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The Top Ten Ways to Triumph During Transitions

by Lois Raats

The state of Transition is not well understood by most people. But it helps to notice when you're in one and develop a plan to deal with it. 

Often life transitions start with a jolt, through an unexpected turn of events. For you or someone you care about, maybe it's been a layoff, an illness, the death of a close friend or family member, or turning 30, 40 or 80. Transitions throw us for a loop, and we feel all kinds of acute feelings—from relief, lightness and elation, to panic, dread, anger, loss, a sense of drifting, disconnectedness, emptiness, helplessness and physical discomfort. Stephen Covey uses the wonderfully descriptive metaphor of "whitewater" to accurately describe this kind of life change.

Other times, you ease into transitions so gradually that you scarcely even know they're occurring. All you know is that, over time, what you used to do and the way you used to be just doesn't feel right anymore. Again, you may experience the kinds of feelings described above without really understanding that changes need to be made.

If things don't seem to be working anymore, and you've been noticing any of the above symptoms in yourself, chances are you're in some kind of transition—moving from one life stage to the next.

1. Recognize the state you're in. When you name your unsettled state "Transition," you're reassuring yourself that it's only a phase, not a permanent state of affairs. You're not going crazy; your feelings are normal. Sooner or later your challenges will be addressed and you will be moving out of this phase.

2. Take care of the obvious. When you're in "whitewater," basic needs come first. Shelter, food, rest and relaxation need to take priority. There's no way you're going to get focused on understanding your life purpose when you're worried about where your next meal is coming from. If you're depressed or anxious, don't wait to seek medical attention, get help now. If necessary, take a part-time job just to buy yourself some time to work out your next move.

3. Lower your expectations. Sometimes when people are in flux, they drive themselves even harder to achieve. This makes no sense. When you're in transition, you need all your available energy just to cope. This is the time to ease up on yourself, not drive yourself. You need to learn to trust that things will work out without you spinning your wheels.

4. Open your eyes and take in the view. When you're stressed, the last thing you want to do is remain open to the universe. But that's exactly what you need to do when you're in whitewater. When you think about it, the world around you contains every solution to every problem humankind has thought of so far. Radio waves were there long before we discovered them—but it wasn't until we opened our eyes that we understood their potential. Talk to people about your situation, read every book and article you can, listen to radio and TV, surf the Net. Sooner or later the universe will begin to offer you clues about your next step.

5. Get a support network. For some reason, people in transition tend to hide. There are lots of reasons for this: when the rug is pulled out from under you it's hard to find your ground, and you often lose confidence. Sometimes you get depressed, and the last thing you want to do is talk to people about your situation.

Don't feel ashamed, and don't give in to the desire to hide. Remind yourself continually that you're still a valuable person even if you have lost your sense of direction for a time. Seek out people who can help you through family connections, networking groups, religious affiliations and so on. Let them know where you're at. Learn to take what others have to give you.

6. Lighten up. Once you've taken care of your basic needs, allow as much time as possible for fun and relaxation. If you're depressed, do things that you used to consider fun when you weren't depressed, and do them with another person or group. If these sorts of activities don't lift your spirits, get professional help.


7. Take a day at a time. Since you're not sure about your long-term goal, there's no point in doing anything else but take one day at a time. Don't worry about the big picture right away. With enough well-spent days, that picture will come into focus.

How do you spend a day well? Again, focus on the basics. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Notice the needs of others and think of ways to address them. Write thank you letters to everyone who’s helped you. Be in touch with new people, through networking and social groups. Always be on the alert for opportunities that excite you and give you energy. Energy and excitement always indicate that you might be going in the right direction.

8. Write things down. There are a couple of wonderful books that can help you along with this: The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, and Write It Down, Make It Happen, by Henriette Anne Klauser.

As Henriette says, "Writing down your dreams and aspirations is like hanging up a sign that says 'Open for Business'." Activity in one area of your life generates movement in other areas. This is a good time to sit and do some self-assessment, because clarifying your inner life helps to focus your outer life.

9. Pay attention to your unconscious. We all have inner wisdom of which we're not consciously aware. Dreams and daydreams often provide clues to our future direction. Learn to read the language of your unconscious embodied in your dreams. If you're a spiritually-oriented person, this is a good time to spend some time in prayer, inviting God to be active in your life at both conscious and unconscious levels.

At the start of my most recent transition phase, I had an important dream. I was on the second floor of our house when I suddenly realized that there was an upward staircase that I'd never noticed before. With mounting excitement, I ascended the stairs, and found a large empty loft space that was in a state of disuse. I found this dream very hopeful—to me it indicated that I had a large amount of unused creative potential, and that it was time to get busy and use it! 

While at the conscious level I was feeling very confused and discouraged, my unconscious wasn't worried at all . . . she knew my true promise! The hopefulness of this dream has helped to carry me through many challenging days since then.

10. Practice "Active Waiting." "All human wisdom is summed up in two words: wait and hope", wrote Alexander Dumas.

In our culture, people do not like waiting. But part of the reason why we don't like it is because we don't know how to do it. Did you ever hear of a course entitled "Waiting 101?" Of course not—people don't study it, because they don't want to be doing it in the first place!

Most people think of waiting as a passive activity where they're obliged to sit around and do nothing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Waiting is a time for activity—but it's activity of a different sort.

If you practice all of the steps outlined above, you'll be doing active waiting. Active waiting means taking care of yourself, noticing others' needs, looking for opportunities, seeking support, having fun, taking a day at a time, and paying attention to conscious and unconscious signals sent by the universe to move you forward in your life. Sooner or later, your life picture will gel, and you will have moved forward into your next phase.


Lois Raats is a personal and corporate coach who is passionate about empowering others' personal and professional success. Over the past fifteen years, she's helped over 2,000 people to navigate all sorts of challenging life transitions. In the process of writing an e-booklet on managing transition, she welcomes your feedback, favorite exercises and reflections at raats@golden.net

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Related Books

Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes

Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change