Negotiating Life Transitions
Updated: Nov 25, 2022
For more helpful blog posts or to book an appointment click on the link here: Tim Robinson Counsellor- men's wellbeing Christchurch.
Below are some ideas I have found personally useful along my journey dealing with anxiety and in life more generally. My clients have found them useful too. I hope you find them useful even as a starting point. If you feel you need more one-to-one assistance please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on my counselling practice and some of the most common topics that come up. A topic that comes up frequently is life transitions and how to negotiate them.
These transitions come up in a range of situations throughout the lifespan: A teenager making the transition from school to working life, living away from the family home for the first time, the transition from single life to marriage, being a parent for the first time, changing jobs, changing roles within a job (employee to manager for example), becoming unemployed unexpectedly, having your children leave home, a loved one passing, right up to the transition from working life to retirement and many more.
In these periods I observe clients in states of contemplation, reflection, anxiety, fear and a temporary loss of identity at times.
Clients often ask themselves: Can I cope when my life changes? What will my new life look like? While others have trouble imagining life any other way.
Essentially, they are asking themselves some version of: Who am I now? (In the absence of the role they are transitioning from).
Helpful Tips for Negotiating Life Transitions
There are a few things I believe are helpful to consider in these periods. One is you are likely experiencing a form of grief. We commonly associate grief with a loved one’s passing, but grief can be experienced with a loss of a job, a friendship, or any range of life events where some form of loss / an ending is involved. Recognise this as normal, be kind to yourself, and allow yourself time to pause and reflect.
Change doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to happen in any particular timeframe. I’ve noticed if there is a time frame, it is often self-imposed and I’ll hear comments from clients such as: Why am I not over this yet? The irony is that pushing ourselves to get through something is often ineffective, and actually makes it harder to process our feelings and thoughts. Ask yourself whether you are being fair and reasonable with yourself. Would you expect the same “snappy” recovery from a friend?
Secondly, accept that every time you go through a life transition you will likely feel anxious, be prepared for that, and recognise it as normal. It allows you to proceed in an informed but cautious way. I also think expecting anxiety takes some of the “sting” out of it and it won’t come as such a surprise. Essentially, “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”; every time you experience a change or period of growth, it will likely involve a level of discomfort. The more you get used to this discomfort, and expect it as part of the change process, the easier it gets. Anxiety isn’t necessarily a sign of anything bad; I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of being nervously excited about something.
Thirdly, one of the most useful things you can do is revisit what your values are and check if the upcoming change is consistent with them. In the example of employment: Do you want to work fixed hours or would you like something more flexible? Is money important to you or do you gain pleasure through the more social aspects of your work? Is family of huge importance? (In which case you might want flexible hours). What are your strengths? Is this a job that will be utilising them? What fulfils you most at work? How can you ensure you have more of that?
A job doesn’t have to be a perfect fit straight away, we all have to start somewhere, but it’s useful to know where you want to head and where you want work to fit in the overall “fabric” of your life.
And a more general question: What do you want the next period of your life to look like?
I often ask the last question to those entering retirement. Men often gain much of their identity through their work, so when it comes time to retire this often feels unusual or they feel a bit lost. I often ask them if there is anything they have always wanted to do in their life, but haven’t had the chance to do.
In response, clients often relate a hobby or interest. It might be restoring a vintage car, learning to cook, or reconnecting with an interest they used to have, like playing a sport, competing in a triathlon, doing more bush hikes, fishing more, learning to paint or draw. I find given some thought, lot’s of interesting opportunities come out and these men tend to be at an age where they have the time and resources to pursue other interests. At first glance, some see it as the beginning of the end. It certainly doesn’t have to be.
Another aspect to keep in mind is it’s much easier to move towards something if you have some idea of what you want it to look like. In a counselling session I’ll spend time co-creating a description of that future with my client (a practice common in Solution Focused Therapy of which I’m trained in). This creates something of a “rehearsal” for change while also opening up possibilities, and focusing on possibilities is a more “active” state than fear or anxiety. If you’d like an in depth exercise you can do on your own that focuses on your values see this link: valuescardsort_0.pdf (motivationalinterviewing.org).
It’s important to remember you don’t have to be perfect, and that everything usually works out in the end, even if we take a few steps back before moving forward! Every transition in your life creates a unique opportunity to learn, to grow and become more confident in negotiating your way through life. Looking back at your life, you can probably remember opportunities you were hugely anxious about that ended up being one of the best things you could have done (whether the experience was good or bad).
See life transitions as an opportunity for something new, accept anxiety if it appears (it’s just a sign you are moving forward) and check you are moving in the desired direction (is it in line with my values?).
If we never had life transitions, we would never grow, learn and improve, so embrace it, be kind to yourself, and take life’s opportunities head on. Courage breeds confidence and going through a life transition certainly take a fair amount of courage!
Tim Robinson- Counsellor.
Below are some questions I have come up with that you may find helpful.
Useful questions to help negotiate life transitions
Is the life transition I’m about to make consistent with my values? What would need to change in order to make it consistent?
What do I want the next stage of my life to look like? (Or what am I working towards?)
What strengths and abilities did I draw upon last time I negotiated a life transition (or something difficult)? What helped me get through?
What do I know about myself that tells me I can get through this in a manner I’m happy with?
What might I gain from this experience? (Regardless of whether it turns out to be good or bad).
What advice would I give to a friend going through a life transition? How might I apply that same advice in my own life?
What do I know about myself that tells me I’ll be ok? (Regardless of the outcome).
For more helpful blog posts or to book an appointment visit: www.timrobinsoncounsellor.com