Because we live in a culture that fears change, we don’t provide people with the accurate information and necessary tools that would guide them through the tricky emotional terrain of transitions. We expect our young people to dive into the awkward stage of adolescence without guidance and information about the monumental changes that are occurring emotionally and physically. We expect college graduates to enter the world of adulthood without a map of what to expect during their 20s. And the list goes on –- from getting married to becoming a parent to moving, changing jobs, getting divorced, empty nest, retirement, and losing a loved one –- we leave people in the rapids of transition and expect them to figure it out on their own.
It doesn’t take much to relieve the first layer of anxiety commonly associated with transitions; a little information goes a long way. When I first learned about the three stages of transitions –- letting go, in-between, and new beginning –- that every culture worldwide has been following since time immemorial, I breathed a full-body exhale of relief. I was in my early 20s and I remember thinking, “You mean there’s been an emotional roadmap this entire time that could have helped me make sense of my life and nobody told me about it?” The map is quite simple, and once you incorporate it into your mental toolbox, as well as the three mental shifts below, you will be outfitted with a life raft to see you through every transition you will endure.
1. It’s okay to grieve, even if it’s a positive transition.
We have a deeply ingrained notion in this culture that says, “If you’re embarking on a positive change –- like getting married, having a baby, or buying a house –- you shouldn’t feel scared, doubtful, or sad.” This belief points to a cultural ignorance about transitions in that we don’t understand that every change involves a loss of the old life. When you’re getting married, you’re letting go of your identity as a single person in the world. When you’re having a baby, you’re letting go of your identity as a non-parent and a childless couple. You’re saying goodbye to what’s comfortable, safe, and familiar; it’s okay to grieve.
And here’s one of the secret paradoxes of transitions: the more you allow yourself to express your grief and explore your fears on the front end (during the engagement, pregnancy, or before the move to the new house), the more joy and ease you’ll have once you cross over the threshold to the new life.
2. Transitions are invitations to slow down and be.
We live in a very fast-paced culture. We move quickly, speak quickly, work quickly, type quickly. So when a transition hits, we try to power through it as quickly as possible. This doesn’t usually work out very well. Transitions seem to pull us into a more natural pace; they beckon us to slow down so that we can thoroughly grieve the old life and express the natural fears of stepping into something new. It’s almost impossible to connect emotionally when you’re moving at breakneck speed, and yet that’s how most people manage transitions. But if you stop and recognize that it’s okay to slow down, you will discover the many gifts inherent in these tumultuous times.
3. Transitions carry potent opportunities for growth and healing.
Rarely do people understand that transitions aren’t just times to “get through”; they are rich opportunities where profound growth and healing can occur. They are times when the cracked belief systems and outdated patterns of behavior are illuminated with crystalline clarity so that you have an opportunity to consciously weed them and prepare the inner ground for a new and expanded version of yourself to take root.
Knowing that the loss always gives birth new life can be a lifeline when you’re enduring the painful stage of letting go. But I assure you: just as joyous spring always follows melancholy autumn and lonely winter, so the new you will always emerge on the heels of the old stage of life. This is why transitions, while challenging times of loss, fear, vulnerability, and loneliness, are also times of great hope and renewal.