how to win at life transitions
What is your favorite season, and why?
I love Summer.
My mom always called me sunshine, a child of summer; born beginning of August. My favorite flower is a sunflower, favorite holiday is the 4th of July. Growing up, we used to spit watermelon seeds into the lake and watch the fish eat them, light off fireworks from the dock, and stay up late roasting marshmallows around the fire. Summer time feels like an endless dream. Fireflies twinkle in the woods, my shoulders get brown and my hair gets golden; sun kissed. It's the time for vacation, picnics in parks, lingering evenings that stretch out in long shadows, green leaves lit from behind by the sideways rays of golden hour.
But you know what? My favorite season is Autumn.
There’s something that stirs within me that had been lying dormant. When I step outside and feel that first chilly breeze of October hit my bare arms, blindsided in my t-shirt...only then do I go dig out my cardigans and my wool socks. It’s like until that chilly moment, I didn’t think Autumn would ever arrive. But it always does.
The seasons are ever changing. Change is inevitable.
Fall is for hikes through golden woods that I know will transform again in the next fleeting weeks. By November the trees will be bare, and the magic will be over. Everything is dying and yet everything is most alive.
What am I saying?
I'm saying that the most beautiful changes in your life may at first feel like an unwelcome October chill.
And so if change is inevitable, and if change is not always welcome, how do we prepare for it, since it is coming, anyway?
If we don't change, we don't grow, and if we don't grow...well, are we really living?
I don't know the last time you were in a forest, but if it's been a while, let me refresh your memory: Trees grow every year. If you went to the woods and chopped down the first tree you saw with your chain saw, you would see rings of growth for every year lived.
I'm no expert, but someone smarter than me once said,
"To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often." -Winston Churchill
Transition: lines of shadow, moving across a sunlit hallway as the minutes tick by...packing everything you own into a moving van...moving down that sunlit hallway to the next unknown around the corner, just out of view.
Some transitions are small, some are transcontinental. All require adjustment. Change is just life happening, we all know this. And yet, the abruptness of life’s seasons often feels like we are riding shot gun with an amateur driver at the wheel. The stick shift stopping and starting, gears catching, car jerking uncomfortably.
Transitioning well is an art. I am no gardener, but I’ve managed to keep a couple indoor succulents alive for a few years. There is a point at which the plant will literally die if it’s not moved, because it’s outgrown the pot it’s in, the size is choking it’s roots. Repotting that plant, growing deeper roots in that bigger pot…it’s scary. You’ve never had to grow roots that deep before.
Transition. You can’t read how to do it in a book. You have to stall the car a few times, kill several house plants. And then maybe, with effort and persistence and grace, you will get the hang of it.
Sometimes we are the agents of our own change, pursuing self development, pushing our bodies to new levels of strength or endurance, or running towards our professional goals despite the orange traffic cones the apathetic present puts in our path.
"The most dangerous phrase is, we have always done it this way." -Grace Hopper
The only constant is change.
Other times change is thrust upon us like a November snowstorm that we never could have seen coming. Life, like Mother Nature, can be unexpected, her mood rapidly changing.
Sometimes we don't ask for the change. But it comes anyway, and we have to figure out how to manage it.
I'll give you three tips to manage life transitions:
1) Not every season of change will you see coming. Be flexible with these seasons of change. A job loss, a friend who suddenly moves away, an unexpected death of a family member. There was no way you could have prepared for this. You are not expected to manage it with perfection. And you are absolutely allowed to ask for help.
2) Some change you will see coming. Big life events: a new job, graduating college, getting married, buying a home. Even those changes, good as they are, will cause stress because change is stressful. Expect that even "good" change will cause some re-adjusting and not all of it will be fun. It's helpful to remember this when that sparkly new job that you have waited years to have is a little less, well, sparkly. Doesn't mean you don't love your job. Doesn't mean you've made a mistake. You're simply growing into bigger shoes and need time to break them in.
3) Anticipate that change you are NOT looking forward to may actually surprise you. In this human experience we call life, we are constantly evolving creatures. But growth does not always happen by our own, it is the gentle nudging of the potter and the clay that gives our lives shape and form. Do not resent the hands that shape you, even if it's a shape you don't want to be...submit to the messiness of the process.
"Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end" -Robin Sharma
The good old days are gone. The future, though glaringly bright, also promises new horizons never traversed before. Go on. Be brave. Step forward. You can't turn back anyway. The past is dead and gone. Doing things that scare you once in a while is good for your soul.
Change. It is a blessing, it is a curse. But it just is.
We evolve by pushing or being pushed by the winds of change.
We have to make the most of the wind that propels us in our sailboat.
And I'll add a fourth tip: ask for help from others.
Others around you, doing life with you. They are walking through similar seasons, dealing with similar struggles. Ask open ended questions: people love to talk about themselves and odds are, you will feel less alone when you realize others are muddling through things just like you are. You are not alone.
Ask older people for help. You know, people who have a few more "tree rings" on their belt, who have been through a storm or two. Ask them what went well, what didn't, and why. They will be more than happy to share with you their experiences. And if they are mature, they will share their failures: they won't want you to make the same mistakes they made.
Bottom line: be vulnerable with other people about your struggles, and with your victories. Don't fake it till you make it. That's a fool's saying. The wise are the ones who are humble enough to ask how to do it, and do it well. You will figure it out eventually, sure, but wouldn't it be a lot less painful if you asked a kind soul to give you a few pointers. Odds are, you will learn faster and you will likely have gained a new friend. And, when a transition goes well for you, share with others your knowledge, so we can all learn from your win! We need all the advice we can get, don't be stingy with your golden nuggets.
We are not meant to do this life alone. We need each other. Transitions are tough. Life itself is tough. We need to lean on the strength of others around us to make it out alive.
Transitions are what define us. We can be crushed by them, or crush them when we come through them stronger.
- Change is just life happening, but who told you change wasn’t beautiful? -