Throughout our lives, we all have to face changes. Sometimes these changes are ones we choose; other times, the changes happen outside our control. Either way, change is tough – even for “happy” events like graduating college, getting married or having children. The accompanying internal transition can be even harder. This is where a coach can be helpful: in moving through the ending that’s occurring, navigating the in-between neutral stage, and moving on to a new beginning.
This theory of change and transition is described in William Bridges book “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes.” Building on the life stages theories of adult development*, Bridges avoids using specific age ranges in favor of two overarching “natural phases” with expected transition points. Knowing that these changes are likely to happen during our lifelong development can help us recognize that the discomfort we feel is normal as well as aid us in transitioning through these times more easily.
Here’s a brief summary of how Bridges lays out his two major phases of adult development and the expected transitions.
Phase 1: The move to independence (i.e., the “novice phase” of adulthood)
- the end of childhood – one moves from dependence to independence, establishing themself as a separate social entity with a unique self-image and personal style
- being on one’s own – the individual moves out of the parent’s home and begins earning money of their own
- entering the adult world/search for a place – some “early place finders” may launch careers, marry and start a family while others may experiment with different jobs and relationships (or travel, return to school, etc.)
- a time for second thoughts – regardless of what the individual does during the “search for a place” transition, around the age of 30 they will question if they did the right thing
Phase 2: Life’s second half
- the middle years – rather than a single mid-life crisis at the age of 40, the individual should expect a number of transitions in the middle years in which they reassess their hopes and plans; Bridges writes “adulthood unfolds its promise in an alternating rhythm of expansion and contraction, change and stability”
- reassessing success – somewhere during life’s second half, achievement becomes less important and self-knowledge comes to the forefront; a person’s definition of success may change, and there’s a growing concern for significance and meaning
- letting go to grow – the self-image and style of life’s first half begins to hinder the individual’s growth; they now face the process of letting go and growing beyond them
- end of the middle years – moving into the later years, Bridges writes “the homeward journey of life’s second half demands three things: first, that we unlearn the style of mastering the world that we used to take us through the first half of life; second, that we resist our own longings to abandon the developmental journey and refuse invitations to stay forever at some attractive stopping place; and third, that we recognize that it will take real effort to regain the inner ‘home’”
Every transition has an end where we must let go of something; is followed by a neutral period where we feel confused and lost (a good time for reflection and being honest about what we really want); and ends with a new beginning that includes an inner realignment and renewal of energy. In our society, there are few rituals that mark these internal transitions; it is left to each of us to grieve, celebrate, be patient and figure out what is next. Please note that there are no right or wrongs here. Instead, we should strive to move through transitions with curiosity and patience – and with the understanding that ignoring, suppressing or abandoning transitions may cause them to reappear later in unexpected and difficult ways.
When it comes to your own transitions, working with a coach can help you make sense of what’s happening, how you feel about it, what it’s time to let go of, and what you want to make room for next. A coach can help you see the big picture – not easy when you’re in the middle of a challenging time. And a coach can support you in fully transitioning through tough changes, while reminding you that what you are going through is normal and a natural part of life.
How do you deal with endings? What transitions have you left incomplete? What do you need to let go of? And most importantly, what’s the new beginning you are ready to welcome?
* If you’re interested in reading more about adult development and life stages, you may want to check out the work of Erik H. Erikson (“Identity and the Life Cycle”), Gail Sheehy (“Passages”), Daniel J. Levinson (“The Seasons of a Man’s Life”), and/or Roger Gould (“Transformations”).
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