Transition verses Change

When I first left my job I thought I was making a transition, and in many ways I was. But mostly I was making a change; no more, no less. At the time I didn’t think much about the difference between the two, and for that matter, I didn’t care. It’s just semantics, right? But as time wore on I didn’t gain traction – and I didn’t get the good feelings I had expected. Indeed, over time the transition from employee to free agent began to feel just as unsettling and uncomfortable as when I first left my employment. I began to get very confused about why things were not falling into place as I had anticipated they would naturally. What was going on? This was what I wanted – no doubt about that – but still my life felt very messy and I was beginning to feel that old friend, dissolution creeping in. And my productivity was tanking.

So after months of feeling a little lost inside (albeit, doing whatever pleased me for the first time since about age 12), I decided to consult some of the great motivation specialists of our time to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong.

My search brought me to author, speaker, and organizational consultant William Bridge who had been educated at Harvard, Columbia AND Brown Universities. I figured with all that education he must have something useful to say and what I found was both interesting and relevant. Bridge emphasizes the importance of understanding (drum roll please) that…

Transitions are the key to succeed in making lasting changes.

I was disappointed. It sounded too simplistic and, well cheesy; like a hallmark card or something. But it got more interesting.

To be successful Bridge believes we must go through a specific process. We must adapt to any change with three distinct phases and many people get stuck at phase two and then turn around. The effect is an infinite loop that can make a person feeling crazy:

  1. Completely let go of the past (no, really let go)
  2. Find your neutral zone (a very uncomfortable feeling)
  3. And begin anew (complete with compass and built in motivation)

Before you stop reading because you think this is all mumbo-jumbo, consider the distinctions Bridge makes between change and transition.

Change is a situation shift such as a new baby, a death, a promotion, a job loss.

Transition is a process shift. With a process shift we must allow time to pass. In our culture everything is fast, but a transition period is as it sounds – and requires the passage of time. This is the in-between part that feels unproductive, sometimes painful and most often, very scary. Bridge further outlines the phases something like this; I will use myself as an example here:

  1. First we must let go of the way things used to be. (Okay, so far so good. I wanted to leave my job.)
  2. Then, chaos fills us and we can’t seem to get traction (sound familiar? This was me in the first 7-9 months post employment).
  3. Eventually calm replaces feelings of chaos but it’s really more like calm confusion. (This is where most of us run back to step 2 because we can’t stand the discomfort; we tend to be more comfortable with chaos because it feels productive.)
  4. But we must allow a period of confusion (it takes TIME and with Miss Type A Personality that I am, this was excruciatingly painful).
  5. Then and only then can we easily and firmly grasp the new direction that fits us perfectly (and I think I am JUST arriving; it is a glorious feeling, I kid you, not).

Stay tuned for more on the subject. Right now I’m heading out to a Holiday Tree Lighting and Boat Parade.

Life is delicious and although transition is hard, the rewards are delectable. Let me know your thoughts and experiences on the subject. Until tomorrow, be kind to yourself and allow a little wiggle room in your life.


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