This is the first of a three-blog series on each of the three stages of life changes.
Many years ago, I remember reading an excerpt of Danaan Parry’s the “The Essene Book of Days”, where he uses the analogy of swinging on a trapeze to illustrate the personal transformation process. Today, in helping people with life transitions, Parry’s analogy resonates even more with me than ever before. I use this analogy slightly differently now, but I find that going through a life change, whether it is anticipated or not, is like being on a trapeze. You’ve got to leave one platform, fly in the air and land (hopefully). Similarly, making a life change has three main stages: 1) Leaving the current situation, 2) Preparing for the new situation and 3) Embracing the new situation. During this process, like on a trapeze, you can literally feel “ungrounded”, confused and scared.
When I left the corporate world, after 25 years, to start my consulting business, I did feel like I was swinging on a trapeze. At times, it seemed that I had dropped the bar and was up in the air with no net underneath me to catch my fall. I also made two mistakes. First, I tried to rush my landing so I could feel safe again. Second, I tried to keep an eye on the departure platform, just in case I needed to return. Needless to say, I could not rush forward whilst looking back at the same time. It did not work and only brought more confusion. If I wanted to change, I had first to let go of the past. That’s the first stage.
Letting go of our old ways is not easy. It often yields to a redefinition of our solidly built identity. We have to leave our old role behind and reshape a new one. In the meantime, we can feel destabilised and isolated. Beside one’s role and identify, making a life change will inevitably generate other losses and hence, will require some mourning. For example, I had to distance myself from people and activities that I used to enjoy but that were now keeping me glued onto the departure platform. Examples included old professional networks, ex-colleagues and types of work that I felt competent and ‘safe’ doing but that were no longer aligned with my new business direction. I even threw away old books, articles and papers that I had not touched for years but that I was keeping ‘just in case’.
The ‘letting go’ activities triggered mix feelings. I felt sad, grateful, as well as excited and relieved. Overall, the process unburdened me. It made me lighter so my flight – my preparation – towards my new platform became more graceful and easier. Below are some of the lessons that I, and many others, have learned through their transition process.
- Take time to leave the old situation and complete unfinished business. You don’t have to throw away the baby with the bath water but clearly identify what you want to take with you (e.g.: skills, experience, lessons learned) and what you need to leave behind.
- Honour what and whom you are leaving behind. Ideas include:
- Acknowledging colleagues, mentors, neighbours or whoever significantly impacted you in your previous situation. You can do this at a celebratory party or individually or with a card or email.
- Taking photos of people and places that you are leaving behind.
- Making a list of the key lessons that you learned and what you wish to continue, start and stop doing in the future based on these.
- Making a list of your achievements and the legacies that you are leaving. If you’re leaving a job, you can even write your own “thank you for your service” letter.
- David Denborough, narrative psychotherapist, suggests that you create your “Club of [Old Situation]” document where you can list members of your old team, including: team mates, your offense, your coach, your goalkeeper, your fans, key values you were defending, the goals that you scored together, etc.
Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes. MA, Cambridge: Da Capo Press.
Denborough, D. (2014). Retelling the stories of our lives: Everyday narrative therapy to draw inspiration and transform experience. W. W. Norton & Company.
Light, A. S. & Visser, P. S. (2013). The ins and outs of the self: Contrasting role exits and role entries as predictors of self-concept clarity. Self & Identity, 12(3), 291-306.
Parry, D. (2008). The Essene book of days. Earthstewards Network.
Copyright © 2016 by Sylvie Vanasse. All rights reserved.