When one door closes another opens but all too often there is a long hallway in between.
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:
- The Ending. Letting go of an old way of life. Disengagement. Disidentification. Disenchantment. Disorientation.
- The Neutral Zone. A moratorium. Can feel aimless, ambiguous, empty, and unproductive. Nothing feels solid anymore. A time for being rather than doing.
- 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?