Lately, I find myself staring out over the ocean a lot more frequently than I have in the past few years. Pepperdine’s Malibu, California campus is planted squarely between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean with panoramic views of both. It is objectively one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation, and tourists frequently wander its many terraces with cameras trying to capture the view.
Amazingly, however, students and faculty get used to it. I certainly have, which is why I’ve been somewhat puzzled by the effects of my sentimentality as I prepare to graduate. Why do I feel compelled to absorb as much of the ocean breeze as possible? Come to think of it, what am I actually feeling? There is something about impending change that makes us both happy and sad at the same time – a complex mélange that is often confusing. When the ‘winds of change’ start to blow, that confusion can cause problems. If you haven’t experienced it yourself, then you know others who have! Heartache. Frustration. Resentment. Listlessness. All kinds of difficulties can accompany change! Nonetheless, there’s a key to embracing change and making the most of it, and it involves understanding a simple truth: It’s NOT the change, it’s the transition!
“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”
– Arnold Bennett, English Novelist
More specifically, we need to redefine our thinking: ‘Change’ is situational, but ‘transition’ is psychological. Change happens in an instant, but its effects are experienced over time. Thus, if we learn to think in terms of transition instead of change, it’s much easier to appreciate the process.
There are at least three lessons to be learned about the transition process:
- Transition always begins with ending – Miss this and you’ll begin on the wrong foot. It’s automatic. You won’t understand what’s going on within you, because this is where the grief fits in – the need to recognize and appreciate the impending losses in all their forms. Some are tangible (e.g., surroundings, habits, friendships) and others intangible (e.g., identity, camaraderie, comfort level). At present I am wrestling with the impending loss of my identity as a Pepperdine Law student, and the familiar faces and friendships, and gratifying learning environment that has come with it. I’m excited to graduate, but it’s difficult to sense these daily realities slipping from my grasp. When dealing with transition, losses are inevitable. It’s necessary to allow yourself to acknowledge the pang of their passing in order to move forward. Grief itself is a complex process, and you must account for it in the process of transition.
- Transition is always a process – Miss this and you’ll think something is wrong. You won’t understand why things aren’t happening more quickly, you still feel unsettled, or you’re struggling to understand your role. Consequently, you might bail in the midst of the process, thus initiating another transition and exacerbating the already complicated reaction happening in and around you. Worse, you might ‘change’ again and again, stringing these transitions together and never understanding why things don’t seem to work out! Have you ever met someone who just can’t seem to sit still – whose life is characterized by inconsistency or a seeming lack of commitment? Sometimes people get virtually ‘stuck’ in transition! This is an unpleasant place to be, but if you recognize that transition is a process from the very beginning, you’ll find it easier to have the patience to see it though to the end.
- Transition always ends with beginning – Miss this and you’ll leave yourself hanging. Some people overlook the new beginnings and continue to live in the past as a result. We’ve all met people who seem determined to relive their high school glory days via summer softball leagues. There’s nothing wrong with softball – but it’s very important to guard against believing that your best days are behind you! As the possibilities on the horizon slowly come into view, they include new vision, identity, energy, and sense of purpose. Here’s where the excitement fits in – the anticipation of what’s to come. New habits and friendships materialize to replace those you lost, and the intangibles coalesce as well. Understanding the transition process prepares you to embrace these new beginnings, apply the lessons of the past, and make sure your best days are yet to come.
Interestingly, these principles apply as much to organizations as individuals. As a result, understanding the dynamic they foster can position you to lend insight in both your personal and professional lives. Next time you’re facing an impending ‘change,’ choose to think in terms of ‘transition’ instead. Watch the transition process in action, appreciate these lessons for yourself, and then you’ll be well-positioned to help others cope more healthfully with changes in their lives, as well.
Leave a Comment: Have you ever felt ‘stuck’ in transition? How did you endure the process? What other lessons did you learn about ‘change?’