It is that time of year when graduates will experience one of the many change points of their lifetime. These transitions happen as we move from one stage of life to another. Navigating life transitions successfully is essential to achieve both contentment and full life potential. Will we just survive or will we thrive through these times of transitions?
Life is full of transition points. There are the normal stages of human growth and development. Each stage has its own characteristics, physical and emotional changes as well as good and not so good aspects. There are the cultural events of life. We start school, get a driver’s license, graduate high school, go to college, the military or into the workforce. We discover and launch a career, perhaps get married, have children, become empty nesters, etc. There are the transitions through the loss events of life. As we age we begin to experience the death of loved ones. We lose extended family members, parents and eventually we are the next in line. These losses may come in various orders, but we become aware of our own mortality and the brevity of life. We lose our youth, perhaps health, a job, career or a marriage. There are many other types of losses from moving to another town, financial reversals and broken relationships.
All losses aren’t necessarily bad. Some we choose and are the result of good things that happen in our life. Things like a job promotion or marriage. What all transitions have in common is change. Change usually involves some type of loss.
Why transitions are hard
Transitions are usually the most difficult times in our life for several reasons. Besides the losses, change makes us feel out of control concerning our life. This is because we are moving from an “old normal” to a “new normal.” The “old normal” is comfortable; we know what to expect. A large part of our identity is in it. The “new normal” is unknown and contains a lot of questions. The unknown is always more fearful. The transitions remind us of the temporary nature of all things along with the brevity and uncertainty of life. Since a large part of our identity is found in our “old normal,” this change can create an identity crisis for us — who am I now?
The tendency for many when faced with the unknown or unpleasant realities is to avoid or deny the reality. Reality is reality and it will not go away. As was said transitions involve loss and all losses must be grieved. Besides properly grieving, there are some other steps to take to thrive in this process.
How to thrive in transitions
Here are a few thoughts to help with not just surviving a transition but thriving through it.
Number one is to accept the new reality. People, life stages and events all have a shelf life. Nothing stays the same. In the context of time nothing lasts forever; every good time or experience will end. Our expectations cannot exist outside the frame of this reality. To hope or expect otherwise is to set yourself up for disappointment, depression or anger.
Anticipation is part of the fun of planning and looking forward to a positive event. What often follows the change of completing the event is post event blues. Think Christmas, vacation or any other event you want to plug in there. Every good stage or time ends, so what can you do? Accept this reality and plan for the next stage or event. Look for the good in it. It is coming so you might as well make the best of it.
The second thing to do is enjoy the present moment. Don’t focus on the negatives of when this stage ends. Live in the now for it is all we have. Don’t allow fear of the future to destroy your joy in what God has given you now.
There isn’t anything wrong in planning for the future. It can show prudence, wisdom and the acceptance of certain life realities. The balance is we do our part and trust God to do His. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle but victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21.31). Enjoy your present stage to the fullest now.
Finally, the last thing to do is think deeper. C.S. Lewis said, “We are so far too easily pleased.” What he was saying is we are settling for far less than what God would like to give and do for us. We are content to be a shallow, superficial and materialistic people. Is it any wonder we are an unhappy people. Think about the true meaning of life beyond the superficial happiness and pleasures that are marketed to us. Ask bigger and deeper questions that force us to quiet our soul, be curious and think. Seek to look at life from a larger context.
As Christians we are to see life from an eternal perspective not just a temporal one. We are to see our life in the context of God’s redemptive story. Could it be God’s purpose is to make us holy rather than happy; give us purpose rather than power; or have our life be a legacy instead of a loss?