Have you noticed how transitions are seemingly ever-present in our lives? But if they’re such a normal part of life, why is it so hard to navigate through them?
In 500 B.C., Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” Even Plato quoted him saying, “Heraclitus says that all things pass and nothing stays and, comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.”
Because the river flows, it is literally ever-changing. Life is like that, too.
So, if change is inevitable, I contend that the fear of change is also.
Whether we see transitions coming or they happen unexpectedly, they can be stressful. Our sense of control goes out the window when something significantly up-ends our lives and disrupts our routine. And sometimes, the anticipation of what’s coming or what might happen can be scarier than the change itself.
Every so often, multiple things change at once, and life as we know it is no more. For example, during the height of the pandemic, people lost their jobs, family members became ill or died (and they couldn’t say goodbye), or they became impromptu teachers for their children who couldn’t attend school.
Talk about a pile-up! Multiple transitions, one on top of the other. Bruce Feiler, author of Life is in the Transitions, calls this a “lifequake.”
No wonder emotions rise. Transitions can be painful and frightening, and they can catch us off-guard. We often worry, feel anxious, get stressed, fear the unknown, and buckle under uncertainty. We might also push back, resist, and deny that anything is happening. Or, we could feel sad, lonely, exhausted, and crave sleep, which might not come easily.
These emotions can invade our minds and hearts, destroying our sense of security, peace, and harmony.
So, transitions are the shifts that happen on the inside when things change on the outside. It’s that journey over time during which we respond and adapt to life circumstances that have altered.
And by recognizing that we’re in a transition, understanding why it feels challenging, and discovering the coping mechanisms that work for us, we can learn to flow through each one.
As we do, we evolve, become better at who we are and how we show up, build confidence, and flex our resilience muscles.
Additionally, with a shift in how we think about transitions, we can rein in our inclination to fight against them and learn to move with them.
This quote from M. Ferguson always helps me explain what a transition can feel like:
“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s the place in between that we fear. It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.”
Because times like these happen often, we need strategies to manage those places in between—what might seem like a dark tunnel with no light at either end.
And how we learn to cope can put us back on firm ground and become life-long tools in our treasure chest—making the next inevitable transition one you can face with more ease and flow.
So, here are some strategies from my book, Get Unstuck, that worked for me and now work for my clients.
1. Accept It
When change happens, it can be a shock. Panic might set in. Instead of resisting or hiding, choose to be the victor, not the victim. Start by breathing and letting the shock wear off. Then, put your brave face forward and meet it head-on. Allow your emotions to flow through so that you can get on the other side of them with more perspective. Then, practice approaching the change in a way that allows you to look in the mirror and like what you see. With dignity.
2. Face What Scares You
Whether it’s fear, anger, or uncertainty, don’t allow the emotions to paralyze you. Instead, talk about your feelings with someone you trust, who will listen, have your back, and tell you the truth. Write about what you’re feeling to become aware of how it’s affecting you. Writing can bring clarity and get unhelpful thoughts out of your head. Then, you can step back and gain perspective on your emotions. Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Is it likely to happen? Or are you blowing it out of proportion?
3. Change How You Look at Things
Remember that perspective is your friend. If this change was your idea, how would you respond differently? Not everything is in your control, but some things are—especially your choices about how you respond to the changes around you. Look to the past for lessons. Examine how you’ve behaved when a change flipped you upside down. What did you do well? What could you have done better? Look for the unexpected gems from those experiences.
4. Build Resilience, Not Resistance
Next, allow the change to make you stronger and more resilient. Learn from each experience so the next life change doesn’t take you down for the count—at least not for long. Learning from your past strengthens you and allows you to use the strategies again. Since life is designed to change, you’ll need that arsenal of tools you’ve already assembled to bounce back quicker the next time.
5. Don’t Be a Lone Wolf
Lastly, ask for help. Create a network of support—it’s what I call Your Personal Board of Directors. Seek people who have been through what you’re going through to make your journey more manageable and shorter. Let them reveal their secrets, tell you the truth, and bring much-needed objectivity. That’s when you can find solace in the fact that you’re not alone.
Change is painful. And growth is uncomfortable. But nothing is worse than staying stuck where you don’t belong.
Learning to change as a river changes keeps you free-flowing through the canyons of life. So, deciding what strategies work to move through and beyond each transition is essential to making a successful shift from who you were before the change to who you are becoming.
Transitions Are Not for the Faint of Heart, but You Can Learn to Go with the Flow first appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of P.O.W.E.R. Magazine.