Before & After: Navigating Transitions

You're Fired!October 26, 2006 is a “Before & After” day for me.  That was the day I was told I was to be laid off from a company where I’d worked for 18 years.  That day marked a major turning point in my life – I will never be the same person I was the day before.

Externally everything pretty much stayed the same for some time.  My employment didn’t actually end for another three months so I still went to work every day, parked in the same lot, walked the same steps into the building, interacted with the same people.

Internally, however, everything was different.  My world had changed, what was true the day before was now an open question.  The part of my life that had contained work to be done and assumptions about the texture and patterns of my days was now open space.  I found that while this space was scary, it was also exhilarating.

In this space I could create what I want.  It was full of choice, I could choose another job in a new place, choose to do something completely different, choose to take some time to rest, decompress (ahh…) , choose new work to be done, new textures and patterns for my days.

This open space that hits in the “After” period is rich with information and inspiration.  It’s a time where there are only questions, and no answers yet, and it can provide you with valuable information.  Even if new plans and life structures are readily available, at this point we have an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves, “How do I want my life to be different?”

Some Tips for Making the Most of Your Before & After:

#1  Don’t assume that the Before & After day is the day of “the big event” –  By the time I physically left the company, I was well in to the “After”.  The Before & After day isn’t when the external change hits – the wedding day, the day she moves out, the first day of college or that new job.  It’s when the internal change occurs – the day he proposed, the day she told you it was over, the day you were accepted to college or received the offer for your new job.  This is where change starts, when we first hit the bumpy pavement of uncertainty.

#2   Even if you have solid plans for your After, see what information is available during the transition –   Even those folks at my company who were moving into new positions seemed to also connect to deeper, bigger dreams for their lives during this period.  One friend immediately got a new job, but during her transition also reconnected with her dream to be a baker.  Practical for now?  Maybe not.  Yet come retirement time, how great would it be to have already tested those recipes and developed a business plan?

#3  Experience the transition – don’t hide from it –  I have a good friend who recently went through a breakup, and I was impressed by how completely and intentionally she experienced all the emotions that came up for her.  She didn’t try to feel better or escape her feelings of loss, she explored them for meaning and information.  She understood that while these feelings were painful, they also held knowledge that would help her succeed in her next relationship.

How have your Before & Afters impacted your life?  A few questions to think about when you consider your Before & Afters:

  • What did you learn during your transition about yourself and others?
  • What commitments did you make as a result of that learning?  Are you still keeping them? Are they still relevant in the “After”?
  • What are you proud of?
  • What do you wish you’d done differently?

I know that exploring your Before & Afters for information is easier said than done.   Major life transitions are emotional, they provide a breeding grounds for insecurity and self-doubt.   But the ability to pause and pay attention in the midst of chaos not only helps you discover new information, it is a powerful skill to have.

One thought on “Before & After: Navigating Transitions

  1. I know this is an old article, but I have gone through the same thing and it changed my life. I imagine I am quite a bit younger than you, but I started off in a career that somehow began as writing and illustrating my work but then skewed totally off-key and ended up working for Peter Jackson in the film industry, in an attempt to become a concept artist and help make inspiring films (like District 9, or Avatar). I had totally bludgeoned my creativity in the process of becoming a “professional”, and it has taken me over a year of careful, loving practice to even begin illustrating and writing again. But now I know that, so long as I can help it, I never want to work for anyone other than myself, ever again. I value my uniqueness and artistic integrity far too much.

    Thank you so much for writing these articles, they’re very insightful (though thankfully I’ve learned much of what you’ve written on my own journey already), and it’s nice to feel like one is not alone in the world 🙂

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