This is the first of MANY blogs on transitioning where we will share tips, skills, and experiences that helped us move through a very hard stage of life.
Life transitions are hard, whether due to marriage, divorce, retirement, the death of a loved one, relocation, realizing a different calling from God, or any other scenario that has a significant impact on your life.
We’re still working our way through a transition that started several years ago when Patrick retired from the VA after 35 years in the pharmacy industry. While it was exciting for him to join the BONSAI team, stepping away from a 35-year career is significant.
Then, in early 2023, I started feeling a different calling related to the work I do. A few months after I started to feel that calling, we lost my mom and Patrick was hospitalized with a serious illness. Those additional events really made me take stock of how I spend my time and seek greater alignment with what I feel called to do. With those big questions to be answered, our transition continues.
Why Are We Talking About It?
At some point, everyone will face a life transition. Like many things in life or career, sharing about our personal experiences can help the next person feel better equipped for it.
We decided to share a blog series on living through life transitions because we know most of our friends and clients (who are often synonymous) will be facing something similar or know someone who is. As people approach retirement years, the frequency of such transitions often increases, but anyone of any age can experience a life transition.
If you aren’t ready for it, the best case scenario is that you spend precious years fighting it or letting it drag you down. Worst case, it can lead to depression and suicide, especially for white males. Major transitions in life need to be taken seriously.
Navigating a life transition is like encountering a rip tide. Our instinct is to fight through it, but that strategy can be fatal. Learning to swim with the current is the ticket out of the rip tide. The same is true for transition.
You, your family, your friends, and your employees will all experience these transitions. You may be in one right now. As we have studied, experienced, and been coached through our own transition (still in progress), we want to share our experiences and lessons learned so your transitions may be more fruitful and less painful.
Even if you are prepared, you will likely still struggle, but in a way that can be beautiful like when a butterfly struggles to leave her cocoon. When the transformation is complete, you emerge in a healthier place and can contribute more to those around you as you find your purpose and live it out.
The Best and Worst Stages of Transitioning
I never really contemplated my life transitions. I’ve had many, and I just pressed forward. Research by Bruce Feiler revealed we face a transition every 12 to 18 months and experience three to five “life quakes” over a lifetime, which includes major disruptions like retirement or the death of a loved one.
Feiler’s work was revolutionary in that he focused on the messy middle. With any transition, we are leaving one season and launching into another. Feiler found that the space in between, which he termed “the messy middle,” hadn’t been examined much.
What I found interesting is we have one stage we tend to excel at and one that presents great challenges. I believe our Gallup strengths can give us helpful insight into how to approach transitions, which I will share more about in an upcoming blog.
I like the gooey and messy middle of a PB&J. With life transitions, not so much. The messy middle comes in between saying goodbye to the season you are leaving and launching into the new season. It is where you grieve what no longer is and figure out where you are going. When I read the middle stage can last four to five years, I was like “No way, I am cutting that down to one year max!”
Why the Messy Middle Blinded Me
My speculation is that high performers are used to plowing through transitions — that is how we get good results. You don’t look back; you look forward and keep going. And honestly, you don’t really have much time to process because you need to earn an income, keep your customers (internal and external) happy, etc. So, head down, we keep plowing through — until we don’t. That’s when you know you’ve hit a “life quake.”
It’s confusing. It can be discouraging and depressing, especially when you can’t seem to get out of it. The old things have lost their attraction, and you aren’t sure which path to take forward. And as one gets older, you don’t want to waste time on the wrong path. So, the frustration can mount. It is easy to lose focus, feel scattered, and think that you have lost your way.
Embracing the Mess
The first hard lesson I want to share from my experience is embrace the mess. I can’t believe I wrote that because it is everything that is counter to how God designed me. I want to fix the mess, mitigate it, and plan for it to never happen again — not sit in it. But to transition well, that is what is required.
My coach shared an insight I found helpful. Most people don’t do this step because it’s too hard. It is uncomfortable and requires us to dig deep, work through losses, and surrender ourselves to where Jesus wants to take us next. It is being Mary in a Martha world (see Luke 10:38-42).
I am learning not to fight it. Not to beat myself up for not getting more done or for not feeling like I am adding value. I am learning to enjoy the time to be quiet, listen, and try new things that in the past would have been labeled as “not productive.” And in this I am starting to find joy and peace as we start to see where and how God is shifting our time and energy.
Your challenge: For yourself and those you love (family, friends, employees), think about who might be in transition and what stage you or they are in. At times, there might be a foot in two stages as you pass from one into the other or loop back again. I found it was immensely helpful in naming where I was at.
As we continue this series, we’ll talk about seasons in life and examine how to say goodbye to them, which is an important step in navigating transitions.