Tran-si-tion (n.) The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another

Diane Watson, Leadership Coach, Your Authentic Leadership

September 6, 2017

There is a thread that flows through my executive coaching engagements – transition.  Clients are moving into challenging new positions, planning retirements, or searching for the next best opportunity. It was my own transition that led me to executive coaching.

During my mid-fifties, I realized that while I liked my job and worked with amazing colleagues at a stellar university, my work was no longer fulfilling. I wanted to be purposeful as I moved to my next career and started reading about professions that interested me, interviewed people working in those areas, and attended a few classes. One day, I found my inspiration in a Wall Street Journal story about coaching. I trained and received my coach certification at one of the top schools in the country and hung up my shingle. While the journey has included a few pot holes along the way, I haven’t looked back.

Transitions occur often during our lifetime, and while some may be unwelcome or challenging, when embraced with growth in mind, life on the other side can be amazing. Today, we frequently confuse change and transition. William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, says that change is situational, while transition is psychological. In other words, an internal shift will make the change stick.

Change is moving out of your parents’ house. Transition is the shift that occurs when you moved out of your parents’ home and learned to live independently. This applies to any personal milestone. We moved from “me” to “us” when we found our life partner. We understood unconditional love when we held our first child. We developed new skills and expertise when we stepped into a new position. We learn to redefine our self when we retired. These transitions move us from one life chapter to another.

Bridges discovered three stages to transition: 1) the Ending, such as the loss of a job; 2) the Neutral Zone, where we experience a disconnection with our past and future; and 3) the New Beginning, when we move into new activities and start our next chapter without the limits of the previous chapter.

U.S. culture values individualism. We admire self-starters and believe in pushing forward through adversity. We want to move through the most challenging and emotionally difficult transitions quickly. Yet, the neutral zone is where our growth, insight, and next chapter begin. There is richness in the neutral zone. That is where we find the opportunity to reflect, question our beliefs, and audition new behaviors and ways of doing things. To skip the neutral zone is to skip self-discovery and deprive ourselves of lasting change.

Make the neutral zone work for you

  • Take time to celebrate the end of your previous chapter. Many clients tell me they experience excitement in starting a new job but know they will miss their former colleagues. Reflect about what went well in your pervious chapter and how it will serve you in the future.
  • Reflect on what supported you in the past and what beliefs no longer serve you. This is the time to reflect on what you did well and what you would do differently. Consider how you contributed to your past successes and failures in a job, relationship, or other life chapter. Note the beliefs that served you well for years but are holding you back today.
  • Reconnect with your values and what’s most important in your life.  Our daily lives are full of must dos. We are so busy accomplishing that we seldom take the time to be quiet and reflect on who we are and what we want.  When we know and stand in our values, our best choices become clear.
  • This is the time of discovery.  Discover what you really want in your life, work, and relationships. This is the time for big sky thinking. What do you want your life to be in the next chapter? This is the time to explore and audition your options.

By doing the work, you will make the most out of the transitions in your life.

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