Transition

BridgeI’ve just started reading Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges.

He tells us life is full of change. No surprises there.

I learnt early in life that you can’t stop things changing, no matter how hard you try. Sometimes it really is outside your control.

As a boy, I had to cope with being uprooted and transplanted from one place to another every few years, as my father made his way up the ladder from being a teacher in a one room schoolhouse to a Class 1 Principal – as far as you could go without leaving the schoolyard for the big glass office in Adelaide.

I learnt to let go and move on. I learnt you could start over and make new friends.

A lot of us struggle with change. I certainly witnessed a lot of my colleagues resisting changes I was championing in the various workplaces I played in over the years.

According to Bridges, change itself isn’t the problem. It’s our failure to embrace the transition process required to weather the changes we experience.

He describes that transition process as being one of three phases: an ending, a neutral zone, and a new beginning.

From what I’ve read so far, it appears we experience difficulties with change when we don’t process the ending, ignore or get stuck in the neutral phase, and either rush into or resist a new beginning.

I’ve recently undertaken a big change. I retired from my day job after 40 1 (8)years in the workplace. I thought I had it all worked out. I was certainly looking forward to not going into the city to work everyday, and I had something new to go to: full-time writing.

 

Then it happened. All that regimentation, associated with getting up and going to work, and then coming home and spending a couple of hours writing every night, evaporated. I found myself in no-man’s land – that dreaded neutral zone. I had to reinvent my day. I had to work out what being a full-time writer actually meant, now that I’d decided to be one.

I’m still working on the finer points, but I’ve discovered that four hours is about the limit for creative writing. That leaves me with plenty of time to do all those other things I promised myself I’d do when I retired. I’ve even spent some time in the garden, but I won’t be firing the gardener anytime soon.

Maybe I should be thanking my wife for suggesting I read the book.

Endings – Good grief!

We’ve reached that moment for enjoying the dying days of 2013. This time last year we were pondering the significance of the Mayan calendar completing a full cycle as we ended 2012 on the Gregorian calendar. It was an ending of sorts but it was not the end.

Our life stories are made up of events with beginnings and endings. We’re good with beginnings. We congratulate and celebrate when things begin: new job, new relationship, new house, new car, new child, life in a new city. With our obsession with birthdays you have to wonder whether what we’re celebrating is remembering the beginning or the countdown to the inevitable ending. Maybe birthdays are about giving thanks for another year of life but, then again, there are a lot of people who don’t want to acknowledge the actual number of solar revolutions they’ve made in this life time.

This is the time of year when we reflect on the year that’s been and anticipate the year ahead. It’s a moment of transition from an ending to a beginning.

In my experience we are not good at endings. We either rush, ignore or prolong endings. Some cultures have rituals to help people cope with endings, especially that ending that most of us dread: the end of a life. Think of southern european women dressed in black for a specified period after the death of a loved one, and when you realise that some of them never get out of the black, you can see that even with rituals sometimes we still fail to deal with endings.

Grieving is the name we give to the process of dealing with endings. Most of us think of grieving in the context of the death of a loved one. If you have experienced the sense of loss that accompanies the death of a spouse, child or parent you know what I’m talking about. You’ll also probably know that there is good grief and disabling grief.

Good grief is when you work through the stages from initial denial and anger through to acceptance. Disabling grief is when you get stuck in the process and can’t move through to acceptance.

Do you grieve other endings? How many of us are still embittered over the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, moving from a neighbourhood or the loss of a favourite book? What do you do when things end in your life? And, let’s face it, things end all the time. The only thing that doesn’t change is the process of change itself.

So, while you’re reflecting on the end of 2013, take a moment to acknowledge all the little endings that you experienced during the year. Which losses are you still holding on to? Are there any that you’re still pretending haven’t happened? Are there any endings you have been putting off because you’d rather stay with your fantasies than deal with reality?

Remember, all endings lead to new beginnings.

2014

Love and blessings to all for 2014,

Peter