The Tyranny of Transitions

There’s nothing harder in life than transitions. For most of us, being in-between is just plain uncomfortable

Sage Cohen

All major life changes have challenges for us. This past weekend, I was out walking and met a young man trying to coax a very tired and very old dog to keep moving. His dog was refusing to go any further so I stopped to talk with him. As we began chatting, I learned that this young man was experiencing what he called the tyranny of transition. He volunteered that he had just completed a university degree, his summer employment had ended, and that there were no immediate employment prospects on the horizon. He said that he now felt like he was adrift and we then shifted our conversation to talking about the emotional experience of life transitions.

One of the initial surprises I had in retirement was the sensation of being emotionally off balance. Although this is a typical response to many types of life change, it seemed particularly unsettling as it was unexpected and I thought I had done a sufficient amount of pre-planning prior to leaving full time work. By the time your career has reached a three decade milestone, you have achieved a degree of mastery over many tasks and skills so beginning anew in this next stage of life can create some cognitive dissonance.

To complicate matters, many people in your life may assume that this is a wonderful time for you so to express the emotional manifestation of loss and uncertainty seems somewhat taboo. After all, how do you share with someone who is taxed and stressed by the many demands of a full time work life, that you may be struggling as well. Needing to develop a sense of equilibrium along with the dawning recognition that you are starting all over again, can seem daunting.

Beginnings can be difficult in and of themselves, but there is also the emotional work of acknowledging the ending of this chapter in your life. Saying goodbye to wherever you retired from is not a one shot deal that culminates with a final celebration. There are a number of things that we must let go of which may include relationships with former colleagues; the identity and roles you may have held, and learning that the manner in which you may have viewed the world may shift. To move forward, there is a need to recognize and let go of what you are leaving behind.

Being able to acknowledge and have some type of plan for any transitional period can be helpful. I learned that creating a routine, structure for my days as well as writing about my experience was helpful to integrate this new and at times, unsettling way forward. Developing a network of supportive connections and learning as much as I could about the psychology of transitions became anchors that helped me feel grounded during this time. I am interested in learning what others have found helpful during any type of life change or transition. Please leave a comment below about what may have worked for you?