Whether it comes about by conscious choice, or is forced upon us by the proverbial pink slip, a career change or job loss catapults us into external changes that can leave us feeling disoriented and dis-identified, while struggling to dismantle the work life and identity we once knew. These are the words used by William Bridges in his landmark book Transitions – Making Sense of Life's Changes, where he emphasizes the importance of recognizing the stages of inner transition that occur when we are faced with external changes.
The process of inner transition is marked by three distinct stages: an ending, neutral zone and new beginning. It may seem odd to suggest that the process of transition begins with an ending, yet Bridges states that before we can move forward when change comes upon us, first we have to let go.
What do we need to let go of?
Reflecting on what it is that we need to release is an exercise that Bridges suggests to help us internally during this initial stage of change. Perhaps we need to let go of seeing ourselves in a certain occupational role. Or maybe we need to let go of connections that no longer serve us as we move into a new phase of personal development. No matter what the nature of the external change, internally, at this initial stage, he states that: “One way or another, most people in transition have the experience of no longer being quite sure who they are.”
What do we really want?
The next phase of the process is appropriately dubbed the “Neutral Zone” as this is a time to accept, to be with the sense of emptiness that arises, which, of course can be very challenging. It can be tempting at this time to either block the process of personal transition by moving forward too quickly; that is, jumping into something new, or reverting to what we knew and what was comfortable. I have seen this all too often in my work in career development, where people begin to get a sense of what they long for only to revert to what feels comfortable and known. It is essential that we take time to be in a state of flux, to be comfortable with the unknown in order for the process of self-renewal take place.
The neutral zone beckons us to take some time to be alone in order to reflect on what we really want. A wonderful question that Bridges poses in the book is: “What would be unlived if your life were to end today?” Attempting to connect with heartfelt desires, or getting a sense of what may be waiting in the wings, may be part of this process of introspection. If we are to emerge from change with a true sense of meaning and purpose, it is essential that we stay aligned with our heart's desires, rather than being swayed by the conventional view of success which is to strive for prestige, power and money at all costs.
“..... This emphasis on success often stands in the way of people doing what really interests them and makes them happy.” (Bridges)
If we have the courage to stay in the neutral zone rather than avoiding it, we set the groundwork for an authentic beginning. Such a beginning, says Bridges, “depends upon inner realignment rather than on external shifts, for it is when we are aligned with deep longings...that we become powerfully motivated...”
What am I excited about?
Hints that we have started on a new trajectory may take the form of a new idea, a chance occurrence that leads us down a new path, and/or an opportunity that presents itself. These are signs that we are ready to move forward. New beginnings may be messy and we may have some false starts, but with a sense of inner clarity, we will have honed our inner compass so that we can make conscious choices that reflect who we are in our new stage of personal development.
Luciana Longo-Cavaliere, Employment Settlement Specialist at Job Skills, has been working in the career development industry for over 12 years, currently supporting newcomers to Canada and assisting them with their integration into the Canadian labour market. Job Skills is a community-based employment training agency, providing employment, business, newcomer and employer services in the GTA since 1988.
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