Years ago, I was privileged to attend a weekend college class led by guest lecturer, William Bridges, who wrote the book, “Transitions, Managing Change.” In his book, he addressed the everyday transitions we make but seldom think about: getting married, becoming a parent, retirement. Each requires leaving behind who you were in order to embrace a new identity.
We rarely think about what we are leaving behind when making a new beginning. Even when we move into a role we had planned for and wanted, such as having our first child, we seldom realize we are ending a part of our life that will be no more. Without completing our endings, we may complicate our new beginnings.
The Task of Endings
Bridges defined three stages in transitions: endings, a neutral zone, and finally a new beginning. The task of endings is to clarify and express our feelings and loss. In our endings, our mental and emotional energy is focused on the past. Here we deal with practical life changes and develop a support system. Acceptance of loss is where we grieve our endings so we can say goodbye to it.
The “Neutral Zone” – the Bridge to New Beginnings
In the next stage, the neutral zone, we do the work that prepares us for a new beginning. It is a time to reflect and evaluate as we explore a new identity. Who was I before? Who am I today? Who do I want to become? This can be a very “unsettling” place; a period of anxiety and instability. As we give up the past we are faced with “what now?”
In endings, we leave our old identity behind as we enter the “neutral zone”. It is where we are required to spend time alone with ourselves and our God. It is where we challenge our assumptions and expectations and examine our beliefs, our strengths and weaknesses. In the neutral zone we do the personal work that enables us to begin with new insight and perspective.
While this period of inactivity, not moving directly towards something, may seem unproductive, it is where we gain a better understanding of who we are. It is a bridge between the old and the new – a time to be alone, but not necessarily lonely. It is a time of waiting and wandering and reflection before planning for the future. We re-think our identity, what we value, and put shape back into our lives.
Rushing Into the Future
As humans we want to move immediately from an ending to a new beginning. We don’t want to feel the pain of loss or the uncertainty of the future. We are uncomfortable not knowing where we are going. We want to be doing things – anything. So we quickly bundle up our “baggage” in our backpacks and head out the door to find what we had before. If we have not spent time letting go of the past and skip that period of redefining ourselves, our beginnings will be less successful.
Life is full of transitions that require time to process. Someone said it takes about 18 months to 4 years to complete a major life transition. In today’s world of instant responses, we want our life processes to happen rapidly as well. It seldom does.
©Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC