What transition?

STOP!   Take Time to Notice.  

“Change” generally takes the form of an event; it is the “transition process” from the old to the new that can be chaotic.  It’s living through the not knowing of the “in-between” stage that is challenging.

To complicate matters, in our fast paced global society, we experience change after change after change, overlapping even, with all the accompanying emotions. The in-between stages, where you get to catch a breath, are hardly discernible.

Consultant and author Peter Vaill named this phenomenon nearly 30 years ago as “permanent white water.”  He was ahead of his time.  He gave us the gift of naming what was and is still occurring.  Any experiences of depression and confusion are normal and at least have a source.

That being said, whether you are planning to make a change, in the middle of a change, or on the other side of it, there is big work to do.  Lots of learning, lots of letting go, lots of stepping back to make sense of things.

(I give credit to William Bridges and Elizabeth Kubler Ross for their original work 40 years ago and the immense value it’s provided to me and others since then. A link to a downloadable copy of the three phases of change is provided at the end of this post.)

The emotional work accompanying any “change” is necessary whether it be during an unwelcome change that has been visited upon you unexpectedly, or desired changes you yourself initiate. It’s a process universally present, whether it lasts a day, or weeks, or months, or longer.

Don’t be surprised at the unanticipated discomfort your “good” changes bring. It takes some time to get used to the routines and the shifts in identity that accompany whatever is new.  Nor should it be surprise when what you initially perceived as a “very unwelcome” change, turns out, with the perspective of time, to be a blessing.

Nevertheless, in the moment, the transition process can feel chaotic and confusing.    In fact,  major life changes, the ones we plan and the ones which sneak up on us,  can feel downright disorienting and distressing.  If left without a process with which we can consciously cooperate, those feelings can last days, weeks, and months.

That said, the emotional transition process goes on most often without our awareness. It can masquerade as depression. If that is what you feel, consider that you might have a case of denied grief or anger.   To the extent we do not name the normal progression of this flow, and actively cooperate with it, the results we hope for on the other side of the change can be substantially delayed.

If you happen to be in a “what next?” mode for yourself, knowing that a change is coming, the first important task is to name what has ended, what will be ending, or what you want to end.  Search deeply to name ALL of what’s ending, as the seemingly small ones can unfortunately get overlooked.

I remember doing a program on transition for a large organization undergoing an organizational change.  The participants were not cooperative, only wanting to vent their anger at the prior re-organization which occurred 11 years earlier.  Clearly no emotional work had been performed for that earlier “trauma”, even the work of transmitting the very simple information that grieving would be necessary and normal.  One gentleman admitted that the earlier change required a close colleague to relocate to another building, disrupting their daily routine of morning check-in and the regular coffee break. He was devastated and he had no name for what he felt.  No one had told him that “no endings are too small to grieve.”

Endings are mini-deaths.  Something is no longer. The “no longers”  need to be named, honored, and grieved in order for a human being to fully move on.  Sadness, happiness, and relief may be in order.  So sit with these questions, shed a few tears and say your good-byes. Listen to yourself with compassion.

  • What has ended?  What is ending for you?  What must end for you to move on?  Don’t forget to include your old ways of thinking and believing.
  • What losses require some grieving? And some goodbyes?
  • To what are you holding on that may warrant a letting go ceremony?

For help in naming and  “cooperating” with the stages of change,  download the  The Flow of Transition.  The model is useful as long as one keeps in mind that, in real time, the flow is never quite as neat as it looks on the paper.