Transitional Thinking

“Each of us carries around an unspoken set of assumptions that dictate how we expect our lives will unfold. These expectations come from all corners and influence us more than we admit. We’ve been led to believe that our lives will always ascend, for example, and are shocked to discover they oscillate instead.” – Bruce Feiler

I found myself in a wonderful conversation with a long-time friend and icon in the change management world. His ideas, and the way he explains them, always leave those lucky enough to receive them… better for it. He shared the narrative he’s delivering about change, starting with the principle that “change is hard.”

Something in me shifted. I resisted the whole idea of it. Our world desperately needs a new narrative. If we keep believing change is hard, we avoid it. For me “hard” is synonymous with “avoid”.

Rather, I proposed to him “change is expected.” That way, when it arrives, we say, “Oh, there you are again. What have you for me this time?”

Bruce Feiler has written a beautiful, well-researched book about embracing change as an expected companion rather than an inconvenience in his book Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at any Age.

I highly encourage everyone to read this book.

Because transitions are inevitable. And, rather than thinking of them as ‘hard’, when we welcome them as ‘expected’, we’ll change our experience of them to something celebrated. An event that will grow us and gift us.

That’s the short story.

The long(er) story is below.

[You can either stop reading here or come along for the key points from my notes on Feiler’s exquisite (IMHO) work. This is a riff on Feiler’s words straight out of my Kindle notes. All wisdom within is fully attributed to him.]

In a multi-year study of stories, Feiler discovered that “the idea that we’ll have one job, one relationship, one source of happiness is hopelessly outdated. We all feel unnerved by this upheaval. We’re concerned that our lives are not what we expected, that we’ve veered off course, living life out of order. But we’re not alone.”

Feiler discovered that life’s actual pattern is nonlinear. His research showed we’ll each face a huge quantity of disruptors (in fact, we go through a disruptor every 12-18 months, but we tend to really pay attention when a lifequake occurs, which Feiler describes as a massive change that leads to a life transition.) A disruptor is defined as “an event or experience that interrupts the everyday flow of one’s life.” A lifequake, on the other hand, “is a forceful burst of change in one’s life that leads to a period of upheaval, transition, and renewal.”

His research revealed how we make meaning of our lives and the events around us, which he labeled the ABCs of meaning.

  • A is agency-autonomy, freedom, creativity, mastery; the belief that you can impact the world around you.
  • B is belonging-relationships, community, friends, family; the people that surround and nurture you.
  • C is cause-a calling, a mission, a direction, a purpose; a transcendent commitment beyond yourself that makes your life worthwhile.

Feiler writes, “…transitions clearly involve challenging periods of bewilderment and turmoil, but they also involve vibrant periods of exploration and reconnection.”

[YES!]

During transitions people tend to do two things (not always in this order):

  • “Shed things: mind-sets, routines, ways of being, delusions, dreams. [Note from Amy: I laughed at this part. Upon hearing recent news of a corporate restructure that impacted my role, I cleaned my closet. I was possessed with shedding things that represented who I was…not who I was going to become.]
  • Create things: new attitudes, aptitudes, skills, talents, means of expression.”

And, there’s really great news about massive, lifequake transitions that shake our stories about who we are.

“For decades researchers have found that people who experience identity crises-and manage to resolve them-are superior to others in achievement, intimacy, and adaptability.”

Feiler’s full tool kit for transition:

  • Accepting the situation
  • Marking the change
  • Shedding old ways
  • Creating new outlets
  • Sharing your transformation
  • Unveiling your new self
  • Telling your story

Rather than resisting transitions, we can choose to shift our perspective. Feiler quotes Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, “We regard discomfort in any form as bad news.” But feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, and despair, instead of being bad news, she writes, “show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck.”

[And Feiler finishes with a grand finale wisdom mic drop.]

“Everybody has a story, and not always the story the listener or teller expects to hear. The sharing is what brings out the surprise. Stories inspire us. They give us purpose, focus, and cause. They make us more human, and more humane. And yet, for whatever reason, we’ve pulled back from this oldest of pastimes. It’s easy to think we live in a moment when TELL YOUR STORY is flashing in bright-colored lights all around us.”

[Final note from Amy: So whether in a transition or not… go TELL YOUR STORY. Be a meaning maker. Narrate your perspective on the events in your life.

And, if you ever need someone to listen, please let me know. Listening is what I’ve been made to do in this lifetime. It’d be a true gift.]

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