It’s been said that change is the one constant throughout life.
However, deeper life transitions – those triggered by a death or divorce, the birth of a child, a job loss, or a quiet but relentless yearning inside – place us at a crossroad where we must stop. Standing at this crossroad, we must take time to question: What do we value today? What will we carry forward? What will we leave behind? What do we believe about our past? What will we create for our future? Transitions such as these typically involve a psychological shift that ultimately transforms who we are.
I remember one of my first life transitions. It was my junior in college, and I had recently returned from a semester abroad. Re-entry into my former life felt like a chokehold. Suddenly most things I had once found relevant and important no longer held meaning. I wondered if I was depressed. Getting out of bed required unfamiliar effort. All I wanted to do was sleep.
I went to see my economics professor to explain that my poor performance on the recent mid-term wasn’t a reflection of his teaching, but a lack of my effort. Always a serious student, I didn’t understand why I was disengaged, why things just didn’t matter any longer. Wise and intuitive, my professor encouraged me to be patient, to remember we move through cycles, and to give myself time to recalibrate after a semester of life-expanding experiences. He was right. I did recalibrate and fortunately loved the remainder of my college experience. I’m still grateful today for his insight.
Although I was quite young and the experience not earth shattering, it did introduce me to the dynamic cycle of transition and transformation. Once a linear thinker and passionate about numbers and the concrete world, I became eager to embrace ambiguity. The mysteries of life that evaded equations and analysis suddenly inspired me to create art and explore life from a new perspective. My career choice and my life story shifted as a result.
Salmon Rushdie wrote, “Those who don’t have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, to rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, are powerless because they can not think new thoughts.”
Transitions, while sometimes excruciatingly painful, deliver opportunities to change our stories and think new thoughts – powerful and life-altering experiences.
To rewrite our stories requires reflection and a dose of courage. Going through this process can be difficult and lonely. A common instinct is to make an external change. Take a new job, move, sell the house, divorce – anything to change the routines of our daily lives.
Most of us have a bias for action in the face of discomfort. In fact, a study of professional soccer goalies found that when defending penalty kicks, goalies who stayed in the center of the goal, instead of diving to the right or left, had a 33% change of stopping the goal. However, these professionals only stayed in the center 6% of the time, stating that taking action and ‘doing something’ instinctively felt better.1 Whatever activity we can ‘do’ to feel like we’re impacting change can bring a sense of relief. However, such situational fixes often fail to address the beckoning of deeper psychological shifts on the horizon.
Taking time to reflect in order to consider who you are or want to become increases your capacity for deeper level transition. Perhaps it is why many 12-step recovery programs encourage new participants to hold off on major life changes in their first year. From this place of reflection, you can begin to create a vision for your future and write the next chapters of your life story.
To learn more about reflection processes that support professional and personal transitions contact us at email@example.com. We’d love to share our resources with you.
1Michael Bar-Eli, Ofer H. Azar, Ilana Ritov, Yael Keidar-Levin, Galit Schein, Action Bias Among Elite Soccer Goalkeepers: The case of penalty kicks; Journal of Economic Psychology, Volume 28, Issue 5, October 2007, Pages 606-621