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“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.”
— T.S. Eliot
We leave something of ourselves behind in our endings as we reach forward to a new beginning.
When endings are not adequately completed, it will be difficult to make a successful new beginning. We no longer feel pleasure or satisfaction in the things we used to do, and we get discouraged and disheartened with this uncertainty. We wonder, Can I have a meaningful life again?
Years ago, I attended a weekend college class led by guest lecturer, William Bridges, who wrote the book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. In his book, he addressed the everyday transitions we make but seldom think about: getting married, becoming a parent, retirement, etc.
Each transition requires leaving behind who you were in order to embrace a new identity.
When leaving one world to move towards another, we go through a transitional period.
As humans we want to move immediately from an ending to a new beginning. We don’t want to feel the anxiety or uncertainty of an unknown future. We are uncomfortable not knowing where we are going. We want to be doing something – anything. So, we quickly bundle up our “baggage” into our backpacks and head out the door to find what we had before.
Bridges defined three stages involved in making a successful transition: an ending, a neutral zone, and finally, a new beginning.
The task of endings is to clarify and express our feelings as we grieve our loss. Mental and emotional energy is focused on healing. We may be required to make necessary decisions for the moment while at the same time struggling to come to terms with our loss and saying goodbye to what we had.
During the next stage, the neutral zone, we do work that will lead to a more successful new beginning. It is a time for reflection and evaluation, spending time alone with ourselves and God.
- Who was I before?
- Who am I today?
- Who do I want to become?
This can be a very unsettling time as we face the question of what we want to do with the rest of our life.
As we enter the neutral zone, we leave our old identity behind. It is a time to challenge old assumptions and outgrown expectations. As we stop and examine our beliefs, our journey becomes a spiritual one as well as a psychological one. We become aware of our strengths and weaknesses as never before. In the neutral zone we are able to develop new insight and perspective.
During this period of uncertainty, everything may seem unproductive because we feel we are not going anywhere. While it may seem like we are wasting time to stop and reflect, it is an opportunity to gain a better understanding of who we are.
It becomes a bridge between the old and the new, helping us make more careful and measured plans for our future.
Throughout our lifetime, we will make many transitions from one stage of life to another. Someone has said it takes about 18 months to 4 years to complete a major life transition.
In today’s world of instant responses, we want answers immediately. But just like grieving, it is not a journey we can race through. There will be immediate decisions we will be required to make but we need to take time to do this transitional reflective work.
6 ways to use reflection during the transition time period
- Spend some quiet time recalling the dreams you had in the past. Is there anything you want to revisit? What obstacles need to be cleared away in order to construct a new path forward.
- Where are you in your grieving? Endings involve acceptance and letting go. It doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that takes time and goes up and down. But when grief no longer takes center stage, we can begin to focus on making a meaningful transition.
- Write yourself a letter. Dear (insert your own name). What obstacles are keeping you tied to the past or keeping you from doing what you want to do in the present? What past and unfinished business is keeping you locked in the past?
- If you are struggling with ongoing pain because of guilt, anger, or bitterness, take some time to just sit with it for a while. Don’t try to alter or change how you feel. Simply sit with your pain and tell it you are listening. Write down the valuable insights you receive.
- What valuable information are you learning about yourself? You are more than your past.
- In “How to Replace Critical Self-Talk with Affirmations,” you learned the value of repeating affirmations every day. As we continue to repeat statements that affirm our worth and ability, we are drawn to looking for the ways to make things happen.
Remember: Any journey has a beginning that began with an ending. It is an opportunity to not only reflect but develop new tools of living that will take you farther than you had imagined.