“The only thing that is constant is change.” -Heraclitus, 500 B.C.E
Life is Full of Changes and Transitions
Have you ever heard the saying, “The only thing that is constant thing is change”? It was said first by Heraclitus, about 2500 years ago- yet it still rings true today. Whether you’re relocating to a new city, finding or ending a relationship, or navigating a promotion or other job change, life is challenging you to adjust gracefully to something new. This blog outlines some of the common components of many phases of life’s transitions in work, dating, and life in general– with tips on how to make the most of each phase.
Transition Phase 1: Pre-Change
Some changes take us completely by surprise, but oftentimes there are clear or subtle signals that change is afoot. The more we can increase our awareness of the coming change and how we feel about it, the better we can prepare. For example, if you are relocating to a new city and you’re nervous about finding a new circle of friends, the worst thing you can do is to try and pretend to yourself that you’re not worried about it. By acknowledging your concern, you empower yourself to take proactive steps like searching online to find a local art class (or tennis, or cooking, or whatever hobby you may have), alumni organization, or some other group where you can start building social connections. This applies to changes that are less defined as well: For example, if you have a feeling that your job situation might be in jeopardy due to pending layoffs or mergers, it’s best if you face that fear by proactively spending some time brushing up your resume, attend a few networking events, and possibly even requesting a frank discussion with your manager about where the company seems to be headed or regards your future within the organization. By remaining proactive and planful during the pre-change stage, we manage anxiety in a productive manner that promotes success rather than fear or stagnation.
Transition Phase 2: Active Change
The change has arrived! To continue with the examples above, let’s say your relocation move date has arrived. It’s natural to feel a little nervous or overwhelmed, and it’s good to make emotional space for these feelings. Instead of trying to fight them, recognize that they often signal a healthy awareness that this change is important, and will require some extra attention and focus for the next few months. Even positive changes are often accompanied by a sense of sadness, because you’re mourning what’s left behind– so give yourself permission to process those feelings. This will empower you to take logical and supportive steps to manage those feelings, such as making “Skype dates” to catch up with friends or family from the city you left behind; or to go gently on yourself at that new tennis class you signed up for during Transition Phase 1 above.
If the change feels more sudden, such as the example above of feeling like your job might be in jeopardy and then somewhat suddenly having the change materialize when you’re called into the HR department, do yourself a favor by recognizing that the element of surprise can make any change feel more overwhelming at first. Just keeping this in mind can help put things into perspective. Basic things like remembering to breathe deeply and give yourself time to process the arrival of the change before taking too much action can really shape the way the change unfolds. For example, if your job is telling you about the layoff or merger and you’re taken completely by surprise, it’s often advisable to give yourself at least a few days to read and process any separation agreements, and then take a week to brainstorm ideas for next steps in your career. Calling in support is a great way to manage nearly all forms of change, especially sudden change- in this example, that could mean meeting with trusted friends or family members, a therapist, career mentors or even old professors with whom you have a good relationship, or your alumni organization’s career center (even if you’re far from your alumni city, many of them will make a phone or video appointment for alumni requesting career consultations). The key in either sudden or planned change is to make sure you give yourself time and space to process the emotions that arise, and then take logical steps to get appropriate guidance, support, or input.
Transition Phase 3: Post Change
Once the first 2-3 weeks have passed, the “new normal” has begun to take shape. Habits are generally made around 28 days, so take this time to make sure you’re embarking on this new chapter in a way that feels healthy. Since you don’t have a crystal ball and probably couldn’t plan for every component of this change, you’re probably now aware of a few areas that need some attention. To continue with the relocation example above, you might find that although your new job and those tennis lessons are going well, and you’re enjoying Skype dates to reconnect with friends and family from your prior location, you just hadn’t fully anticipated the impact of living in a new culture (even just moving from one US city to another can have striking implications- Virginia vs New York City are very different places, much less moving to another country!), or you hadn’t completely realized how darn expensive your new city would be. Just like in Transition Phase 1, increasing your awareness of these issues rather than trying to “white knuckle” your way through them is the healthiest thing you can do. By recognizing the gaps, you empower yourself to find logical, personalized ways to fill them in through strategizing and self-care. So if you find yourself wrestling with unanticipated challenges, congratulate yourself on that awareness– and then think proactively about how you can mitigate the challenge.
Reaching Out for Support
If you feel stuck in any of the phases above, consider a therapist to help guide you along. Whether it’s a romantic breakup, new responsibilities of a job promotion or the decision to create change by applying for graduate school, or the examples above of relocation or job loss, there’s always an upside to being proactive and planful about how you want to shape the way this change affects you. Oftentimes, just having a creative and logical ally in the change process helps you to feel less alone, more supported, and even potentially excited about what the next chapter may bring.