“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”
Change and transition are an inevitable part of life; at some point in our lives we will all encounter insignificant and major transitions. Transitions can cover a multitude of events both expected and unforeseen. It is therefore of utmost importance to know how we can navigate these changes, learn from them and how to thrive because of them.
My curiosity regarding job transition was triggered by an experience that I had when changing roles. This planned-for change had an unexpected and profound effect on me that rippled into all aspects of my life. It brought about feelings of being up-rooted and un-anchored. Exploring ‘Transition Theory’ at a greater level enabled me to understand my own transition and that of my clients. In this article I will draw from transition theory, my own and my client’s experiences.
- Understand the transition
The first step in dealing with a transition is to gain an understanding of it. Was it an anticipated transition or unanticipated transition? Is it one that you chose or one that you had no control over. Understanding the type of transition that you are experiencing can help identify the root of some of the feelings that you are experiencing.
- Understand what has changed
It can also be helpful to identify what has actually changed, this can help with understanding what you are feeling and supporting yourself in that. After twelve years of teaching Esther decided to take a career break as she was burnt out. What deeply affected her in the months after this change was that she felt she no longer had a purpose or value. Her identity was so intrinsic to her role as a teacher that when this unravelled she too became undone. “Who am I now that I am not myself any-more?” We looked at the role she took in her family which was that of the performer and entertainer, which teaching also gave her an outlet for. Her stage and platform had now been removed making the transition more difficult for her than it may have been for others. She is currently volunteering as a tour guide and taking acting classes to regain the feeling that teaching gave her and allows her to pursue new and varied opportunities. It is important to figure out with gives you meaning and how to bring this back and also pursue new opportunities
- Check your expectation
Disappointment unpacks its bags when our expectations are not met; it is important to look at expectations and see how realistic they are. Nero is from Italy and has been looking for a job for three weeks. He is frustrated as he has not secured employment yet. This scenario highlights a somewhat unrealistic expectation as Nero would not just like any job but a “good job in a big company”. Nero does not realise the average amount of time it takes to find this type of work and the amount of competition, and therefore his unrealistic expectation is creating further frustration. We can end up in a cycle of beating ourselves up because of standards that we cannot achieve. Time, persistence and resilience are key in this situation.
- Transitions are different for everyone.
People can differ greatly in how they deal with transition. When I changed jobs I became really jealous of others that had done the same and appeared to be thriving. This was an unhelpful thought pattern. Transitions can be different for everyone and it was important to admit that this was difficult for me. The determiner of how significant a transition might be relates to how much the transition impacts or alters our roles, relationships, routines and assumptions (Schlossberg, 2008). It could be good to take time to break down the transition and see how it has altered your role, relationships, routine and assumptions about yourself.
- Gain advice
Gain advice from people who have been in similar situations before and also advice on how to deal with the situation that you are in. For me speaking to people who had been through similar situations was very helpful. I mentioned to one colleague that I was having difficulty sleeping, she mentioned how this had happened to her too in the past, I asked what happened, and she responded with the sentence that “I learned that I could cope with a few hours of sleep”. Hearing that someone else had been through a similar situation and realising that I could cope too ironically helped me to sleep better.
- You are more than this transition
Transitions can be all consuming, we can identify with what we have changed, be it a new role or unemployment. It is important to remember that you are more than this one thing. You are a brother/ sister, parent/child, friend; there are many more parts to you than this one thing. Allow yourself to see your value in all aspects of your life and that you are still the same person that you have always been.
- Make a plan and take back control
The value of routine and structure cannot be underestimated as it provides comfort and stability. When this is removed or changed it can feel like the rug has been pulled from under us. In this situation making a plan can be helpful: what are the next small steps that can be taken, what is one thing that could make this situation better; how can a new routine be established; and where can new relationships be built. Bola recently lost a job that she greatly enjoyed; this led to a period of confusion and sadness. In our session we worked out a plan regarding her job search. She decided that she would like to use this time to return to college to take up computers. We looked at possible courses that she could take and paths that could be followed. On leaving the session her mood was visibly different as she now was armed with a plan and had taken back some control over the situation. In life there are many pathways and avenues, shifting the focus to a small change or a little step that can be taken can give back a greater sense of control. This allows for a sense of progress and a small certainty that can be held onto.
- Embrace the chaos
Transition can involve a sort of halfway house between where we have been and where we are going, between who we were and who we are going to be. Kayla described her transition as “I feel like I’m waiting in the lobby of the airport not exactly knowing the destination of my flight”. Transition involves a relinquishing of the past or future expectation, which can involve shock and a period of grieving. Debora came to me in a state of shock after leaving her previous role to return to college. “I keep thinking of the terrible mistake I made, I just want my old job back. I am ashamed to admit that I fantasise about something happening to my replacement. I can’t stop shaking, I can’t sleep and I have lost my appetite”. Debora is grieving for the role that she has given up. She is experiencing the stages of bereavement which can include denial, anger, resentment, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance. If these stages are ignored or bypassed they can catch up with us at a later period.
- Hang on in there
Transition can be seen as leaving a familiar shore and making one’s way in stormy water. While journeying through a transition many years ago, I received some very sound advice from a priest – “when in the midst of a storm it is better to hold tight and stay on the boat. Once the storm has lifted the way forward will become clearer”. The counsel of ‘hang on in there’ and ‘be gentle with yourself’ is one that I now impart to clients. While the storm is passing I aim to support clients in softening their fixated gaze on the departed shore and gently adjusting their lens so new horizons can come in to focus. To alter their perception of the event by turning challenges into opportunities, difficulties into time for learning and delays into time to take stock.
- Transitions take time
Knowing that adjustments take time and can be accompanied with periods of unknowing and vulnerability and are more acute at the start, can in itself bring comfort. We can strengthen ourselves by looking back at the initial reasons for the transition, if it was a self-elected one. For Petra we discussed the reason for her move to Ireland, which was to improve her English. Even though she is now frustrated as she is looking for a new role, it is important to highlight that her English is practically fluent. Transition works in stages and steps and though it might feel like we are at the bottom of the mountain, we can be closer to the summit than we think. It is important in transition to take time to see how far we have already come, to know what we are experiencing is normal and that going through this now will help in facing future challenges.
- Focus on what you can do rather than on what you can’t
In the midst of a transition especially to a new role we can become fixated on what we can’t do, feeling a form of imposter syndrome. Try to pick tasks that you can do well and focus on them and congratulate yourself for doing them well. Focus on the small wins and what you can achieve.
- Reshape how you view the transition
Relabeling, re-prioritising, reshaping and refocusing are all positive ways to deal with a transition. (Schlossberg, 2008). A period of wilderness can be relabelled to a period of learning and opportunity for growth. The areas causing the most difficulty can be re-prioritised to the area of least importance. This time can now be used to reshape and refocus and provide an opportunity to create a new plan, dream or vision
- Recognise familiar thinking patterns
Knowing that we have overcome difficulties in the past can provide a reassuring blanket. While in the midst of transition it can be hard to see anything else. Transitions can be overwhelming, bringing a temporary blindness to our ability to cope and our past ability to succeed. When Denise started her work placement she was terrified and afraid. “I just feel like I know nothing and that I’m letting everyone down”. On probing these feelings further to find out if she had ever felt like this before, it became clear that this was a very common pattern in her thinking. There were intense moments when she was learning to drive and starting her studies, where she felt like a complete failure and that she would never succeed. In both cases she ably accomplished the tasks. Recognising this pattern of negative / faulty thinking was somewhat of a breakthrough. By becoming aware of our negative thinking and self-talk patterns we can take steps towards changing it. It may not always be possible to change the situation but changing how we view it can be monumental.
- Identify supports
Supports can also help us to feel valued, understood and that we are not alone. Studies carried out on concentration camp inmates showed that it was important to affiliate with a group, to obtain advice, protection, information and a sense of self-worth. The desire to help others and give to others gave people a reason for living (Schlossberg, 1981). Exploring the supports you already have to hand and how to leverage them can prove worthwhile. Attending counselling, joining hobby groups or volunteering can help build a new circle of supports. If a situation cannot be changed, finding ways to deal with it i.e. through meditation or visualisation can prove essential to maintaining mental health. Reading, taking baths, exercising, singing, listening to music and dancing are other ways to deal with the stresses of transition. Chupe decided to deal with her negative feelings by writing up a list of 30 things that she likes to do and using a dice to pick a different one each day.
- You won’t always feel like this.
Change changes. It may feel like you are stuck and will always feel like this but as this transition has happened so too will another. These feelings will shift and change over time. Having experienced this transition will create a resilience within you that you can draw on the future, it can be good to visualise feeling differently and trust that you are doing your best.
Transitions take time, patience and understanding, a period of holding tight and hanging on in there until we can take that leap into embracing our new future. Best of luck!
‘Come to the edge’
‘It’s too high’
‘Come to the edge’
‘We might fall’
‘Come to the edge’
And they came
And he pushed
And they flew
- Come to the Edge – Christopher Logue
Anderson, Mary, PhD, Jane, PhD Goodman, and Nancy K., EdD Schlossberg. 2011 ‘Counseling Adults in Transition’ Fourth Edition, edited by Mary, PhD Anderson, et al, Springer Publishing Company,. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Schlossberg Nancy K., 1981, ‘A Model for Analyzing Human Adaptation to Transition’, The Counseling Psychologist Sage publications, Washington DC. America.
Schlossberg Nancy K., 2008. ‘Overwhelmed – Coping with LIFE’S UPS and DOWNS’.M. Evans & Company, Maryland, USA.
Schlossberg Nancy K., 2009 ‘Retire Smart, Retire Happy – Finding Your True Path in Life’. APA Life tools, American Psychological Association.
Schlossberg Nancy K., 2011, ‘The Challenge of Change: The transition model and its application’. Journal of Employment Counselling’, Volume 48. The American Counselling Association.