Your life is a story full of transitions. Some of them are big, some of them are small, but most of them can not be avoided. It’s normal to wish that they wouldn’t happen, but can you imagine a life without transitions? That would be pretty boring. In this article, I’ll share the best strategies to deal with transitions. If you can’t avoid them, why not deal with them in a proactive way?
Do you remember how you felt when you were 24 years old?
I do, I felt fantastic! I had it all: the boyfriend, the house, the cat, the job. But a couple of weeks after my 24st birthday it started crumbling down. The boyfriend and I broke up, the house was for sale and I left the cat. While staying at a friend’s house, my boss called that he made a financial mistake and couldn’t extend my contract. Within a couple of weeks, I was homeless and jobless.. What now?
I’ve lost everything except my car, so I drove to Paris and started all over. Well, not that easy 😉
Then this advertising popped up on my Facebook. A family with 3 kids looking for an au-pair for 3 months in Paris. I felt that this was the right thing for me to do. I packed everything I owned in my car and drove to France. The 3 months became one year, France became China, then Spain, and then Costa Rica. My soulmate came along the way, joined me around the world for 1,5 years, then a couple of years in Indonesia, Nepal, and also Bulgaria passed by. Now from Mexico, I’m looking back and realize that this challenging time at 24 years old was actually the beginning of a whole new life. A life full of opportunities, personal growth, discoveries, experiences, and a great bunch of new friends.
What are life transitions?
Transitions are a period in which you change from one version of yourself into another. These transitions can be planned (such as getting married, buying a house, moving abroad, becoming an entrepreneur) or unplanned (such as a divorce, death or loss, health issues or a pandemic). Many transitions are being experienced as a disruptive storm. They can be very challenging due to the big amount of changes that are involved, the feelings of loss of control over the situation, and the increased levels of stress.
How to handle transitions?
For 5+ years I’m juggling my nomadic lifestyle with fertility treatments and it is one of my most challenging experiences. Dealing with pain, fear, hope, anger, confusion, heartache, frustration, crying, grief, disappointment, misunderstanding, anxiety, envy, sadness, and isolation all at once, while living abroad.
They’ve told me that the best strategy for dealing with a major life transition is to ACCEPT. But how do you do that if the transition you are going through is not your choice?
If the transition you are going through is unplanned, you might first go through some (or all) stages of grief, such as denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, before being able to ACCEPT.
Accepting your transition is easier said than done. For this reason, I’ve created a simple structure involving 6 steps, which are based on the acronym ACCEPT. I had to learn these steps the hard way.
Step 1: Acknowledge
The first step in ACCEPT is acknowledging. Let me explain this by sharing a short fable about a farmer and his son. They were living in a small village in the mountains and had a horse. One morning, the farmer woke up and realized that his horse was gone. The villagers came to him and said: ‘Oh, that must be so hard. The only horse you had is now gone!’ To which the farmer replied: ‘Good thing, bad thing, who knows?’.
A couple of days later the horse returned with 5 wild horses and the villagers came to the farmer and said: ‘You’re so lucky, now you don’t have only 1 horse, but you have 6!’ To which the farmer replied: ‘Good thing, bad thing, who knows?’.
A week later the son of the farmer fell from the horse. The villagers said: ‘We are so sorry to hear that your only son broke his leg, now you have to do all the work all by yourself!’ To which the farmer replied: ‘Good thing, bad thing, who knows?’.
A couple of days later the army came to the village to recruit all the young boys, except for the son of the farmer, due to his injury. The villagers said in tears: ‘You are so lucky, you can keep your son, while all of our sons have to join the army.’ To which the farmer replied: ‘Good thing, bad thing, who knows?’.
The story teaches us that the transition you are in is neither good nor bad, but it just is. I wanted to be heard, acknowledged by others, but inside was fighting the situation I ended up in. I felt I was lied to in school about how easy it is to get pregnant, and kept comparing my situation to all women who did succeed. Acknowledging that all endings are also beginnings (which we just don’t know in the moment) is the first step of acceptance. The moment I acknowledged that this is the situation I’m in, this is what I need to deal with and that I’m doing the best I can with all that is in my control, I started to feel calmer. I found that acknowledging my situation felt way much easier than having to accept it. I was not ready for that (yet).
Step 2: Control
Once you’ve acknowledged the situation you are in, you start looking at the things inside of your control. To understand the importance of this step I want you to draw a circle on a piece of paper. This is your inner circle. Stephen Covey describes this as your ‘circle of control’. Control over your own actions, thoughts, words, mindset, work ethic, your choices.
Now draw a circle around this circle. This is your ‘circle of influence’. In this area are all the thoughts, opinions, choices, or other people. You can also find their reputation and their commitment in this middle circle.
Now draw another circle around this one. This is your ‘circle of concern’. The things you can find in this area are the weather, policies of the government, death, score of your favorite football team, traffic, etc.
Spending most of your time in this outer circle will make you feel helpless. You’re fighting things you can’t control, blaming others, and not taking responsibility for the situation. The best place to be is in your inner circle. Here you can be proactive, take responsibility, and stop being the victim of the situation. If you spend 80% of your time in this circle of influence you will get your control back over the situation.
When I moved from China to Spain I did not only change countries, but also my function. I switched from being a teacher to being a school director and with that many new challenges came on my path. There was a team of 10 teachers looking for my guidance and 100+ parents having high expectations for their children’s future. The first year I played a lot in the circle of concern. Why are the teachers not following the curriculum? Why is it raining during our weekend activity? Why are the test results not showing higher grades?
In the years that followed I learned to stay out of this ‘circle of concern’ and moved more and more into the ‘circle of control’ and the ‘circle of influence’. I made sure that I showed good work ethics, that my thought – words and actions were aligned and that there was trust that others would do the same. Letting go of things you can’t control and taking responsibility for the things you can control made all the difference for everybody’s experience.
Step 3: Continue your Routine
After I almost lost my husband in a double natural disaster, in which many people lost their lives, we found ourselves sitting on the couch feeling incredibly sad, confused, and lost. We were given a second chance but had no idea where to start. Do we still wanna live in Indonesia? Do we really do the job we love? Are we living enough and loving enough? Do we have enough quality time together and with people who are important to us?
Everything was suddenly uncertain and that made us feel very insecure. Transitions are very stressful, and we knew that to reduce stress, we had to have some kind of rhythm back in our life. Falling back to the routine you had before the transition is the best way to start. If you were going for a walk 3x a week, go do that again and maybe even more? If you were cooking every meal, go do that again, nourish your body. And if you were eating fast food every Friday evening, go do that again (improvement can be done once you move out of the transition).
Routines are such an essential part of our body and mind to reduce stress. Getting the simple things in life right can give you the power to deal with the more challenging things.
Step 4: Expectations
A very famous quote says that expectations are the root of all heartache. I personally think that it’s not the expectation, but the attachment to the expectation. Imagine holding a precious piece of art in your hand, if you let it go it falls. What if you turn your hand with your palm up. The precious piece of art is still there, it can’t fall. It just is, without any attachment to it.
Expect the best, but always be happy with what you get. And what would happen if you replace expectation with curiosity? What if you would be curious about what might happen? Have you ever been in a situation that when you looked back at it, that it turned out for the better?
I once had a client who got divorced and ended up with a huge debt. While she was working around the clock and figuring out strategies to get out of her debt, she lost her job. At that moment she felt devastated, but only a few days later somebody approach her with a dream job and the salary was almost doubled.
Honor the space between what’s no longer there anymore and what’s not there yet. That’s where the magic is happening. Remember that transitions can be overwhelming and highly affect your energy levels.
Step 5: Positivity
A positive mindset in the midst of transitions is crucial. Did you ever hear the story of the two dogs in front of a house full of mirrors? One dog went in and came out with his tail up in the sky, barking happily. ‘You should go in, there are so many dogs, they were all so happy to see me!’ His friend a grumpy dog was not really interested but didn’t want to be the game-breaker so entered the house. He came out running with his tail between his legs. ‘You fooled me! Those dogs are not friendly at all! They were aggressive and showing me their teeth.’
What you give you receive. Another important element of this story is that there are many possible interpretations of events. Having a positive mindset can truly change your perspective on the transition you are dealing with. Positivity can help you turn problems into possibilities. I’m not talking about positive thoughts, but about positive feelings. Thoughts are something in the future, while feelings are in the here and now.
A good question to ask yourself if you’re going through a challenging transition is the following: ‘What might be good at this?’
That’s of course not always easy. When me and my husband I, after 7 years, finally arrived in Nepal to build our house and our future and Covid-19 came and messed up our plans, we felt really lost. Our heart and soul were still in Nepal, while our bodies were back in Europe. We ended up moving to Bulgaria and the opportunity to start another long-term dream: creating our own company, came on our path. Now I can look back and tell you what was good at this.
Gratitude is the simplest form to create a positive mindset. Each morning and each evening write down 3 things that you’re grateful for. ‘I’m grateful for…’ Think of your body, your health, or your relationships with the people around you. Or find a little stone and put that in your pocket as a reminder, that when every time you touch it you come up with something you’re grateful for.
Remember that whatever challenging transitions you’re facing, it’s possible to imagine one worse.
Step 6: Tribe
Going through a major life transition is the most challenging part of your life. During these times you are transforming from one version of yourself to another. An African proverb says: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ support is critical when going through challenging times. Find a group of people that is understanding and supportive, but also challenging you to keep moving forward and look at the bright side. You don’t accomplish anything in this world alone.
You know these radars they are using on book ships to distinguish if there are other boats in the surroundings? But what about all that’s outside of the radar? How will you know about that? It is crucial to realize that you can only see what’s on your radar. And that you don’t know, what you don’t know yet. That’s when others step in and challenge, pushing you forward.
Connect with new people when you’re going through a transition. Especially when you’re moving abroad, your childhood friends (back in your home country), or most of the time not able to understand what you’re going through.
The people that were there for us when I and my husband were recovering from the double natural disaster, were caring, kind, and good listeners. The people that we currently spend time with, in Mexico are entrepreneurs, healers, and travelers who challenge us on a completely different level.
As human beings we’re growing and evolving so much, that different paths require different types of people around us to lift us up, to move us forward. That doesn’t mean that old childhood friends cannot be there anymore, it just means that they start playing a different role than before. And that’s totally ok.
If you have to remember one thing from this article, know that the moment you can ACCEPT your transitions, you can let go of the old paths and are open to the possibilities of the new.
All those struggles are shaping you into the person you are today. Have faith that the only transitions thrown at you, are the ones that you can handle. And trust that no matter what you’re going through, it is temporary and will playout for the positive (even the unplanned and seemingly bad things).