How to Manage a Transition Successfully
by Susan Dunn
I work with clients in transition. Some of the transitions are chosen, such as retirement. Others are involuntary transitions such as losing a job or being forced to change careers because of a disability.
We all have a different "set point" for our ability to handle changes. It has to do with our natural temperaments, and also the way change and ambiguity were handled when we were children. Why "ambiguity?" Because more than anything else, transitions involve the unknown. We can't know for sure what lies ahead, and there is always ambivalence. Every transition involves saying "good bye" to something, being unsure, and then saying "hello" to something else.
Not knowing what lies ahead, and not being sure we can handle it leads to fear, and what do we know about fear? It causes us to shut down.
Think of an extreme example -- if you were walking in the woods and were suddenly confronted with a bear. Our brains are first and foremost designed to help us self-preserve, so immediately it floods chemicals into our system that put us on "fight of flight" status, full alert. This is designed to stop us from thinking. It's a 'down and dirty' sort of mechanism, because when confronted with actual danger, there isn't much we need to "know" except to get away, and if we stop to think, we won't move fast enough.
When this mechanism sets in a situation such as a transition, where the danger is not imminent but can feel that way, you can see problems arise.
THE TOOLS YOU NEED TO HANDLE A TRANSITION
1. A cool head. You need to be able to gather information and think clearly.
2. Intuition. To access your inner wisdom. In a state of turmoil, you circumvent this completely.
3. AN expert opinion, A source of support. Someone who can rely on to help you stay centered and focused, and has expertise to give you.
WHAT TO AVOID
One thing I notice in clients in transition is that they lose their center. The turmoil throws them out of touch with their inner wisdom and they start thrashing around for advice. Often they're aware that they're behaving irrationally, or that they're locked in analysis-paralysis, unable to act at all.
In certain circumstances expert advice is needed -- a lawyer, a real estate agent, a divorce therapist or an engineer. However what usually happens is because they've lost trust in themselves, they don't trust anyone else either, so they start putting themselves into what I call "the battle of the experts." One opinion won't do; they seek another, and yet another. You also tend to get a lot of unsolicited advice, too, from friends and relatives. This simply adds to the confusion.
WHAT TO DO
As I teach in my Internet course on Transitions, I suggest doing two things if you feel yourself in this position. One is to hire a coach -- an objective outside party who can give perspective, as well as support, guidance and resources. The other thing is to take a course such as the Transitions course, so you can gain perspective on your own situation.
There are certain things common to every Transition, and this won't be your first one or your last. If you can GROW through one, instead of just GOING through one, you will have increased your life skills tremendously and be better prepared when the next one comes along. You'll come out with more self-confidence instead of feeling helpless.
It's also a good time to work on your emotional intelligence competencies -- flexibility, resilience, social support network, intuition. The more relaxed and flexible you can become, the better you'll be able to generate options and solutions and avoid the "shut down" mode.
THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
Some crises require immediate action. Others will work themselves out with time and you don't really need to do anything. You develop your ability to sense this better with experience, and part of it is intuition.
For instance I used to give events in my previous profession as a fund raiser, and there's a point in every event where it seems to all fall apart. It comes back together, if you ride the roller coaster for a while, but only experience can give you that knowledge. Once you learn to expect the fall-apart time, not be surprise by it, the anxiety goes away.
The irony is that the more stable and well managed your life has been, the more a major transition can throw you. If you've been organized, or simply lucky, it may have been years since you felt the world shift beneath your feet.
For some people this comes at retirement, and it can be an extremely stressful time. I think of my client Fred, who was a successful Wall Street broker for 35 years and now is retired. Same occupation, same office for all that time. He says, "I don't know how to do anything." He means he hasn't figured out yet how to live without going to the office every day. For 30 years his life was organized in a certain way. He looked forward to the day he could retire and get away from the downside, and now that it's here, he finds himself lost without the imposed structure. He feels like it's a dead end, when actually he's in a transition between "that" and whatever lies ahead, which is his to create. Because of the former stability in his life, he hasn't had experience crafting his life in 35 years. It's brought on emotions he hasn't felt in years.
CONTINUAL LEARNING PROCESS
Research has shown that the life trajectory of people who die in their 5th or 6th decade is school, then work, then leisure. Resilient seniors are those who have combined all three throughout their lifetime. Learning is a key. Learn about transitions now, so when the next one comes along, and it will, you'll be that much farther ahead of the game.
Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, http://www.susandunn.cc , mailto:email@example.com. Coaching, Internet courses and ebooks around emotional intelligence for your personal and professional success. Coach Certification Program - fast, affordable, no-residency, training coaches worldwide. Email for free ezine.
Susan Dunn may be contacted at http://www.susandunn.cc or firstname.lastname@example.org