Have you ever had an obscure fact stick with you for a long time? Here is one that has followed me… In my late twenties I read Golda Meir’s autobiography, My Life. Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel from 1969-1974, was a school teacher until the age of 43 (or thereabouts). There it is. Isn’t that incredible? At the time she was only the 3rd woman on the planet to serve as a Prime Minister. Her mid-life transition has always stuck with me. Now, I am even more fascinated by it after reading Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, by William Bridges.
This book seems to be the grande dame of transition literature; Bridges first published the work in 1970 with a follow-on edition 25 years later in 2004. After reading it I’ve understood my own transition in a markedly different way.
Here is a bit about the book: Bridges relies on many literary and cultural analogies to introduce the reader to a “process” approach to transition. Truth be told, I am a process wonk so I probably have a favorable bias towards the book overall.
The book makes two main points that I believe are useful to women: First, Bridges drills again and again on a primary process for transition. It is an “ending”; followed by an “empty zone” or “neutrality”; followed by a “beginning”. Endings, in Bridges’ experience, while necessary and healthy parts of transition, are bits of life that we typically aren’t great at. However, “ending’s” seem to stand as sentry to our ability to work through the process of transition.
Second, Bridges distinguishes between change and transition. In his perspective “changes are driven to reach a goal, but transitions start with letting go of what no longer fits or is adequate to the life stage you are in.” (Transitions, Bridges, pg 128) For those willing to pursue a transition he posits that “renewal”, “revised purp0se” and “energy” will be the outcome.
Bridges introduces that in the first phase of “transition” or “ending” we break our connection with the setting in which we have come to know ourselves. (Transitions, Bridges, pg 17) So whether we opt-in, opt-out, on-ramp, off-ramp or just rant there is a very normal step in the process of transition that upends most of what we’ve used to define ourselves. I’ve observed that many women miss this “normalcy” factor and feel terribly about this step in the process.
Here is how the book caused me to think differently. I had my first child at 39 and my second 16 months later at 40. Since 22 I had designed my work self as a fast-track, type A, six-day a week person. When my children arrived I thought I “transitioned” to parenthood. I modified my work-life by establishing all sorts of structures (i.e. nannies) to assist me in adapting to this new existence. I changed jobs although I didn’t really down scale the scope of my job. I just eliminated some of the travel. To a new mother I thought I’d really transitioned.
The book has convinced me that I really just made changes. In fact the real transition didn’t come for almost 6 more years. I made external changes to adapt to my new life. I hadn’t given any time to the “endings” that were afoot in my new life, let alone the “beginnings”.
The book suggests that “many people use change to avoid transition.” (Transitions, Bridges, pg 129) Have you ever been fooled by change? Have you experienced a transition that led you to a new and previously uncharted place?
I read this book purposely because it didn’t have “children”, “family”, “balance” or “career-transition” in the title. I think many of those books have check-list approaches that can be the source of additional stress for the reader. I assure you Golda Meir was script-less. We should be to. For those open to process & structure, this book is provocative and a quick read.
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