In the Hallway of Transition

When one door closes another opens but all too often there is a long hallway in between.

-Rick Jarow

It was a welcome surprise. The unexpected email arrived in my inbox earlier this week, from two former students. I haven’t seen them in well over a year, and in that time they’ve graduated and moved on to new and exciting experiences.

They sweetly shared that they’d been thinking about me, and asked if I’d like to meet for dinner. “Of course!” I thought to myself. What fun it will be to catch up and hang out with them.

Why then, did I hesitate to answer the email? Why let three days pass before responding?

Because I’m in the midst of a doozy of a transition.

WHAT IS TRANSITION?

People often believe, understandably, that transition and change are one in the same. But it doesn’t quite work that way. Change is like writing a short essay. Simple. We change our clothes or hair color or the route we take to work. And voila, it’s done.

But transition? Not so much.

Transition is more like the novel we’ve worked on for a year. Complex. And even though we talk about changing our relationships, thoughts, health, feelings, dreams, finances, work, habits, etc., in truth we’re embarking on a transition when we set such a course.

We also tend to think that transition is the result of external circumstances and events. As in, it’s either something we choose, like getting married, or something thrust upon us, like the unexpected loss of a dear friend.

But transition is a shape-shifter, with the ability to take on another altogether different form. It may show up, unbidden, when nothing out of the ordinary has happened in our external world. Just when life seems to be chugging along as it should be – SCREECH! We arrive at a stop sign that wasn’t supposed to be on this route.

So with that we begin to question the most basic constructs of our lives and that which gives us meaning.

Perhaps we even face our mortality for the first time. And even though it may appear that nothing is happening externally, quite the opposite is true. As Nancy Schlossberg says, “Everything is changing internally – that is, the person’s assumptions about competency and identity are gradually shaken.”

Sounds challenging, right? But there’s a lot of help out there.

One of my absolute favorite books about transition has been around for a long time: Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, by William Bridges. For me, it’s a classic. Leave it to a former English professor to poetically explore the three stages of transition:

  1. The Ending. Letting go of an old way of life. Disengagement. Disidentification. Disenchantment. Disorientation.
  2. The Neutral Zone. A moratorium. Can feel aimless, ambiguous, empty, and unproductive. Nothing feels solid anymore. A time for being rather than doing.
  3. The Beginning. Subtle internal signals that we’re ready to move towards something new. An experience right at the lower edge of consciousness. A half-formed daydream that bubbles up and begins to take shape. Renewal.

THE HALLWAY OF TRANSITION

Yes, this is where I’ve been spending much of my time lately. With clients and with myself. Bridges calls it the neutral zone. Hudson has named it cocooning. And in the quote at the beginning of this post, Jarow refers to it as a hallway.

Personally, I just like to think of it as the in-between space.

One of the reasons this transition of mine is a doozy is because it’s happening in multiple areas of my life: work, relationship, finances, wellness, location, spirit.

In short, I’m in the midst of an internal, existential transition, questioning almost all of the basic constructs of my life. Trying to become my truest self in the world.

But here’s the funny thing about the in-between space of transition – even though I may feel aimless, unproductive, and empty at times, I don’t mind it. In fact, I know it’s essential for my evolution as a human being. As Bridges points out:

The reason for the emptiness between the stages of the life journey is the perspective it provides on the stages themselves. The neutral zone provides access to an angle of vision on life one can get nowhere else. And it is a succession of such views over a lifetime that produces wisdom.

SO WHY DON’T WE LIKE BEING IN THE HALLWAY?

As wonderful as that wisdom is that Bridges talks about, many of us want to minimize our time in the in-between space. Rush to the new beginning. Granted, in-between can feel surreal, like being in the funhouse staring at the crazy mirror too long. More than that, though, I think it scares us.

What will we find there?

If we stop and shine a light on all the dark corners of the hallway, might we be called to actually shake up our lives beyond what we ever expected?

So instead, we ambush ourselves, and others, with a barrage of questions:

  • Of the empty nester we ask: “What are you going to do with the extra room now that your kid is gone?
  • Of the newly published author we ask: “What’s your next book going to be about?”
  • Of the laid-off employee we ask: “When are you going to start looking for a job?”
  • Of the recent retiree we ask: “How do you plan to use all your free time?”
  • Of the first year college student we ask: “What are you going to major in?”
  • And of the seeker who’s temporarily stopped in the existential parking lot of life, we ask: “When are you going to actually DO something?”

WHAT WE EXPECT OF OTHERS IN TRANSITION

We desperately want people to know the answers to these questions. We want them to have their acts together. We get impatient when we hear, “I don’t know.” Because when it seems like they don’t know, well, that changes everything.

I mean, if this person whom I thought had it all figured out doesn’t, then what does that say about me and MY life?

No wonder being in the hallway can lead us to isolate and turn inward. We’re wobbly. Unsteady. We leak out around the edges. Our vision’s a little blurred. Oh, it can be fun too, but it’s more like mucking around with mud pies rather than cutting out paper dolls.

And the world at large, for the most part, doesn’t want to deal with that kind of strangeness.

No surprise, then, that I momentarily questioned my upcoming dinner date with my former students. I’m not the same person I was when last I saw them. But I want to fully live all the glorious parts of my transition, messy and otherwise. So meet them I will, even if that means I’m leaking out around the edges a little.

What about you? What’s been your experience of transition? Let’s share our stories and learn from each other.

***************************************************************************

WHY NOT START NOW?

34 thoughts on “In the Hallway of Transition

  1. This post really hit home for me today, Patty. During the past few weeks (and the last few months, actually), I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting and realigning, trying to figure out where I’m going and WHY I want to go in that direction. Exploring is fun sometimes, and frustrating other times.

    Thanks for the post, Patty. I really enjoyed reading it.

    • You said it, Jeffrey! A paradox: both fun AND frustrating. I like that you point out the WHY of it too. I think sometimes why questions are just a bother; other times, absolutely necessary for our growth, reflection, and transition. Thanks for you wise comment.

  2. hi patty,

    i loved this post!!!

    being in the hallway causes me to reflect before taking the next step.

    at times it may be a lonely, quiet, cross examining experience but the results are out of this world.(happiness, satisfaction, fulfilment)

    Take care!!!

    • Welcome, Ayo! I appreciate you stopping by. I love how you capture the energy of the hallway, quiet but also out of this world. An experience not to be missed. Thanks much for that.

  3. Someone once told me “Enjoy the journey”. What they meant was: ‘Enjoy the hallway’. I’ve not been able to do that. I find joy in all circumstances but the transition of the past 6 years has not been pleasurable. But I’ve found that I’m not alone. It’s possible to have a ‘hallway party’, to sit together and anticipate the new beginning.
    Maryse

    • Hi Maryse – I love that, a “hallway” party. I can even see it as being a place where people get together and reflect on the meaning in the hallway. But I do hear you about the discomfort of that place, especially six years of it. Sometimes when we have transition laid upon transition laid upon transition, it feels like we will NEVER get out of the hallway. Thanks for reminding us of that.

  4. Hi Patty!
    FABULOUS! This is one of the best posts ever on this subject! Spot on, girl!

    I’ve been in the hallway so long, and so often in my life, I am feeling biologically related to the Hall Monitor! You know the one? The one who is checking on your “pass”, asking you questions all the time, stopping you, giving you directions you don’t need……..all that. Maybe that hallway is where I met Monkey Mind. While others have quiet hallways, I have to work on making mine quiet – it’s so often not.

    • Hi SuZen – Leave it to you to crack us up and remind us that there is humor to be found the hallway! Thank you for that. I do think when you lived life awhile, as we have, you have a unique perspective on the hallway, an angle of vision, as Bridges says. And then you notice how much of life’s time is spend in that darn hallway. How many transitions we do go through. I don’t think my hallway is so quiet either. Yeah, maybe it feels empty in there sometimes, but the chatter reverberating off the walls continues!

  5. I love this thought process. It called to mind a short blurb I had heard on SoulInspired.com about that in between place. It reminds me of my life, almost always which is exhausting, and a dear friend’s life.

    Thanks for these words!!!

    • Hi Nicki – Thank you! It can certainly be exhausting to be in this space. Do you mean physically or mentally exhausting? I’m gonna talk next week about what we need to do for ourselves when we’re in the hallway, so maybe that will illuminate things. I really appreciate your comment.

      p.s. Nicki, thanks for coming by and clarifying that!

  6. Oh, Patty, you have such a gift for naming and defining what I’ll call the pages in our lives that are un-numbered. What I appreciate about the hallways is the fertile ground for growth. So many possibilities, so much room for re-invention. Sure I’ve sat in it with a lot of brooding uncertainty, but also I’ve found myself very excited while lingering in the in-between.

    • Oh, Belinda, you have such a gift for shaping the words into something beautiful: “the pages of our lives that are un-numbered.” Wow. Thank you too for reminding us of the fact that the hallway is indeed fertile ground. Lots going on under the surface. Actually, it’s the classic cycle of life: the leaves disconnect from the trees in fall, and we have an ending; winter comes, the earth seems barren on the surface, but much regrouping and getting ready is happening underneath, so it’s the in-between place; and then flowers arrive, leaves bud, and spring arrives, the new beginning.

  7. You have done an excellent job with this writing. Transition and change are two different leaves of the same tree this is true. What most people don’t understand is the “hallway” is the best time for us because it is when we are at a peak of creativity as our mind works to accept and implement the changes that will transpire during the transition. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    • Thank you for your wise words. I really appreciate that you pointed out the inherent creativity of the in-between space. So much is percolating, as you say! And I actually think that some people thrive in the hallway; that it is truly their favorite stage to be in, because although it can feel aimless, it is certainly an experience of depth and soul..

  8. Hi Patty – I know exactly what you mean when you say the Hallway between transitions. I can connect that right away to instances in my own life. Often when I am travellign in the Hallway, I feel really restless and the desire to take action to move myself along faster is really strong. But I’ve learned in these situations that using my intuition rather than my intellect is the better thing to do. In the end I have to float along with the transition, rather than try to direct it myself.

    • Great point, Amanda. That restlessness you speak of can make it difficult to access intuition, but it’s all there, right below the surface. I like your metaphor of floating along with the transition. We kind of have to just trust it, right? Thanks for stopping by and sharing your wise thoughts.

  9. Very thought provoking post!

    A major hallway in my life happened about 5 years ago. I called it “The Wilderness”. Searching, wondering and wandering my internal world looking for answers.

    What I learned is that we tend to want to run to the open door on the other side instead of learning from the space in between.

    Thanks for the insight!

    • Ah yes, that’s a beautiful way to put it – the wilderness. Pretty rugged in there isn’t it? I love how you capture its essence, “searching, wondering, wandering.” I like to think of it as a winding path that we can’t see very much of. But it sounds like you did not run to the open door, so kudos to you for that! Thanks for you wonderful comment.

  10. Hey Patty. I finally found some time to catch up on some of my favorite blogs. I had a whole year of transition last year. Being laid off, spending 3 months home with my family, spending 4 months in a job that I wasn’t passionate about, and then ending with a clarity of vision and a new job. Hopefully I can take a break from all this transitioning for a while. All were good experiences, but I’m looking forward to some normal for a while.

    I wish you an enjoyable transition. Enjoy your dinner with your former students, it’s part of your path and part of your transition.

    • Thank you so much, Eric. I like knowing that I have “comrades in transition” out there in the world. And yeah, you’re right, as growth-producing as transition is, normal is reallly nice too!

  11. I love the picture of an empty hallway or pathway. It reminds me of the endless possibilities when I am not sure what I am accomplishing. I find it interesting that last winter I was in what Carol McClelland would call “Early Winter: Retreating and Reflecting” and this year I have made it to “Late Winter: Defining {or revisiting}Your Vision.” I like her analogy of transitions in her book “Seasons of Change.” As I look at my garden and see the few thriving plants, I am encouraged to know that reflection and retreating leads to growth. This spring I expect to be “Bursting into Bloom.” Thank you for all of your inspiring creative analogies.

    • Welcome, Nancy! Always a delight to see a colleague here. I really love the metaphors of early winter and late winter. Just this topic came up recently in a dream pattern analysis course I was taking. A man dreamed that he was in the midst of winter, but asked, “when is spring coming?” The answer – four or five weeks. Symbolizing that he was coming out of that part of his transition, and needed to be patient. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I think that I’ve been going back and forth between early winter and late winter. Thanks much for your wonderful comment.

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  13. Am I the only one who chuckled that the author of the Transitions book Patty mentioned is named “Bridges”? Maybe that’s just how I am 🙂

    This is such a wonderful way to look at transitions, and it made me realize that I’ve recently come into the Beginning phase of a new one, and wow, that put it into a whole new perspective! I’m been feeling the pull of writing again, and have seen my perspectives and themes solidify in a way they never have before…it feels exciting.

    I can attest to the discomfort of being in that “not knowing” place as well as the frustration of having friends be there, too….feeling like I want them to move on to a more solid place just so that *I* can be more comfortable and can know better what to say or do for them. In the hallway, it’s hard to know how to be supportive, especially when the friend isn’t happy being in that not knowing place.

    But your post reminds us that sometimes (often) “I don’t know” is a solid place to be, and can lead to all sorts of openings, if we’re patient enough.

    Thank you!

    -Melissa

    • Hi Melissa – Yes, that is fun, isn’t it, that his name is Bridges? That’s so great that you are seeing yourself and your own journey through each of the stages. You’re right, it is hard to know how to be supportive in that in-between space. And about the “I don’t know” and our discomfort with it…you’ve reminded me that I want to write more about that. Thanks for your lovely comments!

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  15. Wow. You just completely explained what I’ve been going through for the past five months. It’s like you were inside my head. I’m not out of the hallway yet, but last month I began to see the light at the end. It is such a relief to no longer be lost in the dark!

    Does everyone go through this transitional experience at one time or another? I ask because most of the people around me just don’t seem to understand this journey I am on. I am also more involved in self development/evolution than most of these folks and I wonder if that might play a part in why. Anyhow, thanks for the understanding because I was feeling very alone!

    • Hi Laughing Idealist – Welcome, and thank you! I appreciate your kind words, and am glad the post resonated with you. And yes, usually everyone has at least one deep experience of transition, although not everyone gives in to it, if that makes sense. They force themselves through the in-between space, or just hold on to what they’ve got even though they’re being called to let go. Basically they refuse the call of deep transition, and may end up doing mini-transitions over and over again, pretty much staying on the surface. Sometimes those people end up with lots of regrets. Or are always looking for the next new toy or experience to blanket over the disenchantment they are experiencing. So even though the people around you don’t quite get where you are, I want you to know that you are in good company and there are many kindred souls out there going through transition too.

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