False Starts

It is important to distinguish between a real new beginning in someone’s life and a simple defensive reaction to an ending. Each may exert strain on a relationship, but the new beginning must be honored. The defensive reaction is simply a new way of perpetuating the old situation and needs to be considered as such.

Unfortunately, there is no psychological test you can take at such times. It is often difficult to be sure whether some path leads forward or back, and it may be necessary to follow it for a little way to be sure. But there are two signs that are worth looking for before you start. The first is the reaction of people who know you well: not whether they approve or disapprove, but whether they see what you propose to do as something new or simply a replay of an old pattern. The second indication comes from the transition process itself: Have you really moved through endings into the neutral zone and found there the beginning you now want to follow is this “beginning” a way of avoiding an ending or aborting the neutral zone experience?

William Bridges, Transitions

Real Beginnings

When we are ready to make a new beginning, we will shortly find an opportunity. The same event could be a real new beginning in one situation and an interesting but unproductive by-way in another. The difference is whether the event is “keyed” or “coded” to that transition point, the way that electronic key cards are set to open a particular hotel room door. When the card code matches, the door opens and the whole thing happens as if it were scripted. When it doesn’t match, the event is just an event and you are still in the neutral zone. The neutral zone simply hasn’t finished with you yet.

What isn’t finished is the inner realignment and renewal of energy, both of which depend on your being immersed in the chaos of the neutral zone. It is as though the thing that you call “my life” had to return occasionally to a state of pure energy before it could take anew shape and gain new momentum.

William Bridges, Transitions

building on sand

People who circle the wagons when questioned about their religious creed are usually afraid that what they profess might not be true.

Seldom (if ever?) will you run across 100% false belief system. There are scattered nuggets of truth in each one. That’s why there are people in every religious, political, and philosophical system who simply accept the group’s views at face value. They grew up in it, they gave in to social pressure and they joined. Or else they simply are unwilling to come to terms with the fact they have been walking on the wrong road. Admitting that you’ve invested yourself in something that’s been a waste of your time is not easy. Going back and starting over again is not very appealing. Ultimately, it’s a choice about whether to maintain a comfort level or pursue truth.

If you surround yourself only with things and people who reinforce your belief system, you don't have to worry about your worldview being knocked out from under you (although circumstances have a way of eventually doing this, anyway). The choice ultimately becomes denying reality--or reassessing cherished ideas on which we’ve built our lives.

Stephen Goforth

It's Over

What you knew, what you understood and what you trusted about everything is OVER. Because everything’s changed. It’s over. That’s the first truth.

The second truth.. is that it’s just beginning. If you choose to be remarkable. Why not choose to show up in your life and then your profession with a kind of engagement and energy and commitment and passion that says, “I can do it again! And I can’t wait.” Why wouldn’t you choose that?

If you say, “I don’t know” then look at your beliefs. Because chances are someone told you long ago that you couldn’t do it. You weren’t tall enough. You weren’t smart enough. You weren’t rich enough. You weren’t the right color.

Don’t pay a bit of attention to that. You are in process every day of becoming. Take your hand off the door knob and say, “Now.”

Roger Fransecky, The Apogee Group

Situational shifts and the Process

Change is a situational shift.

Getting a new boss is a change, and so is receiving a promotion or losing your job.

Moving to a different house is a change, and so it remodeling your house or losing it in a fire.

Having a new change is a change for everyone in the family—including the new baby, who was pretty well situated before all the change too place.

And, of course, losing a loved one is a change—a huge one

Transition, on the other hand, is the process of letting go of the way things used to be and then taking hold of the way they subsequently become. In between the letting go and the taking hold again, there is a chaotic but potentially creative “neutral zone” when things aren’t the old way, but aren’t really a new way yet either. This three-phase process—ending, neutral zone, beginning again—is transition.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition

Hiding from Ourselves

We avoid endings whenever possible, and we steer clear whenever we can of the neutral-zone emptiness Endings feel like failure to us, and at a deeper level. So we use the busyness and structure and status of work and family life to hide ending it from view. Believing in doing so that if we just keep adding and adding to what we have, we’ll end up with something new and will avoid the need to make any endings.

But it is not just endings that we fear. The aloneness and emptiness that are often felt in the neutral zone are just about as fearful for many modern people as endings are. Whenever we can’t see that anything is happening—and you usually can’t in the neutral zone—we doubt that anything can “really” be going on.

We fail to see that real new beginnings, the kind that revitalize and inaugurate a new order of things, come out of that chaotic neutral zone.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition

The in-between times

Unexpected solutions to difficult problems and creative ideas in general come out of a murky state where purpose and focus are temporarily suspended. Many of the decisions that change the direction of our lives are made during in-between times, after something has ended but before our lives have taken a definite new shape.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition

The one-sided Cycle

The ancient wisdom from Ecclesiastes that tells us that there is a time for living and dying. East and West have traditionally taken opposite positions in relation to this cycle. Eastern religions have traditionally embraced the letting-go that characterizes the ending aspect of the cycle. Western thought, on the other hand, has tried to get the most out of the other aspect of the cycle—the identifications, the embodiments, the actualizations that are associated with the transition phase of beginning again in a new cycle. This approach makes an ending into a breakdown and even a failure. To be fair, the East has its own one-sidedness too. It identifies with letting go and ending, and all the things that are produced by beginnings are dismissed as illusion. The letting go is no longer a dynamic process but a state of detachment.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition

How you thought your life would turn out

You are constantly letting go of who you thought you were and how you thought life would be. You find yourself constantly in the neural zone, unable to recover your old life but equally unable to embrace your new one comfortably. To the extent that you can let go of who you used to be and honor the experience of being in-between lives, you discover a rich and wonderful way of living. There is no beginning that doesn’t require an ending, and no ending that doesn’t make possible a new beginning.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition