I am compelled to write this blog for two reasons: (1) it’s been a while since I posted one and (2) I am inspired by a non-inspiring message from just today. The backstory: my eldest is off to university. In an effort to support her, my son (15) and husband (>15) and I (ditto) sat through - no, endured - an uninspiring presentation from the university’s head of career and personal counselling services. The focus, although unclear, seemed to angle towards parents supporting a successful first year for students. The information left us with a laundry list of how bad transitioning into postsecondary was going to be and feel. Aside from the urge to put my coaching business card in his hand and say, “I specialize in speakers like you; call me”, I want to rebut his entire approach to life’s transitions.
Transitions are not about fear, imminent failure, certainty that everything has changed which puts us on an imminent path to destruction. No way! Why would we even want to believe that? It is, instead, an emotional and juicy new experience not unlike the first time we did anything. Skiing our first black diamond or taking our newborn home or reading for that title role or applying for that promotion. These are gut wrenching and wondrous experiences that earmarked the greatness of what was yet to become. So, let’s reframe the lessons of transitions, shall we?
First, know what it is. It’s not an end or a beginning but an overlap. It’s a process that takes time, invitation, a change in pace, explicit attention to what will change and what will not. Then, realize it’s normal to resist. Resistance is a signal. Every flower experiences resistance just before bursting into colourful display. Next, accept. The experience is coming; soon enough you will be in it, so go with it in whatever way makes the most sense to you. Finally, give yourself permission. There is no rule book; how you choose to progress through your transition is perfect. Throughout it all, acknowledge your experience, teach yourself about it and prepare for other transitions. You’ve been here before. You’ve “grown up” in other ways. Your “what next” has loomed and you managed to survive fine. As a footnote, remind yourself, you’re not done yet. It’s important to get good at surfing transitions. Children will move on; you will move on. Gravity will pull, time will march, water will swirl and calm, rise and drop and it’s up to you to choose to lean into it and move with it for the rest of your life.
When the process begins for you, lean in. Honour the thrill of the ups and pulls of the downs and focus instead on surfing the experience. Focus on the process. Think back to a time when you went through other transitions in life. What worked? What can you carry forward from that experience to this one that will support you moving through your own resistance, the uneasiness of change and all that needs to be done throughout? Take time every week to slow a little, review what you are learning about yourself, others, your relationships, your contribution to the world both behind and ahead of you. Write it down. Repeat. Whenever possible, share this with a great listener. Find wisdom of your own in that sharing and congratulate yourself for each new realization.
Any transition is an opportunity to prepare for (as best we can), to embrace, to fall down with, to pull ourselves up upon once more, to wobble around on and feel giddy as we think to ourselves, “hey, I might be getting the hang of this thing”. Transitions are rich spaces between old complacency and future possibility. Transitions feel odd and uncomfortable because these feelings signal significance. We are highlighting those moments when “what was’ gives way and we reveal the colourful, amazing capacity we have for what will be next. As for me, I had my cry with my daughter leaving. That’s part of my process. We forgot things on the to-do list. That’s fine. We talked explicitly about her support network (and mine). She’s been in university one whole day and has two new friends already. She will be fine. I have my box of tissue and someone else will take the wheel when I need it. I will be fine. And I trust that the future possibility for us both is both academic and relational. She and I are about to mint a brand new relationship: one in which I am more her peer and less her parent. Little by little, we are redefining for an amazing future together.
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Kelly Johnson, PCC Executive Coach