Past experiences can help us meet the challenges of today
Since the pandemic began, who among us has not been waiting for a time when life settles following a traumatic event? We are eager to know how it will look and whether it will last.
In his book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges states that change creates both opportunities and turmoil. Transition is the inner psychological process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with change. He maintains that there are three stages in any transition—the ending, the neutral zone, and the new beginning.
I recently received a phone call from a cousin with whom I had not spoken in some time. “Just checking in,” she said. After discussing the status of other family members, the conversation naturally turned to life during the pandemic. She shared that she’d lost her longtime job, but upon reflection, discovered she likes her new position better because it affords her new opportunities.
Our conversation reminded me of how when we look at our lives through a rearview mirror, we often discover how positive change can be.
A friend of mine shared the story of a woman (we will call her Susie) whose job was eliminated while she was in the middle of a divorce. It was only later, reflecting on this painful period in her life, that she realized how happy she now was with her new position and remarriage. She was enjoying her new normal.
In today’s upside-down world, it seems to me that we are existing in what Bridges calls the neutral zone, a time when the old is gone, but the new isn’t fully operational. And whatever that new normal may look like, it is likely to change yet again.
The challenge then for us is to learn how to manage times of change. What have we learned from past experience that will help us today?
First, consider looking in your own rearview mirror to identify an event(s) that transformed your life. When young, maybe your family moved from your home, forcing you to leave friends and school. As an older adult, perhaps you’ve downsized into a smaller apartment, requiring you to move from your neighborhood and close friends. Have you settled into a new normal, assuming life will remain stable? In the case of Susie, her normal changed yet again when her work offered new career opportunities for her and her spouse. Likely, life will continue changing.
Thinking of past changes, list the ways in which you managed those transitions. What actions did you take? What would you have done differently?
It may well be that our new normal, at least for now, is continuing to live in an ongoing neutral zone. We can’t change reality, but we can develop strategies to make it easier to cope based on our past experience. I plan to look in my rearview mirror to remind myself that I have moved through change with success. How about you?
Linda Henry writes regularly on topics related to aging, health care, and communication, and is the co-author of several books, including Transformational Eldercare from the Inside Out: Strengths-Based Strategies for Caring. She conducts workshops nationally on aging and creating caring work environments. Her volunteer emphasis is age-friendly communities.