In my first blog of the series on the life change trapeze, I talked about the importance of letting go, of leaving the current situation in order to be able to free ourselves to move forward. In this second blog, I discuss the importance of taking the time to fly way high up in the air and take a bird’s eye view so you can explore your best landing spot.
Regardless whether the new situation has been imposed on you or not, it is whilst we are high up in the air that the real transition and the ‘inner change’ take place. This process can take several months and, if you have not entirely let go of the previous situation, it can even take years. If you have chosen to make a significant change in your life, others might also try to pull you back. Not everyone in your entourage might approve of your decision. It can be scary for your partner or closed ones to see you leaving a situation that they consider acceptable or even more, prestigious. For example, doctors, surgeons, professionals or ‘executives’ find it hard to change profession or role especially if the change is perceived as a ‘downgrade’. Beside one’s loss of status, a change can also generate a loss of income, which the partner might disapprove of. In her study of ‘exes’, Ebaugh found numerous examples where people delayed their decisions for years due to a lack of social support.
But once you’re in the air, it can also be scary because you enter some kind of ‘neutral zone’ says William Bridges. This is when doubts can easily populate your mind. You are basically oscillating between a past and a future role. According to Bridges, a number of steps need to occur such as ‘disentifying’ from the previous role, ‘dismantling’ the past, which can leave you feel disoriented, ‘empty’ or literally groundless for a while. That is normal but rarely enjoyable, even when you make a deliberate and positive change. It’s a time when you can also feel really isolated because closed ones might tell you things like: “You made this decision to change…what’s the problem?” or might add: “Why can’t you enjoy the ride?” The fact is, transition, like learning a new skill, is mostly enjoyable in hindsight, but rarely whilst it takes place. In learning for example, what we enjoy are the end results, but let’s be honest, studying, memorising, rehearsing, drill practicing, are activities that can be really tedious. It’s the same with transition: disentifying, dismantling, disenchanting and disorienting are seldom enjoyable.
Having said all that, it is whilst you are in transition – up in the air – that you have the best viewpoint. You can have the freedom to look around, explore the landscape and see the many possible landing spots. So, it’s worth resisting the temptation to rush this process and learn how to navigate the discomfort.
- Recognise that it’s normal to feel disoriented, confused, unsettled and even scared during this phase. If these feelings become too intense for you, they are likely going to be too intense for your loved ones to witness as well. So, you might need support from an objective person or professional to help you navigate these.
- Most people who make successful transitions weigh in the pros and cons of the change, not only in a rational way but also with their intuition, ‘gut feel’ and heart. Take time to identify or review your deepest values and needs.
- Make sure that your loved ones understand how important the change is for you but that your change might also be creating a number of losses for them too. So, you will likely need to draw from your empathy and good communication skills. The “REAL Dialogue” framework (see more about it on this web site) can really help you here.
- Be clear on the type of support that you expect form others. Again, use REAL Dialogue to make requests for support that are clear, doable, positive without being coercive.
- Meditation or mindfulness exercises, such as journaling, might also be very useful to gain clarity of mind.
Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes. MA, Cambridge: Da Capo Press.
Ebaugh, H. R. B. (1988). Becoming an ex: The process of role exit. Chicago, IL: University of
Hollis, J. (2006). Finding meaning in the second half of life. NY: Gotham Books.
Copyright © 2016 by Sylvie Vanasse. All rights reserved.