Four Questions for Those in Transition

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When I was about to transition out of a job I’d loved, my friend Shandel Slaten-Sutherland, offered help. She gave me a list of questions to prepare me for the change.  On the one-year anniversary of that change, I thought I’d share some of her tips with you.

If you are going through a difficult transition, I’d encourage you to give yourself some time and a safe place to process these questions. You’ll need at least three hours (if you’re an introvert, you may need five!) and a quiet space with no kids, pets or spousal types interrupting you. This is important, you are important. Bring a journal or notebook (If you’re an extrovert you may need several); be prepared to write. Sometimes putting pen to paper helps the words flow.

William Bridges writes a lot about change and transition. He says change happens fast, transitions are slow. Change happens fast when: you get fired or laid off, someone you love dies, the doctor gives you a bad diagnosis or your spouse announces they are leaving you. Change happens fast but, getting used to the new reality of that change can take much longer. Bridges says it is a process of shock, denial, grieving, loss, anger, frustration, apathy and confusion. You have to work your way through those emotions before you get to the neutral zone and begin to re-engage with any energy at all. Of course, people move through these emotions at different rates depending on the depth of the loss and their own personality.

Let this self-evaluation help you begin the transition process.

  1. William Bridges says we need to first name the loss: What is ending? We must identify our loss before we can even begin to grieve it. Make a list of exactly what you could be losing with this change. For instance, you might be losing your job, but that comes with many other losses: loss of financial security, loss of status, loss of reputation, loss of friends from work. Perhaps loss of your home, or a routine you love. List all of the losses, real or imagined.
  2. Shandel suggests you separate your losses into three categories: What do you fear? What is uncertain? And what is truly unknown.
  3. Shandel encourages us to be grateful for what was. Even in the midst of the pain, there are always things we will miss or have added to our lives. Spend some time naming those and being grateful. When I did this step, I ended up with three pages of things I was grateful for from my former job and that helped a lot.
  4. A ritual might be helpful here: if it is a relationship that is ending you might collect pictures and mementos and put them in a box to keep for a less painful time, or burn them, or give them a burial. If there was a sudden layoff or firing, you might write a letter to you ex-boss that you DO NOT SEND. You don’t want to burn any bridges, but venting in a letter and burning or ripping it up can be quite cathartic. If you lost someone you love, you might release a balloon with their name on it, or give money in their honor to a charity. The ritual can be as unique as the loss. Be creative.

If you feel that you have the energy, or perhaps at another time, turn your face to the future and begin to dream. What might be possible now that this change has happened? This brainstorming leads to hope and hope is the fuel we need to keep moving forward. The other day I was thinking about the year since my job loss. As I reflected, I was shocked to realize that in that time, I’ve started two new ministries, worked six months in a job I didn’t like but paid well, and found a new job that I love. I have also written three new books in that year!

You never know what is awaiting your new life ahead. Perhaps the end of caring for a sick parent now frees up time and energy for other things. Perhaps losing a job allows for an opportunity for more education or moving to a part of the country where you’ve always wanted to live. Perhaps a divorce gives you the freedom to try things your ex didn’t like but you might. Begin to brainstorm new opportunities and ideas for the future.

Have you ever faced a difficult transition? What helped you to move forward?

Three Ways to Deal with Disappointment

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Recently I got the news I had not been chosen for a writing mentorship that I was really excited about. I was disappointed. However, I was not depressed, disillusioned or despairing. I did not spiral into all the reasons why I suck. Why? Because you can’t live to fifty plus years old and not learn some things about disappointment.

I remember one of my first big disappointments. I had a three-year-old and a baby and I had decided it was time to go to graduate school. I hadn’t just “decided,” I really felt it was what God wanted me to do. I’d prayed about it, I was ready and I was excited. The problem was I was also naïve; I didn’t know you had to apply before signing up for a grad school class, and when I went down to register, I found out I’d already missed all the deadlines. I was devastated.

Disappointments are often best understood in retrospect. At the time, David and I were working with a student ministry. Each year we trained a group of student leaders and they, in turn, ran the fellowship group on campus. We called these student leaders our “exec team.” The year I didn’t get into grad school, our ministry was going strong. We had a great exec team locked and loaded, ready to start the year with BBQ’s, Bible Studies, weekly large group meetings, etc. Then, suddenly, all but one of the leaders quit. This left David and me to pick up the slack until new leaders had been trained. If I’d been in grad school, this would have been impossible.

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Here are three things I’ve learned about disappointment:

  1. Sometimes a “No” is saving your butt! What I learned that year was that God knew what I didn’t. I couldn’t know our leaders would bail, but God did and he protected me from being overwhelmed when I needed to pick up more ministry slack. He had the bigger picture. Sometimes when we don’t get what we think we want, it’s because God can see down the road and knows it’s not the best timing for us to receive that desire
  2. Sometimes the “No” we receive is temporary. I did get to start grad school, one semester later. I loved it and it was perfect timing. Our student leaders were up and running and I could concentrate on school and babies.
  3. Sometimes a “No” is because there is a better “Yes” coming that we can’t see yet. That’s what I’m hoping for with the mentoring program. I mean, I could have been rejected because I suck. But, I also could have been rejected because God knew that one of my books will soon become a NYT bestseller and I’d need all my time to travel around speaking on Ellen and Oprah! That’s my hope anyway.

In the meantime, I’m at peace. I’ve lived long enough to trust God for the bigger picture and to know he has my best interests at heart.

How have you dealt with disappointment? Have I forgotten something? Are you facing any big disappointments now?