According to William Bridges, author of The Way of Transition, transition is the process of letting go of the way things have been for you, and waking up one day to realize that you have changed. In between the letting go and taking hold there is a chaotic but potentially creative, sometimes unsettling “neutral zone” when things are the old way, but aren’t yet the new way either. Transition: conversion, an event that results in a transformation.
Change and Transition - Not the Same
Changes are circumstantially oriented. You can go through many changes in life without ever becoming someone new. New job, same problems; different face, same marriage; same old me, or you.
At the end of a transition, the world as you have regarded it no longer looks the same. It's the same world (perhaps), but your perspective has changed. This can be a very uncomfortable adjustment, and at the same time exciting and exhilarating. You might experience seesaw emotions, everything from hopelessness and confusion to unabashed joy. You are likely, at times, to feel uncomfortable with what is happening to you, so much so that you could try to force a quick decision in order to make the discomfort go away. Not the best idea; it's better to wait and let the pressure pass.
We actually resist transition at times because it takes longer (often much longer) than change, and so it leaves us in limbo…while a replacement reality and a new self is gradually being formed. ~ William Bridges, The Way of Transition
Do change and transition go hand in hand?
No. You can also go through a transition and not change your circumstances. You can change who you are in a relationship without ending the relationship. You can feel like you want to leave a job for greener pastures only to discover that you were the one who needed to change and the job is just fine.
Bridges identified 3 major stages of transition:
- Endings: of the world as we have known it, letting go, often accompanied by resistance and unwanted feelings.
- The Neutral Zone: limbo, purgatory, mixed signals, possibility, confusion, hope, endless choices, increased creativity
- New Beginnings: phoenix rising, feelings of relief, "sanity," back on track.
The three stages do not necessarily happen in order, but there are recognizable steps nonetheless.
Endings, recognizing the first signs
You realize that what you have been doing no longer does it for you. You might have reached every goal you set for yourself, and you are not satisfied. You wonder how you got in this job, or are in this "situationship." You experience reduced satisfaction, you fantasize about doing other things, you have an idea and you can't shake it, there are days when you are grouchy "for no good reason." You might become seriously ill, have an accident, get laid off or even fired. (These kinds of events can ignite or illuminate a transition.)
Entering the Neutral zone
The neutral zone is characterized as much by possibilities as it is full of confusion and uncertainty. It can last several months, or even a couple of years. At any point in the neutral zone your conviction to move forward is susceptible to your doubts. You could still turn back!
Deciding is precipitated when you are no longer able to live with duality. You can't force the decision. It will happen to you.
Whew, you made it! Confusion has lifted, you feel more relaxed and are ready to move forward again. It's not that you weren't "moving forward" before, it's just that you felt out of alignment with yourself. Even the past, which you may have felt the need to reject in the first 2 phases, is OK now. You appreciate what was without ridicule.
Guidance Through Transitions
I have navigated many transitions in my life. Although I might not always like the process - especially in that "neutral zone" - from my perspective they make life interesting. If you self-identified in Stage 1 or 2, maybe I can offer some guidance. I'm told that I help people relax about what is happening in their lives so that they can move forward once again, even if nothing is absolutely resolved! Head over to my Contact Page if you'd like to set up a time to talk.