The crack of lightning or a falling tree may send us running. We worry about cracks in the ceiling and widening the road or fracturing the mind. Peering into a sidewalk crack, we see a dark-light. Our country struggles in a dark-light of pandemic exhaustion and fear. We lie between the old and new ways.
Even the tiniest flower can push through that crack. What an incongruous birth! Chaos and hope are the forever cycles of growth in mysterious places. Our national crack has the power to open my eyes. Your eyes. The crack lets in the light and air.
Like a flower, we accept what we are meant to do. Grow. As the poet George Swede says, the flower grows in the crack because “nothing else matters.” Decades later, the rapper Tupac Shakur wrote that the flower in the concrete breathes fresh air by “keeping its dreams” and owning what it is.
Like that flower in the cracks, I can own who I am without shaming others and raging at “them.” I can raise the petals toward the sky if I will open myself and live in hope. The crack is that liminal space of a transition, where our sadness starts to heal and we learn a new way. In transitions, the crack releases the darkness and births our wisdom.
Look for your flower in the cracks.
If you are wrestling with big transition, patience is magic. It’s a key that unlocks confusion, fear, feeling stuck. We’re not naturally wired for slowing down when faced with change but rather for speed and getting thing “fixed.” Give me patience—now!
This mindset of speed creates conflict as we try to force our minds and hearts through a transition, and so we miss insights about ourselves and our choices. In truth, patience does not have to be a forced, grit-your-teeth approach; You can make it a mindset of paying attention to exactly where you are.
Practicing patience does not have to limit your behavior or deny impatience, and I am not suggesting developing patience every day or all the time. You can exercise patient moments when the setting is right (reflecting on what your transition reveals)—maybe not so much in a traffic jam or waiting line. Impatience is a normal counterpoint that gives you juice and energy. Just don’t let impatience take over everything.
Small patient moments count. Relax, close your eyes, breathe deeply. Recall a situation in which you are patient, such as gardening, teaching, walking in nature, repairing something. Let your mind slow all your bouncing thoughts. Ask yourself what your choices are and what counts most. Before you take action, ask, “Is this the right step? Do I need to do this right now?” Over time small moments add up to perspective.
Here’s an example you have seen or experienced yourself. A worker is suddenly informed her job is no longer needed (or she’s no longer needed). She is in shock. She has severance pay and maybe a bit of outplacement counseling. She immediately wants to update her resume for the same type of job and put it online and into the hands of everyone. Nothing happens. She gets anxious and considers taking any kind of job because she is concerned about money. On it goes… These actions make sense, but practicing patience increases support and time to reassess her skills and strengths, maybe even looki at a different work path.
In working with clients in transition, the statement I make most often is “Be patient with yourself,” usually when the person feels he/she is not progressing quickly enough.
Here are six reasons to practice patience in a transition.
- You are moving in a transition even when you think you are not. Emotionally, you are working through important questions.
- Patience is like mindfulness or paying closer attention to clues and opportunities.
- You avoid external and internal pressure to move faster than is best for you.
- You gather more information—important information—about who you are and new ideas.
- You give yourself relief from the stress of change.
- You avoid the Pendulum Swing—moving so fast in one direction only to swing back because you missed something.
So instead of feeling stuck or weak, see patience as big key to moving from the Old Way to the New Way. The magic lies not in the key but in how you use it.
What if you were the only passenger walking in an airport at midnight? It happened to me. I was on the last flight into Dulles Airport in Washington, D. C. Airport stores were shuttered, reservation desks empty, passengers gone. Not a person in sight. How eerie to hear my own footsteps! I looked behind me in case something—or someone—was creeping up on me. After the discomfort of walking the long terminal, I shifted my mood. Wouldn’t it be fun to wear tap shoes and tap dance along the smooth floors, all the way to the baggage claim? Unfortunately, I had no tap shoes.
Metaphors like an airport help explain the strangeness of transitions. People often use them in explaining their own transition: flying in a plane, rowing a boat on rough seas, being on a high-speed train without an engineer, walking through a forest with a small flashlight. Journey metaphors capture the uncertainty and challenge of that journey. In my own transition dreams, I miss my plane, or I cannot find my car, and or I am on a train going in the wrong direction. Dreams and metaphors tell me where I really am in a transition.
Transition metaphors conceal and also reveal what is happening to you. In my airport example, the airport has its familiar structure and functions. But it’s not quite the same: it’s cock-eyed, silent, and empty. Imagine yourself in that situation. Would you feel spooked, cautious, stimulated? These reactions are signatures of our life transitions.
Airplanes are the links between the place where you have been and the place you are going to. They represent the In-Between of transitions, neither what was before nor what is ahead. The plane you are traveling on is suspended in the air, guided by unseen forces. I often refer to the “airplane conversation” in transitions. A recent study suggests that almost half of all plane passengers strike up a conversation with someone. The stranger sitting next to you might tell you about the pain of her divorce, his concerns about his grandkids, or the excitement of going to live in a new country. The plane lands, and you never see that person again, which is part of the freedom in a transition.
Pay close attention to the metaphors guiding you in your transition, revealing to you things you cannot explain easily. If someone else is struggling to share his transition with you, ask, “What is this feeling like? What would you compare this to?” Maybe riding a roller coaster, hiking through the mountains, building a house, or playing the piano while wearing mittens. Dig into the details of the metaphor to see where it will take you. Learn from metaphors about your strength and your power to create new possibilities in a transition.
And keep your tap shoes handy.
Every tree needs healthy roots to survive. Every family needs a sense of its history and cultural roots. And in a big transition, you are grounded in the roots of what you value most. Think back to some transition that found you traveling through dark places, uncertain of where to go or what choice to make. You were not sure about your final destination. You were pulled every which way. At some point, you felt or heard your values keeping your grounded, telling you, “This is the right action. Trust it.”
It’s almost cliché to say that your values are important. But they can save your heart, mind, and soul when you are at a crossroad. In my coaching, when clients struggle with a big change (for example, a career move, a new relationship, moving to a new town), all things being equal, your choice comes down to personal values. The more you know about your strengths and values, the more prepared you are for the choices ahead.
Values are defined as what is important to you, your priorities, the guiding principles you live by. Sydney Simon believes that values have these qualities: you choose them freely, you prize them (even in difficult circumstances), and you act upon them repeatedly (they are habits). When you are not living in sync with your values—either in work or life—you experience great conflict and a toxic environment. Your core values are your most prized values—the ones that you simply cannot give up.
Imagine that you are doing very well in your career and have been offered a leadership role in your company. You are not crazy about your work, but you do it well. However, you know that the leadership role requires extensive travel and many long weekends of work. You have a family that you love, including young children. You see a deep conflict between work with its perks and being a spouse and parent. As you delve into your values, you know that you want to enjoy your family life to the fullest. You turn down the new position. Actually, I have coached executives facing just this kind of dilemma, and I have yet to hear from a former client that he/she regrets putting family over work.
You probably have a good grasp of your values: things like love, creativity, success, beauty, competence, financial security, etc. You recognize that others may have very different values. You also see that over the years, some values may shift. Perhaps in your 20s, competence or achievement is a high value, and later in life, being authentic or serving others may come to the top of your list.
You have many ways to assess your values. First, think about what brings you the greatest joy in life. Think about how you want to spend your time and personal resources. Consider the most satisfying accomplishments in your life and the values that they represent. You will also find many “checklists” of values to get you started and assessments like the free Values in Action Inventory of Character Strengths. When moving through a transition, keep asking yourself “What matters most to me?”
Stay rooted in your values. They can nourish you like a cool drink in the desert.
Have you ever felt “transition fatigue?” Most likely you have had to juggle two, three, or more transitions at the same time. You get a new job that requires moving shortly after you get married. You and your spouse both retire from long careers. An elderly relative needs your constant care just as you decide to move closer to your grown children. You return from a long military duty abroad and must reconnect with family and the civilian world. You are affected by a physical change in yourself while you also seek a new spiritual identity. Do any of these sound familiar?
These are what I call “pinging transitions.” They ping off each other, demanding your time, thought, and energy. The result can be major emotional and physical fatigue as you race from one transition to the next. Ping, ping, ping. The truth is that you simply can’t juggle all these transitions with the same energy at the same time. You need to prioritize your transitions.
Start by listing all your transitions. Then look for the one that requires the most energy and thought, maybe waking you up at night. This doesn’t necessarily coincide with chronological time. For example, you may start a new job in a month, but you are struggling hard with a recent divorce. One of my clients had recently been widowed, only to find out that her husband had left her bankrupt. She moved in with her older parents and had to find a job. And yet, as we sorted through her pinging transitions, the most important transition to her was “regaining my lost self-confidence.”
It isn’t just the unhappy transitions that you juggle. It is also the positive ones: the new career, building a new dream home, or retirement. When one spouse retires and the other spouse still works, expectations and roles are going to shift. The retired spouse may have a hard time crafting this new chapter. Each is adjusting to the other, and so the pinging begins.
After a bit of reflection, you’ll see the most significant transition. Ask yourself, “Where can I find my support and resources?” and, “Do I have some plan for managing this transition?” You gain leverage once you see that you don’t need to control everything. Actually, that sort of control is an illusion—an exhausting one. Of course, you will deal with the other transitions when you have to, but you will put the big chunk of your energy into what matters most.
As you get focused, your strength will surge. You will find support. You will get clearer. And then, in some almost magical way, the other transitions begin to realign around the big transition. For example, my client who worked first on her self-confidence was then ready to rebuild her finances and interview for a job.
Right now you may be juggling a whole lot of pinging transitions. One of those is bound to be bigger, bolder, and more meaningful. And the others? Some will come will evolve naturally, and others will line up around the big transition.
Knowing these steps can help reduce the fatigue of juggling so many transitions.
Like most of you, I sometimes observe the need to “get out of my comfort zone” in some part of my life. Time to grow and try something new. And that’s a good thing, right? But thinking about a potential stretch seems easier than walking into the “discomfort zone” of transitions. Big transitions are experiences like the loss of a loved one, a major career change, moving to an unknown city or country, or a difficult health diagnosis for you or a family member. Any transition that reshapes your life will lead you through the discomfort zone.
About midway between the old and new way, you may experience a bundle of sensations: ups and downs, confusion, fear, hope, excitement, uneasiness, fatigue, and creative leaps. You may feel you are just creeping through or you are staring into space and have lost track of time. You may be constantly distracted. In one of my big transitions, I forgot the coffee mug sitting on top of my car as I drove off. I did that twice.
It’s tempting to sidestep the discomfort zone, just ignore it, leap over the abyss and start your new chapter. Who enjoys wandering around a strange forest with no certainty about where you will end up!
The feelings of the discomfort zone may last a while, making it hard to live and work in the fast pace of our world. But do not assume you are weak or stuck if you are out of sync with your surroundings. The discomfort zone actually serves the healthy and time-honored purpose of allowing you to slow down and take stock of who you are. Transitions really burn a lot psychic energy, and the discomfort zone offers an internal pace you can manage.
During this time, you can look at the parts of your life. What will you leave behind? What will you take with you? Let yourself think about new possibilities. Assess your strengths and the supports you have. Experiment a bit: trying a new recipe, taking a class, picking up an old hobby, writing in your journal. Be where you are. Unless you cannot function at all or have continuous dark thoughts, “being stuck” or feeling blah or all over the place is a normal response, sometimes an incubator for transformation.
Of all the things I say to my clients during their transitions, I most often say, “Be patient with yourself.” You really are doing a lot of work beneath the surface, shuffling the pieces of your life. Emotionally speaking, you are catching up to the big change in your life and if you hurdle through the discomfort zone, you will miss wisdom that can enrich the new life chapter.
When you see the transition sign, “Discomfort Zone Ahead,” move into it as part of the journey. Remember to sit in a comfy chair once in a while. Get some rest. Be patient.