As we head out on this trek, we soon come to a split on the trail and find it difficult knowing which would be the best path to take. One leads upward through sparse growth but probably leads to a beautiful view at the summit. The other trail leads us downward into the valley where there is lush growth and a river flowing through it. Which trail to take?
These are the decisions that we must make in life. Most of the time our decisions will not be choices of a good trail over a bad trail, but which path to take when both seem equally attractive in their own way. When we come to a split in the trails of life or such transition points, how do we make the most of the decision that we do choose?
Major life transitions – moving to a new city, becoming a parent, deciding when to retire – can be an exciting and invigorating part of life if we view it in that manner. Yet transitions, even happy ones, can also be stressful and bring up mixed feelings. For most of us, change brings uncertainty and a certain measure of fear. This is natural, but we cannot allow fear to prevent us from moving forward.
Moving from a rural community or farm into a big city with its excitement and challenges can be a bit overwhelming. The first few weeks after the move is usually much more difficult than anticipated. Similarly, no matter how exciting getting pregnant and having a child is, the magnitude of this life transition can be mind boggling. Although I don’t plan on retiring any time soon, even the thought of not working the majority of my time makes me realize what a transition that will be for me when it arrives.
The best way to prepare for major transitions is to take some time for self-reflection. Use the following trail guide for six ways to help you embrace change and make the most of your new life trail.
1. Recognize that transitions are hard because they can shake your sense of identity.
We naturally define ourselves in part by our surroundings. When these surroundings change, it can be disorienting. Getting married changes your identity from a single person to a partner. Having a child changes your sense of identity from wife or daughter to now being a mother also. A new job changes your identity or role at work.
For example, it is exciting to get a promotion at work, but the new position has more responsibility. You may like this, but as a manager, you no longer have the peer team with whom you were previously working. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed. You may worry, “Am I really equipped for this job? Maybe I was better off before.”
It will take some time for you to rebuild your sense of identity in your new role. As you become more comfortable in your new duties and with new colleagues, your work identity will be reestablished.
2. Being in transition is a wonderful opportunity for growth.
Take a look at the parts of yourself and your life that you most value and consider how you can bring those parts of yourself into your new role. Next, look at the areas of yourself that you’d like to make changes to. Perhaps you’ve been neglectful of some important area of your life, such as your body, mind, or soul. Transitions are an opportunity to begin practicing new habits and ways of interacting with yourself and others. Enjoy the transition for growth, even when it seems a bit painful.
3. Remind yourself why you chose to make the change.
As you start onto a new trail in life and are feeling a little lost during the transition, it can be easy to regret your decision. Why didn’t I just stay on the trail I was comfortable with? When doubt creeps in, and it will, review the reasons you made your decision…I made this career change to further my skills and better utilize my abilities. When you see the big picture, it helps you move from feeling overwhelmed to understanding that this is a temporary adjustment, and while it’s difficult now, you are willing to go through some uncertainty and discomfort for the long-term gain.
4. Recall other times in your life when you’ve successfully dealt with transitions.
This is not the first new trail that you are on. What helped you get through another period of transition in your life? Looking back, how do you feel about the past decisions you’ve made? What were you proud of, and what would you have done differently? Reflecting on your past can help you make good and better decisions as you move forward.
5. When you’re in transition, it’s easy to become overly focused on yourself.
It is all too easy to become consumed with ourselves. One way to shift your focus is to look at others who may need your help. If you’re at work, it may be a coworker who you notice is having a bad day. If you’re in an exercise class, reach out to another person that seems like he is having a hard time. Making an effort to support others helps you remember that everyone struggles at times and that human connection can be a powerful aid in helping get through it.
As Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi mentioned in Chapter 2 verses 3 & 4, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
6. Part of what helps you feel secure in transition is having a support system.
Make an effort to stay connected. Keep in touch with your family, call up a friend who lives in the area you just moved to, volunteer or get involved in an organization, or ask a new coworker to join you for lunch. Find people who you can really talk to. Whether it’s a trusted friend or close family member, being able to share how you’re really feeling can be a tremendous source of strength for you.
As the writer of Hebrews put it in Chapter 1 verse 25, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
Now that we have explored the six reflection points of life, next we will explore the Trail of Opportunity.