Transition: a predictable event?

“Can you tell me when I’m about to transition?” asked a colleague and friend. Her tone was hopeful.  Did I hear a nervous laugh?   She was drowning a bit.  She’d just sold her husband’s family home.  She’d moved her own parents into assisted living.  Her work life had real challenges and her fourth child was readying for college.  It made me wonder, are transitions predictable?

My thoughts on transition have morphed as I’ve hosted this discussion – or maybe this discussion is better described as ‘you graciously listening as I talk out loud.’  By the way  – Thank you!   I don’t say that enough.  I’ve learned – and continue to learn – so much.

Forest or trees?

Forest or trees?

Early on I thought transition was a redefinition of our notion of self.  Now I believe transition to be more.  A decision of sorts we make when faced with the need to change.

This newer, more marinated view thinks that ‘transitions’ are processes that begin when you decide to re-evaluate your underlying assumptions.  Which ones?  Capacity.  Identity.  And values.

The choice is ours. Plain vanilla change is tough enough as it is…..

But predictable?

In Novofemina’s Research Jam, 87% of respondents to the online survey were either in transition or had been in transition within the past three years.  A full 92% responded that they expected to transition again within the next five years.

Respondents, the vast majority of whom were women, also revealed that life stage and parenthood impacted greatly on transition.   The top triggers to transition were:

  • Decision to pursue more of my potential;
  • Career or job change; and
  • Job loss.

But once you jumped below that high level summary there was more…

  • For those who were under age 45, the birth of a child, a stalled mid-career and graduation from school ranked higher than job loss.
  • For those older than 45, a geographical move and demands on home life also popped up onto the list.
  • For those with children age 18+, marriage or remarriage and empty nest were triggers unique to the group.
  • For those with children less than 18, the birth of a child and child entering school were frequent triggers.
  • For those with no children, a stalled mid-career had significance.
Before Christmas, a dear friend recommended that I pick up Gail Sheehy’s Passages: predictable crises of adulthood, a 1970s best seller.   The book is sadly dated.   One set of observations however were timeless: “Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.   It may mean the giving up of familiar but limiting patterns, safe but unrewarding work, values no longer believed in, relationships that have lost their meaning.   As Dostoevsky put it, ‘taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.’ The real fear should be of the opposite course.”  (Passages, pg 499)

Could growth be the predictable event, not transition?

Five years before my transition officially began I faced a decision point.   I had two children under the age of two.  I was commuting for work between Boston and Dallas and points beyond on American Airlines.   Thankfully I had Mary Poppins for a nanny and a working spouse who was so engrossed in a new start-up that he hardly noticed my absence.   Amidst this all I lost my dad.

Instead of turning toward transition at that moment I reasoned, “I need a new job.”   A five-year adventure began with that finite change.

I think the predictability lies with change itself – not with transition.  Change happens.  Continuously.  To ignore it would be like Sheehy’s Dostoevsky reference – fearing the wrong thing.

I think that transition really begins when we ask ourselves about the ‘magnitude of the change’ that’s required.   When do we need to ask those bigger questions?

Is it time for you to reach beyond change and ask harder questions of yourself?

Here is what I can reason at this late hour….We can go through a lifetime of change and never transition.  Alternatively if we choose transition everything changes.  Can you predict which course you’ll choose?

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One response to “Transition: a predictable event?

  1. Perspective changes everything, as you clearly know, Linda. Thanks for all your great food for thought. I truly appreciate your explorations of transition throughout life.

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