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  • Writer's pictureBarb Bickford

Embracing life transitions

Updated: May 2

An abstract painting with a swirling circle of orange and yellow, on a background of purple, black and blue stripes and spots..

Life is a series of transitions. Whether it's starting a new job, moving to a new city, being injured or fired, or experiencing any other major life change, transitions can be both challenging and exhilerating.

Embracing transitions is part of leadership. As leaders, we may be going through our own life transitions. And those in our groups -- or the whole group -- may be in transition, as well.

Let's start with ourselves. How can we help ourselves through times of transitions? How can we lead ourselves, from within?

In this blog post, we will explore practical ways to navigate life transitions and harness their transformative power to become better people and better leaders.

An abstract painting green, blue, orange, blue green and brown designs on a beige background.

Welcome the Uncertainty and Be Curious

Transitions often bring a sense of uncertainty, and it's natural to feel uneasy during these times. Things may have changed dramatically, and it takes time to adjust!

Instead of resisting the uncertainty, we might embrace the unknown as an invitation to explore new possibilities -- when we are ready. We might think of transitions as stepping stones on our journey, each one leading us closer to our goals and aspirations. By cultivating a mindset of curiosity, we can stay open to new experiences and opportunities that may arise during this period.

Example: When I entered graduate school, I lived in a house with 12 others, most of whom were from other countries or had grown up overseas. I distinctly remember having my basic assumptions about life questioned and challenged around the dinner table. It wasn't comfortable! They often told me: "You should go live in another country, not to evangelize or change anyone or anything, but just to be there and appreciate the people and culture."

I wasn't about to quit grad school to live in Africa, but I decided I could try new things with my housemates' help. I went to concerts of South Asian and Javanese music, took a Spanish class, joined groups that challenged my viewpoints, and volunteered alongside people with disabilities. Eventually, I did live overseas for three months at the Family Village Farm in India. I chose that place because the founder deliberately cared for people within their own cultural context, in families, in a village.

An abstract painting of white, black and red on the left and a similar design on the right with purple and pink added.

Practice Self-Reflection

Transitions provide an ideal opportunity for self-reflection. We can take a step back and evaluate where we are in life. What are our values, goals, and aspirations? Reflecting on our past experiences and accomplishments can provide clarity about what we want to achieve in the future. Journaling, meditation, or seeking guidance from a mentor or counselor can deepen our self-reflection practice.

Example: I have kept a daily journal for decades. In it, I record events and process my feelings. Often, during my time of reflection, I discover I need to make amends or I decide to do things differently in the future. It brings closure to each day, and helps me sleep well.

An abstract painting of of orange, light bluegreen, brown and red.

Develop a Growth Mindset

Transition periods can be challenging, but they also offer immense potential for personal growth. Here are specific things we can do:

  • View our challenges as opportunities for learning and development.

  • Embrace the idea that setbacks and failures are stepping stones to success.

  • Emphasize and use our abilities and strengths.

  • Remind ourselves that we have the resilience and adaptability to navigate any transition.

By framing transition periods as learning opportunities, we will eventually grow and thrive.

Example: The most difficult transition period of my life was after my son Matt died in a car accident in 2003. Frankly, I'm still in transition about it, and that's OK.

At the time, I had an acquaintance, "Bev," who had also lost a child in an accident. Bev was stuck in a well of self-pity, and as a result, her other son not only lost his brother but also his mother. I decided that I would avoid self-pity if at all possible, so that my remaining children would still have a mother. Did I do it perfectly? No. But the decision kept me moving forward.

A blue, green and brown background with gold circles pressed on it.

Seek Support and Community

Navigating transitions alone can be overwhelming. Friends, family, or support groups can provide guidance and encouragement. Surrounding ourselves with a supportive community can help us gain perspective, find inspiration, and bolster our confidence during times of change.

Consider joining networking or interest groups related to your transition to connect with others who are on a similar journey. Support groups really do help!

Example: I did a lot of grieving in 2004, and intuitively, I knew I could not and should not do it alone. I asked a few women (and later, men) from various periods of my life to support me. I would email them as a group every week or so, and their individual responses helped me keep going. Later, they told me that they used to take me off the thread and email among themselves "Who's going to go over and help her do dishes? Who will call her on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...?" I tear up when I think of it now, how they loved me and I let them love me.

A pastel bird with a caption "no one can feel very creative in a mess."

Set Goals and Take Action

We can use a transition period as an opportunity to set clear, actionable goals that align with our values and aspirations. By breaking these goals down into smaller, manageable steps and taking consistent action, we can maintain momentum and stay focused throughout our transition.

Example: The person who painted the bird, above, realized that the mess in her office was keeping her from working on a stalled project. She cleaned her office and got going again!

An abstract painting of mostly purples and blacks with splotches of white

Receive Meaning as it Comes

Transitions become transformative when we find meaning in our experience and take new actions. However, we may first need to let go of needing to find meaning. Trying to figure out the meaning might obscure the very meaning we seek!

Example: In times of grief and stress, I garden because I find digging and weeding to be calming, meditative and literally grounding. By doing just a little every day, after many days, I see great progress both in the garden and in my attitudes.

In 2004, as I obsessively tried to find meaning in the loss of my son, I was digging behind my house, separating the gravel and glass (dumped by previous homeowners) and the weeds from the plants I wanted to keep. It slowly dawned on me that even though flowers die, they were beautiful. I didn't need to know WHY the flowers (or my son) died. I just needed to not be so focused on death or I would miss the beauty. And, in that moment, the beauty was enough.

A two part painting. On the left is the first layer of circles and lines. On the right, the painter has added people who are talking about the circles and lines in their voice bubbles.

Allow Transformations to Emerge

Embracing transition periods as opportunities for growth and self-reflection is key to our becoming better people and stronger leaders. It can take time -- sometimes years -- for the meaning and transformation to emerge.

Example: My dear friend Sandy Salvo and I decided last year to transform our experiences of difficult transitions into support for others. We offered a weekend retreat called "Transitions and New Beginnings" which included time for rest, journaling, conversation, gentle movement and intuitive art. Creating this retreat helped us as leaders, and it also helped our group. I intend to share more how we explored transitions with this group in a future blog post!

Every transition presents a chance for us to become more self-aware, adaptable, empowered and compassionate if we let it. We can use the strategies outlined above to navigate these periods with grace and resilience. When we embrace the challenges with curiosity, reflect on our experiences and find meaning in our transitions, we can emerge stronger and more fulfilled on the other side.

A collection of small paintings, lined up in rows.
Intuitive art created by participants of the 2023 Transitions and New Beginnings retreat

PS...We're offering the Transitions and New Beginnings retreat again in April 2025. Learn more here. To be notified about courses and workshops and new blog posts, and to receive tips for improving your meetings and more, sign up for our news emails.

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