the shelf could be more fearful than the transition that leads to living in your passion. Not knowing what the next chapter may hold is unsettling to me. Of course, restlessness, constant change and the seeking of the new for the sake of mere change is equally unsettling. I believe that constant change and restlessness are different from real strategic transitions. In my experience, transition can be well thought out, intentional and a pathway to life transformation. Sometimes unexpected change seems very burdensome unless reclassified as an opportunity.

The best performance improvement is the transition from the non-working state to the working state.

My journey to become a coach, business consultant, professional trainer and speaker was a challenge. Some of the closest colleagues I had shared life and professional conversations with for years doubted my transition. Some of them stopped contacting me, others had questions. The transition was worth it. Like flying against the wind it made me stronger, more informed and more courageous. Working, researching and living outside of my previous comfort zone has given me great satisfaction. I sense at times this new life has prolonged my professional life and given me exhilaration rather than burnout. Of course, a complete change in vocation is not for everyone. I am sure there are some who should pursue a new life course that intersects with their life’s passion. There cannot be anything more rewarding than getting paid for your life’s passion. In my case, the steep climb has been worth the present view!

Try answering these questions this week to prepare for transitions, whether they are expected or unexpected.

  1. Are there preparations you should be attending to that would help you through the unexpected loss of your present job?
  2. What is the one thing you love to do the most that connects with your life’s purpose?
  3. Is there a “domain of accomplishment” that would define your perfect world?
  4. If time, people and money were not issues what would you be doing tomorrow?
  5. What things have you given up on that need to be reinvestigated?

Prepare for unknown transitions this week. Set some long term goals. If you are in the middle of a transition seek an accountability partner, confident or a coach’s help.


One Response to “Transitions and Other Life Shifts”

  1. I had to read your post three times to get the full impact of it. I appreciate reading what you have to say. It’s too bad that more people do not comprehend the benefits of coaching. Keep up the good work.

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