I took this photograph, to visualize what it's like to look ahead without knowing where it leads – it requires crossing a bridge to someplace that’s unknown – unfamiliar – uncovered. Your only view is straight ahead. Behind you is what you’re leaving behind – health, family, career or lifestyle – and moving to a scary place of not knowing what’s next. We’re enculturated to succeed in our competitive-business-media obsessed culture and when we don’t know what’s next, we imagine the worst and fear taking the first step. So we put it off and come back to the starting point many times before we have the courage to take the first step.
Leaving home for the first time is a good example of a ‘significant’ life transition that requires courage because as in most transitions, it requires giving something up, operating in the neutral zone and starting something new for the first time. Here’s another example: A talented musician waited until he reached age 40 to stop doing what he didn’t want to do anymore and start doing what he wanted to. He walked across that bridge to nowhere by asking for gigs, playing in on amateur night at clubs around the country and living his dream. Today he’s perceived as a musical genius, but he didn’t start out that way. It took some courage to take that first step.
Or how about the 57-year-old advertising executive who sold his business and decided he wanted a different lifestyle. He did lots of homework before he went ahead into the Neutral Zone. He thought through his needs, asked a lot of questions, researched the topic and talked to folks already doing it before he decided to cross that bridge.
Maybe you’re contemplating a divorce. It certainly qualifies as a significant life transition. But you don’t know what’s ahead – what’s next. Can you work through your issues and come out the other end a whole person? Does it make sense for your own welfare and happiness? Can you make it on your own without your spouse?
Is retirement in your near future? It's perhaps the toughest challenge you've faced because so often our work is our identity. There are numerous resources -- https://www.retirementliving.com/ -- to guide you. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent willing to share his learnings with you, make a concerted effort to understand how he (or she) made these significant decisions in their life and how they survived. Watching your parents retire is a laboratory for you to experiment with your own retirement. How did they do it? What has resulted? Will you do it the same way?
Here are a few suggestions from one who has learned from the many who have shared their transition story with me. Take some time to be with yourself for a while. Get away from the day-to-day long enough for introspection. Who is that person you see in the mirror - that person who’s been with you from the very beginning. What does that person want to do next? Want to do? That is the important question. Not what can you afford? Or what will others think? What need do you have now that demands your attention and what can you do about it?
Move slowly at first. Remember what it felt like when you were a child taking your first baby steps. Cautiously and slowly you make progress one step at a time.
I could go on – but you get the idea. Transition is tough to get through because your life depends on it. You are your own life force. You make decisions all the time that affect your physical, mental, emotional and psychological health. You have everything you need to make it happen. Your best supporters are your parents, friends and family - those you can depend on to be there when you need them. You’ll make it. And in so doing you’ll gain a whole new sense of self-worth. Courage.