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Going Through a Transition? Time to Seize the Opportunity

Transitions, though difficult, are special times of reflection and real change.

Key points

  • Difficult life transitions, like job loss or divorce, can be filled with opportunities.
  • While our lives are in flux, we can step back and assess the bigger picture and what to change before moving forward.
  • Transitioning is a time to focus on the rational rather than the irrational, learn past lessons, imagine the ideal, and explore.
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Carly is going through a divorce; Ricardo just got fired from his job; Ana just moved to a new city to start school. There are times when we go through periods of transition: Leaving behind the old—the relationship, the work, and colleagues, the place and friends—and move towards something new.

But the new is "new." There’s a feeling of being at loose ends. Everything is in flux, and you may worry about what happens next, whether it will work out, whether you made the right decision, or what decision you should make. As the old fades away, there is a sense of loss, and with loss, griefdepression, ruminating, feelings out of control or incapacitated. If you’ve had unresolved losses, the death of those close to you or past unresolved relationships begin to pile on emotionally.

But, there is an opportunity buried in the turmoil. For most, these transition periods when we feel like we’re starting over are few and far between. These are opportunities to take a few deep breaths. The concrete routines and rules of our everyday lives no longer exist, and we have the rare ability to reshape our lives before it solidifies into the next chapter.

Here's how to take advantage of this time:

Separate the Rational From the Irrational

Your anxiety is going to crank up during this time. Your anxious brain is like a pack of guard dogs, always alert, looking for danger. It likes structure and predictability and, with a new change, likely obsesses and worries and is hypervigilant and overreacting. This is when to step in with your rational brain, calm those barking dogs, and separate rational concerns from irrational ones. Rational problems might be feeling lonely post-divorce, it might take a while to find a good job, or you’ll feel overwhelmed during the first few weeks of class. Irrational concerns might be that you’ll never find another partner or job or fail your classes. If irrational, your anxiety takes over. This is a good time not to worry about what's causing you to stress and find ways to calm down—exercise, talk to friends, healthy distractions, medication, or meditation. If there is a real problem to fix—the loneliness, the job search, feeling overwhelmed—map out a plan to put it to rest.

Learn the Lessons of the Past

Transition periods are an excellent time to step back. Before moving forward, reflect on where you’ve been—the breakup, job, past life—so you know what to move toward. It’s easy for Carly or Ricardo to be angry and blame each other for a good reason. Regardless of the circumstances, your goal should be to move beyond what is happening, slow down, and understand your role in all of it. Slowing down and reflecting will help you see the lessons that are pushing you toward living a better life. Mistakes and problems always contain lessons; we become better through a process of elimination. Take time to figure out the lesson: What would you change if you did it all over again?

Imagine the Ideal

Your anxious brain pushes you to get going—apply for that job, start dating, and go-go-go about becoming the best student in the program. Your anxiety tells you that you don’t want to feel anxious, do better, be perfect, stay on top, and move forward.

You want to move forward but must step back again and slow down. Before jumping to this next chapter, take a moment to define your ideal: If you were to rebuild your life from scratch today, what would it look like? Your relationship, your work, your overall lifestyle? Don't worry if it's impractical; you're trying to unlock what you truly need and desire in your life right now. Imagining the ideal helps you sort out what’s important to focus on.


Before cementing your next chapter, explore, and take advantage of the above. Don’t just bounce into a new relationship that's one step up from the past or could explode after a few months. Don’t just take the next job to fill that hole in your life, or if you need to for economic reasons, leave room for change a few months before the concrete solidifies and you feel trapped. If you’re adjusting to a new location, this is the time to break out of your comfort zone, where no one knows you, where you can try out a new persona, new challenges, and new ways of being.

The exploration stage is a time to experiment, take risks, and explore parts of you that have been dormant. Don’t just settle for the default. This rare opportunity allows you to understand, explore, and become who you ultimately want to be.

More from Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W.
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