Embracing transition

For change to happen we have to transition. To shift or become what we once were not.

And to journey means to transition.

Because standing still is more of the same. It doesn’t require us to step beyond where we are, into some form of unknown. To risk, to learn and to see the new and not yet…

I’ve been thinking a lot about transition recently. Obviously, crossing the threshold of the decade prompts that kind of reflection.

But I’ve also noticed that there is a wider transition going on.

People are asking bigger questions, both of themselves and what is happening around them.

There are more people who are framing their situations as ‘in transition’.

So how might we make sense of being here in transition? What do we need to embrace?

Letting go

Dis-engaging is a scary word.

Letting go of the boundaries we know. The hard, or soft, edges that frame our world and who we think we are.

Yet all the while we’re hanging on, clinging to the familiar, we are not free to make the transition.

If we think about a gearing system, the cog has to disengage if it is to move into another gear. It can’t happen otherwise – it just crashes and gets mangled.

Or how about in the natural world? Any organic body cannot grow into its full maturity whilst still connected to that which gestated it.

If we keep people in an infantile or dependent state, they will never grow up and become all that they could. That applies to us, too. If we only see ourselves where we are now, then we limit our flourishing. We become stunted.

Because to thrive always means to let go. To take the risk, shift gear and become the change we want to see.

Preparing for the unknown

By definition, transition isn’t a familiar place. And whilst we can read, research and ask questions of others we can never fully prepare.

It is unknown. To us.

The outcome is not certain. For us.

There are things we can do, preparations we can make, but it is still a risk. We might not end up where we think we’re going.

It is also likely to be disorientating. And we may not emerge from the transition facing in the direction we expect…

This has reminded me of the astonishing feat of engineering that enables trains to change altitude over a short distance.

In the Alps, there are incredible loops of tunnels in the mountainside. These enable trains to emerge hundreds of metres higher (or lower) than they entered the system. Traversing significant geological and topographical barriers that could not be scaled by a standard engine and track. The incline is simply too steep.

But here’s the thing, when the train emerges from its looping tunnel it may be facing a completely different direction, or even be emerging into substantially new terrain.

At a personal level, we have been experiencing such transition for several months and have just gone through a 180° u-turn in the dark…

Emerging into the sunlight everything feels new. We could not have anticipated this. But we also could not have got here without being prepared to enter the unknown.

And yes, it is scary.

Patient transition

Which leads me to my final reflection. Transition requires patience.

The chrysalis cannot hurry the process of turning into a butterfly. If we try to give it a helping hand, the process of formation is cut short. And it will die.

So this is active waiting.

Some of this may be about developing new skills. Or testing out new ways of seeing things. Of expressing ourselves differently and uncovering our voice.

Ready for what is to come.

In a funny kind of way patience is a safe space. We know we are in transition but we haven’t arrived. And therefore we can experiment. Trying things on for size without making the final decision. Because we’re not there yet.

However, patience can be a big ask. When we feel under pressure to resolve, to arrive and start the next phase, waiting can feel like a high-risk strategy.

What if we are too late and we miss it?

Are we sure we are in the right place? Perhaps the reason it’s taking so long is that there something wrong with us. If only we were better…

Just stop there!

Listen to yourself, especially out loud. Where is this self-talk coming from? Really…

This is when we need generosity and kindness. Both for ourselves and with each other.

Waiting can be lonely so cultivate relationships that will sustain you. Not that others can take your place, but they can encourage and cheer you on. And offer morsels of wisdom along the way.

Blessing for the interim time

The end of John O’Donohue‘s blessing For the Interim Time is a good place to finish today:

As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow your confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you had outgrown.

What is being transfigured here is your mind
And that is difficult and slow to become new,
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.

John O’Donohue, For the Interim Time, from Benedictus – a Book of Blessings, Bantam Press, 2007

Keep walking and don’t give up hope.


PS I am re-orientating my coaching practice towards specifically working with people in transition. Whether this is moving from a professional to a leadership role, or some other shift in your work and life. If this is you – let’s talk.

This week

… of itself has been a transition. Exploring the landscape of the journey: