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Reminding Us of the Transitions Caused by Changes

August 16th, 2011

Changes are ever present in the world today. They seem to come faster all the time. And with any change, especially those that are caused by outside forces, a transition is initiated. Therefore, as changes come faster, transitions are also being initiated faster. In fact, we may be right in the middle of coping with one transition when we are hit square in the face with an additional change that initiates another transition. When this happens it is really helpful to review what we experience during a transition. To help me review the transition process, I will rely on the work of William Bridges in his book on transitions.

In the book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, the author, William Bridges, describes three stages that we go through during a transition. When we think of a change we think of something being different. The old way of doing something is gone and the new way is now present. It seems pretty simple and straightforward. Unfortunately, while changes might be simply, transitions are not. As Bridges points out when the old way of doing something no longer works and we recognize that, that is when a transition begins. Therefore, the first stage, which is triggered by the change, is the ending. We now have become aware that the way we are accustomed to operating is not producing the outcomes that we once experienced. We may not know what to do yet, but we know the old way no longer works or leads to a satisfactory outcome.

When I was first introduced to a computer, I was not very accepting of the idea. I wanted to continue to get my information from the system the old way, by hard copy or by face-to-face interaction; at least by voice-to-voice over the telephone. And for a short time, the system did provide support for both methods. We sent out information over the computer and then we sent hard copies to people. Then the day came when the hard copies stopped and I was not able to do my job unless I gave in and used the computer. I felt lost and out of control. I didn’t know what to do or what to expect. I wanted it to return to the old system, but I knew that was not going to happen. I was confused and didn’t know how I was going to handle it.

With this recognition of the end, that things were going to be different, the second stage, the neutral zone, was triggered. In this neutral zone, I was uncertain about how I was going to do my job. I wondered if I would be successful in the future. I wondered how long I could get by until someone told me that I was no longer needed. My identity as an Extension educator was in jeopardy. I didn’t know how to change and make it work. I tried to complain to as many people as I could, but most only listed for a short time. Some even had the audacity to pretend to listen. I felt alone and separate from my co-workers. They were all excited about the computer and trying new things. I was fearful and lost.

Then something happened that helped me make it through the neutral zone, which doesn’t always happen. A good friend and co-worker came to my office one day and asked me why my computer was setting on the corner of my desk; not plugged in or turned on. After some embarrassment and some attempts at blaming others, I notice my co-worker wasn’t buying any of it. She simply asked me what I was afraid of. When she discovered that I didn’t know how to type (keyboard in today’s world), she said that could be fixed and she began to coach me and guide me through the process of becoming familiar with my computer. And obviously, I made it to the third stage of the transition, the new beginning.

In the new beginning, I discovered a whole new world of opportunities and possibilities. The fear didn’t go away immediately, I still needed support and encouragement, but my confidence returned and I began to incorporate the computer into my new way of working.

The key to this transition for me was the support and encouragement that I received from my co-worker. Without that support, I might have given up and left my job for a job that didn’t require a computer. Had that happened, I would not be where I am today and I probably wouldn’t be able to function very well in the world, because I know of no jobs that don’t use some form of computer technology. My friend was my guide through the neutral zone and provided me with what I needed to make it to the new beginning. Many times in the neutral zone we all are in need of a guide, whether that guide is a person or an idea or an experience of some sort. We should not look upon this support and guidance as any kind of a weakness. It is necessary to navigate the neutral zone.

As you can see the neutral zone is critical in a transition. Unfortunately, there is no magically time line for the neutral zone. For some it is short and for others it is long. For some transitions it can take only a few days. For other transitions it can take months, perhaps even years. That is the way it is in times of rapid change and being faced with transitions after transition. We may not be quite ready for the next change when it happens to us.

If you find yourself struggling with a change, don’t be too hard on yourself. Begin to look for those guides that might help you make it through the transition. Seek out the support and guidance of others. Maybe even enjoy the neutral zone for a while.

Until next time, think about the changes you have been facing and ask yourself what stage you are in right now. If you are not faced with a change right now, don’t worry, one is coming your way soon.

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