Change is what we are

Dinner Confidential: “Big Life Transitions”

I’ve always struggled with transitions. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is — moving to a new country, ending a relationship, leaving a job — I’ve got a clear pattern. First, I panic. I become overpowered by anxiety and basically stop to function. Then, I spill. I talk to anyone who will listen about the chaos that is my life. It’s like a flood of emotion just waiting to be dumped on my family and friends. And after that, I find some time to do the things that make me feel good. I take care of myself, I re-group and re-ground. And finally, I tackle. I make decisions, I put one foot in front of the other, and somehow, I always make it to the other side.

Prior to this month’ Dinner Confidential, I always felt a little embarrassed of my process — it’s messy, it’s extreme, and it certainly doesn’t fit with the cool, calm, and collected image I’d like to project to the world. BUT, last week’s Dinner showed me just how universal and powerful the vulnerable mess of transitions are. 20 women, across two cities, 20 different patterns…and 20 beautiful messes!

Here are the key takeaways:

The Brink

  1. Big changes evoke complex emotions — To transition implies taking a risk. We’re leaving our comfort zone (either voluntarily or not) and entering uncharted territories (eg. a new job, motherhood, a new city, new relationship, new career path). While there can be a lot of excitement, for many of us, this moment is rooted in fear, we’re afraid of not meeting the expectations and letting ourselves and others down. It can feel disorienting as we risk losing our identity, the comfort of familiarity, relationships, financial security, our reputation. But something got us to this point — which begs the question — what is on the other side?

The Mud

  1. In “the mud,” we are far more powerful than we realize — The transition dip is a challenging place. We feel “stuck” or “paralyzed”, implying a sense of powerlessness and lack of belief in one’s self — do I really have what it takes to make it to the other side? However, when women told stories of how they moved through (or are currently moving through!) the mud, we heard tales of critical decision making, awe-inspiring courage and incredible resilience. So we wonder, who would we be and how would we behave during this period if we trusted ourselves more?
  2. We don’t like some aspects of ourselves that come out when we are in the mud (and not in control) — Before the transition, a number of women talked about how “My whole life, I’ve been…” and included words like “stable,” “prepared,” “excited for the future.” But when referring to themselves while in transition, we all used words like “lost,” “anxious,” “scared,” and “confused.” We don’t identify with these darker parts of ourselves, sometimes referred to as the “shadow self.” They feel shameful, embarrassing, and “outside of who we truly are.” But what if rather than shaming these parts, we identify their purpose and power, and chose to integrate them to create a more honest, holistic picture of our true selves?
  3. Support from others (external) and trust in the process (internal) gets us through to the other side — Many women rely on a spouse, friend, therapist or spiritual guide for backing and validation to make it through. These are the people that witness our mess and cheer us on no matter what. In parallel to the external, many of us expressed a deep trust in the transition process (although not in ourselves, which is interesting!). There’s a sense of “faith” that life sent this change our way for a reason and therefore we must accept it and know it will take us to a better place.

The Other Side

5. In retrospect, all change proves to be positive (even when they weren’t the right decision). Through change we grow, we discover new things about ourselves and what’s around us. So perhaps, the hardest, yet most important change is not becoming moms, changing jobs, moving into a new city etc. But rather, it’s about changing our attitude, mindset and behavior towards those situations throughout the process. We can actually CHOOSE what we do, say and how we engage with our feelings, it just requires some deep internal work.

Postscript

So many women started their shares with, “I’ve never shared this with anyone before, but…” With all of these stories coming out for the very first time, it became clear that so many of us are going through the pain of transition and suffering in silence. While transition is an inevitable and universal fact of life (we are all at one part of the transition curve, or about to start all over again!), many of us are experiencing these life moments in isolation.

What would it look like to experience the vulnerability and mess of transition within community? How would that change our process? How would it change our communities?

Next steps/things to experiment with

  1. Find the power in your down — Be present with the “difficult” emotions (the anxiety, fear, frustration etc) instead of push them away. Be compassionate and find your power by embracing all the aspects of yourself.
  2. Recognize your pillars of transition — Identify AND practice whatever helps you feel stronger, more balanced i.e.: girlfriends, books, running, etc.
  3. Share the gift of your vulnerability — Share your struggles with someone you trust. Chances are, this will open the door to deeper support and connection than you could’ve imagined.

Written by: Sybil Ottenstein

Dinner Confidential is a monthly event that brings together a small group of women to talk — with vulnerability and openness — about key sensitive topics in our lives (i.e.: self-confidence, dealing with fear, etc).Check out www.dinnerconfidential.org to learn more or attend a dinner!