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Life's Meaning for Today Series

Life Transitions as Part One. . .

Nearing sixty another transition is in the offering. I prepare, in 2014, for the next expression in this the life I created. But wait, for many people I talk to they are amazed at the approach I take to my life and living it. In my professional career I work with life transitions which makes it a whole lot easier for me to step forward without a second thought. Lets explore what I have learned and share with others about our unfolding life.

In the simplest terms, transition is change. Transitions are all around us, and so it is with our lives. They occur as we make sense of the next unfolding stage of our life and with the right person to work with then this process is not speeded up but no elements are lost only to be regretted when we look back from our future with the statement 'why didn't I see that at the time'.

Life transitions can be predictable such as a child leaving for university , marriage, a new job, or retirement. They can also be unpredictable, such as the death of a loved one, a traumatic accident, divorce or addictions. Whatever the degree or intensity of the event, every transition we experience has one thing in common, it forces us to make changes to our existing life. A major life transition literally closes one chapter of our life, and starts a new unfamiliar one, which can create doubt, fear, anxiety, depression, addictions and emotional turmoil.

Sometimes life transitions occur because we find ourselves in a rut. We may have a feeling that something is wrong, although we can't quite put our finger on the reasons. Our lives are not going the way we thought they would and time is passing us by. We feel that it is time for a change. This can happen at any time and lead us to self-reflection or an assessment of what we really want out of life, leading us to look at new goals. This is when we embark on a journey of new priorities and a sense of a renewed future.

But wait, transitions don't always have to relate to loss or other negative events. Scholarly works and my own professional experience over the last thirty years as well as my own transitionary phases are often born out of achievement and then embracing a realisation of what we discover we can do.

Our parents experience of life often projects on to us restrictive views of the future and then we reach a point in our lives where we realise that our life outstripped the restrictions placed on our parents. A transition can be exciting such as in our career when we step to the next challenge.

Life transitions, difficult as they can be, afford us the opportunity to find our true inner direction and engage in the process of self-renewal.

Life Transitions can include:

Death of a loved one
Divorce or estrangement
Loss of a job/career
A move
Birth of a child
Relationship change

Once you’ve defined your purpose and identified some goals and projects based on that purpose, most likely you’ll find that you’ll have to move in a very different direction. You may have been trekking down your current path for years, and now you’ve set a whole new direction. It’s possible that almost every part of your life will have to change — your health habits, social relationships, work/career, and even your day to day life.

Shifting Gears

Clarity is greatly reduced whenever you turn a corner in life, so the first thing you can expect when you change directions is that you’ll experience a tremendous lack of clarity. Imagine you’re driving a car through a busy city area. You may be able to clearly see the road for many blocks ahead of you. But if you’re about to make a turn, you may not be able to see more than a few yards around the corner as you approach it. Your view is blocked by obstacles, and if it’s a road you’ve never been down before, you won’t quite know what to expect. However, once you’ve completed most of the turn, you will again be able to see further down the road in your new direction.

Life is much the same way. Your ability to see what lies ahead will be very limited as you shift directions, but as you complete the turn, clarity will once again return.

I experienced this when I shifted my career earlier this year in 2013 from full-time chairman of a medical company to full-time writing, recording and returning to my speaking career from the 1990's. Before I committed to the transition, I had only a fuzzy idea of what the new career would be like. No matter how much planning I did, it was still fuzzy — there were simply too many variables I couldn’t predict. I was out of my element. As I began to transition, almost every week I had to rethink my plans — long-term planning was impossible because I was constantly learning new things that would corrupt my old plans. I had to live one day at a time through much of it. But after a few months, I was able to get my bearings and could see the road ahead of me very clearly. Then I was able to again set long-term goals with confidence.

Take Your Time

When you make a big transition in your life, take your time. You don’t have to change every area of your life simultaneously within the next 30 days. Changing too many things at once can be stressful, so take steps to manage the stress by keeping some parts of your life stable as you change others. If you turn a corner too fast, you’ll flip your car or spin out of control. But even if you take the turn gradually, you’ll still feel a force pulling you to the side. You have to maintain your grip on the wheel and keep control as you change directions. Once you’ve completed the turn, then you can relax and loosen up a bit — your new momentum will carry you forward.

During the past year, I had go through the lengthy and complicated process of closing an international company, sort out future finances (along with the side effects of taking on board a new identity in my fifties) and begin a whole new career. And then there’s all the personal development work I did, which caused me to experience many personal changes during this time, including changes in long-term habits.

Given the amount and degree of change if I would have tried to do it all at once it would have been overwhelming. But by splitting it up and spreading it out over many months, it became manageable.

Usually I’m operating outside my comfort zone in at least one area of my life (but not all areas), and I find that the more I do this, the more simultaneous change I’m able to tolerate.

Preparing Your Environment for Change

One easy step you can take in beginning your transition is to prepare your environment to help reinforce your new goals. Most likely your environment reflects your current identity, so if you want to change your identity, you can start by changing your environment.

For example, one of the first things I did when transitioning from being chairman of a company to writing, recording and speaking was to reorganise my office. I asked myself, “What kind of office would a professional speaker/writer have, and how would it be different from that of a company chairman and technical director?” I made a list of changes and then implemented them quickly. I realised that I would be on the road more travelling and so I scanned important documents and then to create space made an additional back up and threw the paperwork away. I even took all of my CD's and laboriously copied them to the computers so I had music on the move.

I had a new identity to embrace but initially this created a void to be filled with the trappings of my new career. Essentially I had to take on board a new identity. I had to overcome dumbing down that I was an international author and feel comfortable with people asking questions or asking me to sign books - the list goes on.

I did this clearing process earlier this year, and now that void is filled. My files are full of past seminars which date back to 1989 along with new reference material. My bookshelf holds new books on internet conference calls, website design and writing. I have a shelf with a half-dozen photographs of previous and recent events along with a picture of an elder tribesman in Africa holding a copy of my latest book!. So every time I walk into my office, it reinforces my identity as a speaker/writer.

Dealing With Social Resistance

Aside from the things in your environment, you also have to deal with the people. Many readers have told me that social resistance is a big problem for them. They make a plan to change their lives, and then their friends or family talk them out of it.

You need to trust your own judgment more than the opinions of others. Even if you turn out to be wrong, you’ll learn more about yourself in the process and will be able to make better decisions in the future.

Many people fear change, and your attempt to change your life for the better is perceived as a threat. Ask yourself which of your friends will be able to handle the new you once you’ve completed the transition? Will you still be able to be friends after the change? Close, genuine friendships can handle such a transition. But many casual friendships and associations cannot.

The same goes for other relationships. Many relationships do not survive such a change. But what kind of relationship did you have anyway if making a change to better your life results in a breakup? It just means the relationship was based on something impermanent. You’re better off making the change and seeing if your relationship is strong enough to handle it than using the relationship as an excuse for staying put. A good relationship should help you grow, not hold you back, and there’s nothing wrong with temporary relationships. A breakup is not the end of the world. People do it every day and live to talk about it.

When I transitioned to building a personal transformation business, a lot of casual friendships were broken. Such people reacted to my change as if it was a personal affront. I expected this though, so it didn’t slow me down. I went through the same thing when I left the national health service and then later when I first started my medical company.

When you make a big change in your life, you can expect social resistance regardless of the nature of the change. Social resistance is ubiquitous– don’t take it as a sign that you’re doing anything wrong. Use your own intelligence to figure out if you’re on the right path. No matter how right your decision is, there will be people to tell you you’re wrong and that you’re making a big mistake. Just allow those people to be upset, and be on your merry way. Don’t take it personally. Most of all, don’t argue with them — you’re just wasting your breath. Focus on taking action, and let them adjust if they can.

I believe the best way to confront social resistance is by counteracting it with social harmony. Get involved with a new social group that will mitigate the effects of your old group. Develop new friendships in harmony with your new self-image. I recommend you do this as early as possible, before you break off any old relationships that can’t handle the transition. Start spending more time with your new reference group than your old one. Your new group will help pull you in the direction you want to go, which will automatically loosen the bonds with your old group. You’ll naturally enjoy spending more time with people who are encouraging you and less time with those who are discouraging you.

For me this involved joining writing groups through MeetUp and spending time with my journalist friends here in London. I also now work with those active in the psychospiritual and a few days ago held a talk and discussion at The Mystery Chest where like minded people gathered to talk from a broader perspective. After my talk I felt aligned and refreshed at so many levels. "Why did I ever leave this work?" I asked myself later. Over the period of the last few months, I have built a new social circle starting with those focusing on psychospiritual elements of life and gradually branching outward, and my old reference group gradually faded as I spent less and less time in their midst.

A few old friendships were able to endure this transition with me. Some people that knew me for years were able to accept my new identity, so we still keep in touch, but the nature of these friendships has changed. I think the best friendships are those that can stand the test of time, where the friendship is based more on who you are than on what you do or what you have.

When you consciously undergo a major life transition, be patient with yourself. When you meet with environmental or social resistance, take steps to reduce or minimise the resistance instead of struggling against it. Expect that clarity will be reduced as you turn the corner, but know that it will return as you’re speeding off in a new direction. Managing a major life transition is a lot of work, but you’ll come out the other side in a much better position. The long-term gain is well-worth the short-term pain.

The Stages of Life Transitions

There are also clear life transitions which appear at specific points in our lives and here is another article which tells you all about each phase from childhood to adolescence through to early life and midlife. FULL ARTICLE coming soon.





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