What Type of Transition are you in?
Life is really just a series of stages of development. From the compact season of childhood where a stage may last just a few weeks or months to the the latter stages of life where a stage may last a decade – we are constantly changing – our bodies, our understanding of the world, our relationships, our spirituality, our vocations. And rest assured, if WE are not in a season of major transition, we are most likely walking closely with someone who is – a friend, a parent, a child.
To better understand how you might be experiencing transition, let’s look at the different types of transitions we undergo in life.
Life Stage Transitions
The most obvious of transitions are the life stage transitions. These are generally acknowledged by society as significant events and there is usually a clear distinction between the before and the after. We are single, there is a wedding, and we are now married. Other life stage transitions might include:
- Graduating from high school or college
- Leaving home
- Moving into Adulthood
- Forming a Marriage
- Becoming sexually active
- Launching children
- Making a career change
- Death of parent, spouse, child
Our bodies will always be in transition too. Decreases in health can rob us of independence, mobility, recreational outlets, and even confidence. And interestingly, positive changes towards caring for our bodies (i.e. dietary changes, increased exercise) can catalyze positive transitions in other areas of our lives.
Health transitions might include:
- Hormones changes… puberty, sex drive (or lack thereof), pregnancy, post-partum crash, menopause, sexual disfunction
- Chronic and/or major disease… auto-immune disorders, allegies, cancer, diabetes, etc
- Injury… broken bones, back or foot injuries, strained muscles, etc
- Aging… decreased mobility and stamina, changing capacity, forgetfulness, physical frailty, sensitivity to chaos and noise
- Dietary changes… identifying food allergies, healthy eating, moderation
- Mental health… biochemically related illnesses such as depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety
Vocational transition is not just changing jobs. Most people will undergo transitions related to vocation multiple times in their lives. These types of transitions might involve:
- Discovering your calling… The search for our vocation typically begins in young adulthood when we are pursuing education and/or gaining skills in areas of our strengths and passions. Because this season involves a lot of exploration and experimentation, it can feel like an extended season of transition. Though this season of discovery typically falls in young adulthood, it may resurface at other times in life as well.
- Job discontent… Restlessness in your current career is often a sign you are heading into a transition. You’ve outgrown your current role, are mismatched for a role, and/or you need a new mountain to climb.
- Promotion/demotion… Moving up and down the career ladder can be incredibly stressful. Even positive changes like a promotion can catapult your stress levels because of new responsibilities, new relationships, and increased pressure to perform.
- New management… Mergers are a notoriously stressful time of transition. Expect uncertainty about who will stay and who will go, changes in policy, management, and payment structures, and new relational dynamics.
- Changes in your field of expertise… In this rapidly changing world, many fields are experiencing extraordinary and frequent changes. Sometimes a whole industry may shift over a few short years like the transition from film to digital photography. Other industries struggle to adapt to the younger generations who gather information differently and/or have differing values than previous generations.
- Change of vocation… Many people go through two distinct seasons of vocational discovery. The first is typically in our 20s where we are choosing a career path, pursing education, and on-ramping into a career. The other comes closer to mid-life when many decide to expand into new areas of their passions and gifting.
- Retirement… Though retirement for most is a welcome change, many are caught off guard by the loss of identity, structure, and purpose their job gave to their life. Surprisingly, retirement scores in the list of top ten most stressful life transitions.
All relationships undergo change to remain healthy. Relationships which are bound to experience transition include:
- Friendships… Ever outgrow a friendship? Maybe you become friends with someone at a certain season of your life but over time your choices and interests become increasingly different. Or perhaps you are moving towards health but they are stuck or unwilling. We can expect to
- Parent to Child… More than any other relationship, we can clearly see relational transition in parenting. Just when we figure out how to navigate a stage of development, they move on to another stage. Over the course of a decade and a half, we hope to see our children move from complete dependence on us to independence (self-sufficiency and confidence) to learning interdependence (healthy life in our intimate relationships and community). And ideally, WE are guiding them through those transitions!
- Parent to Young Adult… Once our children reach young adulthood, we head into a transitional phase where our roles begin to change. We become advisors and mentors not the initiators and orchestrators of their lives. To complicate matters, the age of launching seems to have extended far into the 20’s and both parents and children are confused about what exactly their relationship should look like.
- Adult Child to Aging Parents… Many people talk about the moment where things “flip”– when your parents suddenly begin to look to you for direction, support, and guidance. Or even more difficult is when you recognize your parents are in forms of cognitive or physical decline and they are unaware or unwilling to receive input. For both the adult child and the aging parent, this can be a difficult season.
- Spouse/Partner… As we move through major life stage transitions, experience seasons of healing and/or move towards growth, cope with various challenges and disappointments in life, we change. Keeping those in our intimate circle up to date on our heart changes can both deepen our intimacy and become a source of conflict. The majority of couples who end up in therapy are, in simplest form, needing help to figure out a new way of relating.
There is a reason we say each of us in on a “spiritual journey.” We are making choices every day that affect our spiritual well-being (even if we are ignoring that part of who we are!). Because our spiritual beliefs often anchor us during change, one of the most difficult forms of transition we undergo is that of spiritual transition. You might be in spiritual transition if you are struggling with:
- Existential Questions… What is the meaning of life? Is there life after death? Is there a God behind the scenes? Different personality types carry these questions with more weight, but most people find a season of wrestling through the questions of life and meaning particularly in the midst of a major life crisis.
- Theological changes… If we have been raised in a religious framework, healthy development might include wrestling through your own theological beliefs. Sometimes our theology is rocked through an experience, other times we are too scared to admit that we carry doubts. Opening the door to these questions
- Disappointments with church or God… Spiritual transition can also be catalyzed by a disappointment with God. A child who was not healed. A church divided by conflict. A spiritual mentor who commits adultery. A religious organization that covered up sexual abuse. When we experience disconnection between what we believe and what we experience – we can wrestle through it or run from it.
- Rhythms of spirituality… Often in spiritual transition, we become either incredibly thirsty for more of God or we find our hearts grow cold and indifferent. Or perhaps the ways of connecting with our faith become stale or meaningless and we are pushed to explore new expressions of connection with God.
- Connection to a faith community… It is not uncommon to reevaluate our faith communities at different seasons of our lives. As we grow into a better awareness of who we are and how God made us, we may long for a different framework – one less (or more) formal, one more expressive in worship, one filled with liturgy and symbol.
Healthy development means we will undergo multiple changes in our selfhood over the course of our lifetime— long after the documented stage of identity formation in young adulthood. For better or for worse, our identity can be affected by life events that surprisingly rattle (or affirm) our sense of competence, self-worth, belonging, and value. Events that might stir identity questions might include:
- Academic success or failure
- Rejection/Acceptance in a romantic relationship
- Becoming a parent
- New job
- Failure at work or in financial investments
- Major relational conflict
- Spiritual conversion
- A child who fails to launch well
- A cross-cultural move
- Death of a parent
The majority of the people we work with have experienced a cross-cultural transition at least once. In many respects, it’s the “queen mother” of transitions because it touches on virtually every arena of our lives. And not only are we navigating these myriad of changes ourselves, but we have a team or family who is on the ride with us. Each person is experiencing transition in:
- New language
- Differing norms
- Value differences
- Social networks
- School systems
- Gender roles
- Work environment
- Rhythms of life
Can you see why we need to learn how to transition well?! Virtually every arena of our lives and every relationship is or will be undergoing transition. Understanding the themes and skills used to navigate these times of change are an incredible gift.
Were you able to recognize some of the areas are YOU in transition? While we are all in transition in one or two areas at any given point, but if you find yourself identifying with transition in 3 or more arenas, you may be experiencing physical, emotional, or relational UPHEAVAL.
To get a gauge on just what level of stress you are carrying, check out our post, “Are You In Upheaval? Take a Test and See.”