The Way of Transition

The seasons are changing. I can see it outside my window. There are little buds on the Japanese maple. Tulip tips are pushing up through the ground. There’s a light, warm quality to the breeze – it’s bringing spring.

I love spring. Since I can remember, spring has meant happiness. Sure, it’s my birthday in a few weeks and the kid in me loves that. But the soon-to-be 47 year old grown-up in me has a different reason for joy.

I give a class on Managing Transition. Did you know that each transition begins with an ending? Odd, but so. We end a job, or a relationship, or an old way of being. Then we enter what writer William Bridges calls The Neutral Zone. I like to think of it as the Gray Period.

In my class, I liken the Gray Period to winter. Trees look dead. Grass looks dead. It’s cold. People hunker down. There’s a certain bleak stillness to winter. But inside those lifeless looking trees and plants, plenty is going on. Within each dormant tree are the tiny little beginnings of buds waiting to burst forth.

And so it is, too, with people in transition. They endure an ending which may bring grief, change, uncertainty, immobilization. Then they hunker down in a bleak stillness, seemingly doing nothing… but inside, if they could peek, so much is growing, changing and shifting. Inside, there’s a new beginning.

The new beginning is as inevitable as Spring. A renewal. A new start. A new optimism.

When people in transition tell me there’s no hope, I usually challenge them. Saying there’s no hope is like telling me there’s no Spring! Honey, just as sure as having a birthday, there’s always a Spring.

Certainly, March can come in like a lion or a lamb – it’s an unpredictable month. And transition is equally unpredictable. One can never know the look and shape of a new beginning, nor can we know how it will impact our lives. And perhaps that’s what people who voice “no hope” are trying to address. It’s not that there’s no hope – it’s just that there’s no control.

Control is such an overrated thing. I have a book on my desk (which I’ve not yet read), called A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman which posits that disorder can spark creativity. On the book jacket (which I have read), it says, “Though it flies in the face of almost universally accepted wisdom, moderately disorganized people, institutions, and systems frequently turn out to be more efficient, more resilient, more creative, and in general more effective than highly organized ones…”

In my work I’ve found that those who approach the Gray Period with a certain level of uncertainty, disorder and, most importantly, openness, have a better opportunity to find a novel or creative approach which often sparks their new beginning.

On an episode of The Simpsons, Homer was, once again, out of a job. His daughter Lisa was going through the want ads, looking for a job for her dad. “Dad, here’s one,” she said. “Wanted: a technical supervisor.” “Oh, Lisa,” Homer whined. “I could never do that job. I’m not a technical supervisor, I’m a supervising technician!”

The Gray Period is a time for seeing connections – to see how a technical supervisor can become a supervising technician. How an at-home mom can become a business owner. How a lawyer can become a non-profit executive. How an engineer can become a clergywoman. How a suddenly motherless woman can learn to nurture herself. How down-sizing, or divorce, or even death, can be the best thing that ever happened to you.

And that’s where I find joy. I utterly embrace transition in all its messy splendor. I welcome it for the hope it engenders in me. Because I know that for every ending, there is a new beginning. Every. Single. Time. It may not feel possible in the middle of your own personal Gray Period, but, believe me, Spring is there — just waiting to burst forth.

How will you know when your Gray Period has ended? My friend, when you feel the warm breeze blowing across your face, and see the trees bud, and tulip tops poking up, you will know. You have a new start. You have Spring. Even if your new beginning comes in a month other than March.

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