Since I am writing this on Thanksgiving Day, it’s timely to consider why there is good to be discovered even in times of an unsettled life transition. Of course, your transition can be perfectly smooth and pleasant but that’s not the way it usually goes. As John Lennon put it, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
A life transition can be full of uncertainty, anxiety and even dread. For example, if your beloved spouse passes, you can no longer participate in a cherished occupation, or you come down with a debilitating disease. It’s hard to put a positive spin on such occurrences, especially since these are involuntary transitions. You intend to go in direction A and the next thing you know, you are facing a dark and uncertain direction B.
Perhaps your transition is of a voluntary nature. You willingly retire from your profession because it is no longer interesting. You leave a relationship that has become toxic over time. You choose to pack up your home and move to a sunnier location, even though it is far from family. While not a sledgehammer blow, this type of transition can still cause a lot of trepidation. However, your mindset going into the life transition has a lot to do with how you will get through the next phase and happily onto the other side.
After talking to hundreds of individuals who have successfully navigated both voluntary and involuntary life changes, I’ve seen these attitudes make a large difference in both happiness and results.
- Don’t be attached to a certain outcome. I’m not a Buddhist but have always appreciated one of the four noble truths: “The origin of suffering is attachment.” In other words, if you are emotionally attached to a certain outcome, you will suffer if you do not achieve that outcome and you will be happy if you achieve the outcome. My suggestion – which I acknowledge is easier said than done – is to only do the happy part. Rejoice if you get what you desire (the job, the mate, the perfect house, the great health news) but adopt a state of neutrality if you don’t.
- Believe that everything works out for your highest good. This means that you see the universe as benevolent, not malevolent. If you don’t get what you want today, it is because you are going to be blessed by something better in the future. This may be hard to fathom In the midst of the trouble, but it is surprising how often the so-called lemons of life can turn into lemonade if you let go of your preconceived notions of how a particular situation should resolve itself.
- View the life transition as an adventure. Look at your next life phase as a treasure map, not a blueprint. By this I mean that, unlike a blueprint, which must be followed precisely, a treasure map has a degree of built-in uncertainty. You have a pretty good idea of where the treasure is, but you are willing to follow the twists and turns and be surprised along the way. And, as talked about above, the setbacks are accepted as a necessary part of the journey, not a permanent roadblock. At the end of the process, you are able to say: It didn’t turn out exactly as expected, but that was a heck of a ride.
- Banish the word “retirement”. As related in a great book called The Joy of Retirement, the common definition of retirement is: “To withdraw oneself from business, active service or public life; to disappear, to take out of circulation; withdrawn or secluded; difficult to be seen, known, or discovered.” Yuck. Can you think of a more pitiful way to describe yourself? Even if you cease working in your profession, you have a lot to do and a lot to offer. Do not retire from life until the day your friends and family come to mourn your passing. And, if anyone asks if you are retired, tell them you are re-fired.
One other point about life transitions. As with many other aspects of life, the easier the achievement, the less satisfying the gain. Set lofty goals, try not to get too attached to a particular outcome, and most important, enjoy the adventure.