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Life is full of surprises. Some are great (marriage, babies, new opportunities) and some are not great (separation, redundancy, ill health, loss of a loved one) but all of them require adjustment to a new reality, and often a new sense of ourselves. Even navigating through happy changes, a person starts off as single, then becomes part of a couple, become a spouse and/or a parent. All new identities, new ways of seeing ourselves and being seen. Some we just leap into fearlessly and some are accompanied by some degree of trepidation.
Less happy changes involve loss, which often need to be mourned. While the phases of grief are well known: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kübler-Ross, 1969), having a recognised model for it can help normalise the turbulence experienced in the transformation process. In our society, certain losses, like death and illness tend to elicit more social acknowledgement and therefor support than others, like divorce and retirement.
Martha Beck (2001) suggests there are three phases to making changes once a catalyst for change has hit your life:
Birth and rebirth
Especially if the change is significant, there can be a strong resistance to change and there is a temptation to treat it as “just a blip”. An example of this is seen in unhealthy relationships where poor behaviour gets hidden or excused rather than facing the upheaval required to make significant changes.
A lot of the resistance is tied up with identity and the requirement to change the way we see ourselves. The person in an unhealthy relationship may have many negative associations with being single, not being able to maintain a relationship, etc
Change is only possible when there is an acceptance that the old status quo is unsustainable and needs to be dissolved in order to be reformed into something new and improved. There may be a need for time to mourn the loss of the old sense of self. And to get comfortable with what might seem to be uncomfortable and ill fitting at first.
Dreaming and scheming
In order to move forward, we need a sense of what the future could look like. Having a compelling vision is a great motivator for many people and helps them summon the energy required to make a leap into the unfamiliar.
This phase can take the most time. As you start to take action, reality invariably intrudes and, depending on the scale of the change, the journey could be very choppy and challenging. At some points, adjustments (in either the vision or the implementation) will have to be made. Some options that seemed so promising may turn out to be less fruitful and unexpected opportunities will present themselves. Tenacity and flexibility are key in this phase, as well as the need to keep the origin vision in mind, in order to not lose hope and confidence.
Success! The transition is completed
Time to celebrate and really soak up the sense of achievement!
But be careful about assuming you can rest on your laurels. One certainty in life is that everything changes so make sure you are keeping an eye out for new catalysts (good and bad) that will herald a new transition. But the great news is now you understand how it works and what to expect, which will help you get through it again. Do bear in mind, there are all sorts of experts who can help you through these difficult times and asking for support could well help make the journey less of an upheaval.
In terms of getting support through a transition, I can only speak from a coaching perspective. A coach can:
If you feel like you are struggling with some kind of transition, it's important to get some support where you need it. Culturally we are often reluctant to ask for help but, when you do, it's such a relief to be able to talk it through with some one else. Even the process of hearing yourself talking about it allows you to think about it differently. And most people find that a problem shared is a problem halved. And if it isn't, there are many professionally trained people, myself included, who would be able to help.
Beck, M, Finding Your Own North Star, 2001
Kübler-Ross, E, On Death and Dying, 1969