- We can think of our lives as made up of chapters. Moving from the end of one to the beginning of another can be a challenge.
- Making a successful transition requires closure, realistic expectations, and support.
- Before moving ahead, take stock of how far you've come and what you have learned.
We can think of our lives like a novel–divided into chapters, the closing of one section, the beginning of another. Some of these are clearly marked by our culture: graduating, getting married, having your first child, getting that big promotion, and retirement.
Others are more personal, self-defined—a divorce, the death of a parent, a medical crisis; finally tackling that longstanding addiction or mental health problem, or giving up on your dream of publishing that novel or making that career change; suddenly, you find yourself following a different path.
This turning of the page can be a challenge for many, not only because of the changes to come but of the change process itself.
Here’s how to do it right:
1. Get closure.
To successfully move into this new chapter, you must close the last one. Again, society and tradition provide some of these–the graduation ceremony, retirement party, the memorial service–opportunities to say what needs to be said, to honor what has been. But when there’s no ready-made closure available, you can create your own.
I’ve known couples who end their relationship, not only with signed papers but a ceremony that acknowledges their shared time and memories and how they’ve helped each other grow; families who create their closure by gathering together to scatter the ashes of a loved one on a Saturday afternoon by a river; couples who go on the big trip to mark the end of their two-some life before the baby alters their lives forever.
Here you go out to dinner with your work mentor to thank them for their steady support, or do the same with your supervisor who always gave you a hard time, to finally, hopefully, mend fences before you leave. And if you can’t do it in person, you write a letter that you will mail, or, perhaps, never will, to simply get things off your chest, out of your head.
Regardless of who and how, take the time to reflect, repair, and appreciate what is now ending. You don’t want lingering regrets and unfinished emotional business to contaminate your new start.
2. Expect a period of transition.
You get that promotion or post-graduation job, and there will be a learning curve. During those first months of being a parent, there are new routines and demands to navigate; being married, divorced, or retired brings the loss of one identity and the fragile creation of another. You’re going to feel a bit disoriented; you may emotionally crash after the big event; on bad days, you may pine for what you had before.
This is what comes with transitions; that gray zone before the new reality comes into focus, the new life becomes more known, more comfortable. Expect it; be kind to yourself; keep moving forward.
3. Carry forward what you learned.
Life continually guides us towards what we need to learn; mistakes are lessons to carry forward if we believe they are. Stop and take stock of all you’ve learned so far to facilitate closure and smooth your transitions. There are important lessons about relationships, your strengths, weaknesses, and passions embedded in that divorce, that failed novel, those college years, and that lifetime of work.
These can be the new foundation for this next chapter; your personal wisdom can be the ballast to keep you upright in the choppy waters ahead.
4. Get support, and seek role models and mentors.
Join a support group for new parents, those newly divorced or struggling with the same medical challenge as you. Seek out role models and possible mentors in that new job; get a sponsor to support your recovery or a therapist for your mental health; keep in touch with friends from your old job, or seek out new single friends to help you navigate your new single world. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes at least a few close people in your life to help you move into this new chapter. It’s not a solo act.
Where ever you’re going, stand still long enough to catch your breath before you leap; look back and ahead. Most of all, take the time to appreciate just how far you’ve come.