Unknown. What an unusual word. I keep bumping into it. Teens in our town are plagued this week with many unknowns thanks to a widely reported safety threat at the high school. Our family is trying to grasp the unknown too. There are still many decisions pending related to my mother’s care. And my little world is shrouded in the unknown thanks to a book project whose due date is ten days away. Will it be readable? Engaging? All totally unknown. How do you proceed in the face of not knowing?
Transition is full of the unknown. We choose it even though the future state – transition’s outcome – is unknown. I sat back and realized this week that my exploration of transition over the past four years has given me a new perspective on the unknown, a new lens.
I made this lens discovery Tuesday as I instinctively re-framed another woman’s experience of the unknown. In Out of the Woods, Into the Dark (NY Times 3/17/2015, D6) Suleika Jaouad wrote about surviving cancer at 26. For the past three years she has been running at a goal, survival. Great news, she nailed it. “Friends and family congratulated me on being, ‘done.’ What they couldn’t know was that in some ways the hardest part of my cancer experience began once the cancer was gone. Now that I’m done my treatment I’m struggling to figure out who I am.”
I’ve learned a few things in the past four years…….
- Transition is a normal part of adult growth and development – although one that isn’t widely understood nor discussed.
- Transition is a process during which we re-examine our assumptions about identity, capacity and values. Through it we evaluate how we make meaning in the world. It has all sorts of twists and turns. It is uncertain and frightening. But it is also described as empowering and enlivening and free.
- Transition operates with a three part anatomy: a triggering event; a decision about whether to proceed with transition; and the act of transitioning itself. We cycle through the first two parts in a circuitous non-linear fashion. There are many ups and downs – often feeling continuous over a period of time.
Through this lens I can see so much more for Suleika. Could it be that her cancer diagnosis was a sudden and unintentional trigger? Her survival deposited her at a decision. Will she transition? She doesn’t have to. She can. She could also just as easily stall where she is or even retreat to an earlier – more comfortable – state. The decision is hers. She already realized, “I’ve looked all over New York City for me before cancer. But the more I look the more I am beginning to realize that me no longer exists.” Sounds as if she’s heading towards transition….
If I could give Suleika a gift it would be context – an understanding of transition. Knowledge after all is power. But in this case I’ve found that it also offers peace.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate – my transition’s trigger was neither sudden nor tragic. Your experience of it may fall somewhere in between Suleika’s and my own. Regardless of your transition’s start – you won’t escape the unknown. The only real question is whether you will have the good fortune to have perspective and its gift of grace accompany you on your journey.
Happy first day of Spring!
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