At its heart, life is but a series of transitions: winter to spring, child to adult, working to retired, happy to sad and back again…. The number of transitions we go through over the course of our lives is endless. Yet for many, dealing with them never seems to get any easier, especially when they are not of our own choosing. They are something to be avoided at all costs, even if that means prolonging a situation we know deep down is not right. By contrast, there are others who actively seek out the discomfort of transition with enviable success. What’s the secret?
Embarking on a transition means effectively facing up to the unknown. It goes against everything we as humans are inherently about. Traditionally, our survival relied on remaining in a safe space, surrounded by the security of our tribe. We learnt to avoid the unfamiliar because it could cause us harm. However, what might once have served us well, no longer necessarily does. Rather than keeping us safe, it actually keeps us small. Rather than prolonging our life it compromises and limits it. What better reason to learn how to turn transition into positive transformation.
One lady who has recently done just that is Alex, this month’s phenomenal woman. Having been made redundant at the start of the pandemic, Alex was catapulted into unexpected transition at the most inopportune time. With the benefit of hindsight, I asked Alex what she has learnt:
I remember you talking about wanting to change direction a while before it happened. What prevented you from taking the leap?
Mainly fear! And self-doubt. Would I get a job in a different sector when already on the wrong side of 50? Could I cope with a drop in my income? How would I build up my experience in a new industry? Lots of unknowns which affected my confidence.
Would you manage this differently if you had your time to go over again?
I don’t believe one should have regrets although I do wish I’d taken the step earlier, primarily for my mental health. I stayed too long in my last job and suffered unnecessarily which really impacted my self-esteem and self-worth.
How did you feel when your job finally came to an end, especially during such a challenging period as the Covid crisis?
Firstly relief! My job ended just before the pandemic really impacted and I was excited to start focusing on doing something else and felt pretty positive. I then panicked when the first lockdown came on March 23 as I’d not had any sniff of any interviews yet, plus who would be looking to take on new staff in such an unknown crisis? I am not going to deny I shed a tear or two at that time!
How did you approach the situation?
Pragmatically. I’d already contacted someone in healthcare who was very busy due to the pandemic and offered to help her. I gave my time for free before she introduced me to her friend at the hospital in the third week of the first lockdown. I was willing to put myself at risk (physically, this is way before any vaccines) and felt I had nothing to lose. I wanted to help.
What are the biggest lessons you have learnt along the way?
To undertake anything to the best of your ability. Every task I was given, however small and menial some may have been, I did with the same strong work ethic I have always upheld.
What would you say to someone who is feeling like they know they need to make a big change in their life?
Talk to your friends and loved ones and share how you feel. Mine encouraged me so much and gave me hope. And write a list of pros and cons. Seeing your choices on paper has always really helped me make big decisions.
How are you feeling now compared to 16 months ago?
So much happier in myself. Fulfilled. I come home from work every day (and my days are busy and often pretty exhausting) but I know I’ve made a difference – a small cog in the big wheel of patient care. It’s definitely worth it.
The 7 key messages of Alex’s story
The nature of transition – it is a process made up of many stages. Knowing what to expect can help to ease the ride. Sailing from stormy waters into calmer seas takes a strong constitution and a level of resilience but it is always a journey worth embarking on.
Recognise the dialogue of limitation – as described by Alex in her response to the first question above. What justification is your brain conjuring up to prevent you from doing what you know is the right thing? Learn to recognise it for what it really is rather than assuming it is the truth. Address each of your fears logically and free from emotion, and aim to find practical solutions.
Expect the unexpected – things can (and likely will!) get worse before they get better. It’s just the way things are. Be ready for it and get creative in overcoming the challenges in order to continue in the direction you want to go. Don’t see it as a sign that ‘it’s not meant to be’.
Limit the risk – taking a small step towards what you are hoping to achieve can help to calm the fear and also boost your confidence in the process.
Stay true to yourself – understanding and living by your core values brings an authenticity that will serve you well.
It’s good to talk – sharing our hopes and dreams with others we trust can help to make them feel more real and provide the support and encouragement needed to take action. One caveat: choose your audience wisely! There are those who help you plan your next steps and there are those who will speak the language of limitation.
Don’t compromise – if something does not feel right, don’t accept it simply because the alternative seems too scary. Despite what we tell ourselves, things usually don’t improve and it will become increasingly hard to take action. Putting up with things we know are not right is incredibly detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Quite simply, we all deserve to be happy but we have to be prepared to take the steps to make it happen.
Huge thanks to Alex for speaking so openly about her experiences so that we can all take inspiration from them.
The transition to a happier, more fulfilled life is never plain sailing but, as Alex has proven, it is without exception a journey worth embarking on don’t you think?