Change is Easy; The Transition is Difficult

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Over the last week, I have two colleagues that decided to make a major leap in their career to soar.  When I spoke to both of them, they expressed similar feelings.  Excitement, exhilaration, sadness for what they are leaving behind, and energy for the unknown in front of them.  As a coach, I have worked with many through change and transition and it’s critical to understand that transition is a process with lots of different emotions.

According to William Bridges, change is situational: the move to a new job, a reorganization, a child going off to college.  Transition, on the other hand, is psychological.  It’s a process that you go through as you internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation the change brings out.  It’s a process where you unplug from the old world and plug into the new world.  It’s fair to say that transition starts with and ending and finishes with a beginning.  To help get through transitions, it’s critical to understand that it’s a process, and you need to get through all three phases at your pace, on your terms.  The following are the phases:

  • Endings—you need to let go of the past first before they can embrace the new.
  • Neutral Zone—you begin to explore some amount of comfort with the new change.
  • Beginnings—you begin to embrace the new change.

All of us go through these stages, BUT some of us may move through them quickly while others very slowly. And some people will not make the transition at all.

The starting point is not the outcome but the ending that you will have to make.  Letting go of the old reality. You may be leaving behind peers, relationships, the comfort of knowing what you were doing in your job.  Work will never be the same.  Many experience a sense of sadness. It’s not that you are not excited about what is ahead.  But you are sad for what you are leaving behind.  The failure to identify and get ready for endings is the largest difficulty for people in transition.   As a way to help yourself through the endings, try some of the following.

  • Mark the ending.  Create actions that dramatize the ending.  One colleague removed all of the items in her office from her old job.  This is a great example of marking the endings.
  • Treat the past with respect and honor the value it gave to you.
  • Express your sense of loss and own it!
  • Understand that it’s normal to go through some amount of sadness.

The next phase is the neutral zone.  You are not quite comfortable with the new job or the new career, sad about what you left behind, but there is no way to turn back at this point.  It’s the no-man’s-land between the old reality and the new one.  It’s the time when the old way of doing things is gone, but the new way does not quite feel comfortable yet.  You may start to question your decision.  You may abandon the situation.  It’s critical that you understand and expect the neutral zone and know that it will come to an end.  To be Zen about it…it’s the night during which we are disengaged from yesterday’s concerns and are preparing for tomorrow’s.

The good news is the last phase is the new beginning.  It’s during this phase when the fun begins.  You feel excited, refreshed, respectful of the past, humbled by passing through the neutral zone, and ready to stand in your power.


#change management