Posts

Transitioning Through Life

What are some of the transitions you have faced in your life?

The full list from my 66 years would fill many pages. Here is just a smattering:
➢ Entering kindergarten after nearly six years of being at home all day with Mom and my siblings.
➢ My father’s death when I was 14.
➢ Leaving the church in which I had been raised.
➢ Realizing that my degree would never help me get the jobs I thought I wanted (although it was helpful just to have a degree).
➢ Getting a divorce.
➢ Liberating myself from dispiriting corporate life to become a successful freelance writer.
➢ Over the years, moving across the country several times.
➢ Marrying Ken, my second husband.
➢ Caring for him after his serious brain injury.
➢ Readjusting after his recovery.
➢ Becoming a journal facilitator.
➢ Breast cancer.
➢ The death of my mother.

Each one of these changes represented an ending of some part of my life, and each required a transition—an emotional and psychological adjustment—to discover the next new beginning. Some transitions felt like embracing a dear, old friend after many years apart. Some felt like inching my way through a mine field while blindfolded. Some of them I welcomed with joyful heart; others blasted me wide open with pain. Rarely, if ever, did I move directly toward my original idea of what that new way would be. Rather than being straightforward, the path forward meandered and even circled on itself at times. Yet I learned from each transition, and that helped me weather those that came later.

All transitions follow this same pattern, as Nancy K. Schlossberg writes in Overwhelmed: Coping with Life’s Ups and Downs: “…each transition is like a journey, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. At the beginning you think constantly of the change. The middle period is one of disruption when you find yourself vulnerable: old norms and relationships are no longer relevant, and new ones are not yet in place. In the final period, you begin to fit the transition into the pattern of your life.”

Here is a graphic depicting the transition process, from my wise coach and mentor, Leia Francisco:

So far, I have survived all my transitions, and even thrived as the result of some. Undoubtedly, more await in my future. But understanding the process of transition and writing about it in certain ways has strengthened my resilience and boosted my confidence. In future posts, I will share more this process with you.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you would like to listen in to a chat between me and LouAnn Watkins Clark of A Decided Difference about writing through transition, and journaling in general, have a listen to this episode of her podcast. Thanks, LouAnn, for inviting me to be part of your podcast!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
FOR YOUR JOURNAL
What are some transitions you have been through in your life? Make a list of at least 10, large or small, that have changed something in your life. Then choose one to describe in more detail. For instance,
• What ended to cause the change?
• If you could name the transition, what would it be?
• What metaphors would you use to describe the transition?
• If you ever felt stuck in the midst of transition, how did you become unstuck?
• What did you do to take good care of yourself during the transition? (And if you didn’t, why not?)
• What were some of the tools you used to navigate the transition?
• What did you learn as a result of going through it?
• How can what you learned in the past help you navigate future transitions?

Then, after a while, choose another and write about it. Continue over time.

Change and Transition

Back in 1999, I joked with friends that I was living in a rut so deep, it might be time to hang pictures on the walls. At the same time, I could sense that a big shake-up was on the horizon. Fortunately, past experience had taught me to not force change in my life, so I patiently waited for the answer to appear. Eventually, it did: a move from Southern Indiana to Tucson, Arizona. I had met some good people there on a work visit earlier in the year, so I knew I would have some company as I adjusted. Amazingly, all the details fell smoothly into place. As a renter, I had no house to sell. As a freelance writer, I didn’t have to worry about finding a new job. Even the moving company gave me a huge discount on hauling my stuff across the country because I recently had written an article about them. I got to Tucson, found a lovely apartment in a beautiful complex where some of my new friends lived, and settled in.

Despite all that, the transition was not so smooth.

Change and transition: Back then I did not know they are different. If I had—and if I had known how to better prepare for transition—my early months in Tucson might have been easier.

“Change is the event, the outer reality facing you: job loss or job promotion, change in a career, move to a new town or country, major change in the family, or the loss of a loved one,” writes career and life transitions coach Leia Francisco in Writing Through Transitions: A Guide for Transforming Life Changes. Transition, though, is “a reaction to a change in role, relationship, situation, or life view significant enough to affect your life and functioning,” according to Leia. It’s the psychological and emotional process you undergo while moving through the event.

My transition resulting from the cross-country change in location required a lot of emotional adjustment. My new friends were not as available as I had hoped, and I sorely missed my large circle of friends in Indiana. Tucson is a huge city, compared to Evansville, and required a lot of driving and often being unsure of my way. Even some small things, like no longer needing my favorite cuddly sweaters in the desert “winter,” made me sad and homesick. I remember standing on my balcony one day and crying as I talked on the phone with Lynda, my best friend back in Indiana, wondering if I had made a huge mistake. She assured me that I had not and that eventually all would be fine.

And it was. The move proved to be one of the best things I have ever done. The best of that best thing: I met Ken, now my husband, who later became the inspiration for finding my calling as a journal facilitator. I slowly gathered a circle of wonderful friends, including a wonderful writers group, and happily adjusted to having only two seasons: “really hot” and “not so hot.” And I discovered Trader Joe’s and shopped there weekly. (If you are a TJ fan, you know what I mean!)

Change is happening everywhere, all the time. Just when we think our lives are settled, wham! Change. Just when we think we have it made, look out! Change. When a cherished dream falls apart, more change. Even when the change is a positive, desired one that makes us happy, we still have to make the internal shift. All these changes require a transition process.

These days, I’m coming to the end of yet another cycle of change and transition. As I wrote about in my last post, Wandering, Meandering, and Yet…, I had to grieve and let go of a journaling program I created and loved, but which didn’t work out as I had hoped. (This was a “non-event transition,” which requires adjusting to the reality that a goal or dream will not come true.) Fortunately, I have found a new path, thanks to wise and compassionate coaching from Leia Francisco, who now also offers a class to train journal facilitators in her Writing Through Transitions program. This past summer, I became certified as a Transition Writing Specialist and will soon begin offering proven journaling programs in navigating through life’s transitions. Some will be local, here in Indiana, and I also hope to eventually offer them online. I will also continue to offer some of my other journaling programs too.

I’m excited about this transition—and about knowing how to better navigate the many more that are sure to come. I’m even more excited about sharing this valuable information with you. Stay tuned for future posts about writing techniques and exercises that can carry you through any transition life can throw at you.

The Power of “Yet”

This tiny, common word packs a ton of hope—and your body knows it. “Yet” can be a trusted guide through the Foreboding Forest of Fear or a safe passage across the Ocean of Doubt. It encourages you to keep going when perhaps you would rather just turn around and climb back under the covers. While it does not guarantee success—a fish will never be able to climb a tree, no matter how much it tries—it can improve your odds.

Think of something you want to accomplish but haven’t been able to. Maybe it’s not so grand as a desire to complete your first marathon, although it can be; perhaps it’s just making it around the block after years of too many doughnuts and not enough exercise. Maybe, despite numerous hours of practice with your violin, you still can’t play that one passage in “The Lark Ascending” with the right touch of passion, and sometimes not even the right notes. Perhaps your attempts at knitting have several times fallen flat. Or you may be grieving a lost dream and believe you will never be able to release it and move forward.

Think about your situation as you sit quietly, eyes closed. Then say aloud several times, “I can’t do this,” and really mean it. Pay attention to how you feel in your body.

Then do it again, only this time say, “I can’t do this—yet” several times with emotion. Once more, pay attention to any physical sensations you might have. Do you feel different than when you said you could not do it? If not, that’s fine. But with practice, you will begin to notice that you likely feel lighter and somehow more uplifted. Those sensations are your mindbody at work, instantly transforming your thoughts into the physical sensations that blossom from the hormones and neurochemicals your body produces in response—and building new networks in your brain that will help you reach your goal.

You have just experienced the power of “yet.” Can’t or can’t yet: Each one is a story you tell yourself, and each one creates your particular experience of reality.

“Yet” is a marker of a growth mindset that can help you improve your brain power and motivation over time. In her research with students, Carol Dweck has discovered that, “Just the words ‘yet’ or ‘not yet,’ we’re finding, give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence. And we can actually change students’ mindsets. In one study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time, they can get smarter.”

This holds true for you grown-ups too.

You already know the power of journaling, and now you can put the power of Yet to work in those pages, too.

Once again, try the experiment above, where you first tell yourself “I can’t do this” and then “I can’t do this—yet.” After each time, write for a few minutes about the experience: what did you feel in your body? How were your emotions affected? Then compare your writings about the two statements. Which reality would you rather experience?

Another way is to make a brief list of at least five difficult transitions you have experienced over your lifetime, such as a promotion, the birth of a child and the attending exhaustion and fears, heartbreak and grief, illness or recovery, writing your first book. Then for each one, write a few sentences about how at first you were not sure you could navigate the transition and accept the change, and then about how you did. You were experiencing the power of “yet” at those times even if you did not realize it.

You can also use your journal to envision and create your path to the new way. Choose a current transition in your life or one you are considering. Jot down your doubts and fears about moving through to the other side and how you’re not sure you can do it. Be honest and open with yourself. Then, write again, but this time, use your imagination to envision the best possible outcome, even if you don’t believe it—yet. Over time, you can revise and update this vision as necessary. Writing down your dreams can prove a great help in achieving them.

For a fun look at the Power of Yet, watch this lively number from Sesame Street:

http://pbskids.org/video/sesame-street/2365319589