How long will it be before we return to the normal times of steady expansion, stable growth, relaxed socialization, and put this crazy turbulence and uncertainty behind us? How about “never”? I raise that disturbing possibility because the “normality” that we long for was in fact not at all normal, but was instead the product of unusual social, economic, and political conditions that are in the process of disintegrating. That means that the confusion and uncertainty that we are facing are not an unfortunate-but-temporary situation, but that they stretch ahead of us as far as we can see.
With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic the world as we have known it ended. The change happened suddenly. Our world ended abruptly and entirely within a few weeks. The pandemic and economic and social crises plunged us unwillingly into Transition. The ending was vivid and instantaneous, with lives disrupted in dramatic and frightening ways. We did not have the opportunity to weigh in, provide feedback, offer suggestions or make plans. We are now in chaos.
People worldwide, particularly in the U.S., are increasingly becoming sick and dying during this pandemic. Millions of Americans are unemployed, one of the highest rates in modern history. The economy is unstable, with confusion about when or if businesses will re-open. Many have lost the security of their savings; unemployment benefits keep changing. Social unrest, protests and upheaval have escalated. What is happening?
Well, this is called “reality.” The idea that the world could be anything but turbulent and uncertain was always a dream, though it was one that many people seriously believed in and tried to realize in their lives. And we began to realize that we had been living in a dream-world, a historically unusual period which we mistook for the way the world was going to be. We now discover that we need to let go of our fantasy
It’s hard to accept. But things will not return to “just the way they were.” We will never be able to go back to or replicate what we perceived as normal. We are living in uncertainty, not knowing how the future will unfold.
To cope with the dramatic changes, we must first understand and internalize the process of Transition. Transition is the internal psychological process that people go through as they come to terms with the new situation that change brings about. Even the very things we try to hold on to exist because of change. It is the inner process through which people adjust to change, as they let go of how things used to be and reorient themselves to the way that things are now.
Transition has three phases—an ending, a neutral zone, and a new beginning.
Transition starts with an ending. This is paradoxical but true. This first phase of Transition begins as people identify what they are losing and learn how to manage these losses. They determine what is over and being left behind, and then what they will keep. In the ending, you lose or let go of your old outlook, reality, attitudes, your old values, self-image. You relinquish hopes, fears, dreams and beliefs that you have held close. You may resist this ending for a while. The refusal to change will not guarantee that whatever we care about stays the same.
“Transition does not require that you reject or deny the importance of your old life, just that you let go of it.”
The second step of Transition comes after letting go: the neutral zone. The neutral zone is the interim between our past reality before we know what happens next. It is a confusing state of uncertainty when we feel as though our lives have come apart. People get mixed signals and lack of clarity. What will re-open, and when? Will children return to school? Will we continue to work from home? It is hard to make plans because nothing feels solid, and everything appears to be in a state of flux and chaos.
However, the beauty of this phase allows us to pause and consider new possibilities. It is an opportunity to realign thinking and feelings, re-assess values. It is at the very core of the transition process. People become resourceful in inventing temporary guidelines for themselves, their families, and work. It can also be a time when people explore new possibilities. The neutral zone, this interim time, can be very creative and is the seedbed for new beginnings.
The next phase is “new beginnings” and involves new understandings, values, and attitudes. Beginnings are marked by a release of energy in a new direction – they are an expression of a fresh identity. Well-managed transitions allow people to establish new ways of living with an understanding of their purpose and how they will contribute and participate. As a result, they feel reoriented and renewed. People embrace and identify with a new outlook and reality, as well as new attitudes and self-image. A new chapter in their lives is opening. They develop a new sense of self, a new outlook, and a new sense of purpose and possibility.
The path of Transition may not be a path that you wanted to take or that you will necessarily find enjoyable. But it is a path with meaning and following it will bring you to a new place. If change were a wall, Transition represents a gate in that wall and offers a path forward to the next phase of your life.
Here is a paradox: No matter how solid and comfortable and necessary the status quo felt, it was once new, untried, and uncomfortable. Change is not only the path ahead, but it is also the path behind you, the one along which you traveled to wherever you will next stay. And you understand now that you have the insights and resilience to readjust to a world that will never be certain, settled or “normal.”
Every day brings reminders that the essence of life lies in Transition, where hope, creativity, insight, and possibility reside. Transition is at the heart of renewal and transformation. Renewal occurs whenever you relinquish something significant and follow life’s invitation towards new energy and a fresh purpose. It is the transformation and not the change itself where both the problem and the solution are to be found.
“Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson