Dolores Cummins leadership workshop and personal transitions

Personal Transitions

Managing Transitions

Each stage of our life carries thresholds to pass through to the next stage, chapter or path.  Each threshold evokes a range of complex and at times confusing emotions including fear, excitement, anticipation, anxiety and hope.  Fear of the unknown, excitement about new possibilities, anticipation for new beginnings, anxiety about next steps and hope that the new chapter will fulfil us at a deep level and that we will be ok, we will be fulfilled, we will be safe and we will be well. 

Yet life is fraught with challenges that create crossroads and decision points.  It could be a health scare, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or career, the end of a relationship.  Anything that cartelizes change and knocks us out of routine, out of autopilot.  Anything that shakes our identity and stops us in our tracks.  Yet, does it have to be so radical?  Is there a gentler way to challenge the boundaries of the possible, to step fully into a meaningful life, to explore a new path, the path perhaps less trodden!  What is your small internal voice asking you to consider?

When we reach the end of our days, will we regret the paths not chosen, the relationships not taken, or the possibilities left unexplored?  Are these universal questions?  Or are there some peaceful souls sailing through life, content and fulfilled with their daily lot?

For the questers, the way-sayers and the wave makers, the willingness to confront the uncertainty of these questions is the first step to consciously manage the changes required when stepping onto a new path.   The  biggest journey we will ever take is the one inside to self-awareness and awakening.  What gives us the courage to take this first step into the unknown.  To throw away the known, the possible, the doable?  The willingness to confront our internal fears which enables us to take that first step into space.  Into nothingness, into what next, into the unknown? A space undefined.  A path not yet owned.  A road less travelled.  Nothing tried, tested or certain… yet calling tantalisingly with the hint of what could be……. !  Does some form of disaster have to be the catalyst or trigger?  I believe that our fear of the unknown is often so great, we have to be shaken out of it by some event or experience. 


The pilgrims paused on the ancient stones
In the mountain gap.
Behind them stretched the roadway they had travelled.
Ahead, mist hid the track.
Unspoken the question hovered:
Why go on? Is life not short enough?
Why seek to pierce its mystery?
Why venture further on strange paths, risking all?
Surely that is a gamble for fools… or lovers.
Why not return quietly to the known road?
Why be a pilgrim still?
A voice they knew called to them, saying:
This is Trasna, the crossing place.
Choose! Go back if you must,
You will find your way easily by yesterday’s fires,
there may be life in the embers yet.
If that is not your deep desire,
Stand still. Lay down your load.
Take your life firmly in your two hands,
(Gently… you are trusted with something precious)
While you search your heart’s yearnings:
What am I seeking? What is my quest?
When your star rises deep within,
Trust yourself to its leading.
You will have the light for first steps.
This is Trasna, the crossing place. Choose!
This is Trasna, the crossing place. Come!
by Raphael Consedine P

It is at this point that we arrive at the crossing place.  A place of transition where we are invited to question, to disrupt our own identity, to unravel the person we’ve become in order to step into who we are becoming.  This unravelling is fraught with danger,  raw with vulnerability,  laden with the emotion of grieving the old comfy self, the one who is not quite sure about taking this leap into the new. The one who does not want to go into the ‘gloopy’ stage of the chrysalis.  The one who ultimately knows that to emerge as the butterfly, requires passing through this transition stage.

Allowing the  quest-ion to emerge.  The ones that are irritating and present at the back of our head failing to be quietened by the usual comfort of busyness, or travel, or new cars or moving house, or changing jobs.  Maddeningly it beckons, waiting – a call to something else. 

Joseph Campbell said that “The gift of a lifetime is being who you are.” The question is – do you know who really are?  Do you know what you stand for?  Do you know where you are going?  Disconcerting questions.  With the capacity to shake our foundations to the core.

I believe we each have a unique song to sing.  One that honours who we are, who we are becoming and what we were born to do.  We have to find that song and sing it … otherwise it remains unsung as no one else on this earth can sing it for us.  It is inimitable. The essence we leave behind when our time to leave comes as it does for us all.   Buddhists believe if you have “the courage to die well, then perhaps you will have the courage to live well.”  John Donohue calls this the call to become ‘who you were dreamed to be.”

Letting go the socialised identity, the ego, the mask that we wear can be painful, terrifying, confusing and even inspiring.  Yet life pushes us sometimes to look beyond all that to reflect on what really matters. 

When we sit in uncertainty, with the self-doubts, or the unanswered questions with a sense that change is needed, or perhaps a new adventure beckons on the horizon, it’s time to listen within.

And at this point, we may retreat back to the shore of the know… the job that we  have outgrown, the relationship that binds us to the past, the financial worries that distract and disempower.

Whispers of conversations, books appear, strangers come forward, doors open to stir new possibilities and we start to awaken to new possibilities. And it might be overwhelming to even consider the changes required, what we have to let go of as we touch the yearning for whatever it is that beckons us forward. It may be a deep sense of belonging, or the connection of a soul mate, or the pursuit of completely different career path or higher studies or pursuit of a life that simply brings joy and inner peace. 

What new story do you want to tell? What  song were you born to sing? How are you believing and valuing yourself? “You are a child of the universe,  no less than the trees and the stars.  You have a right to be here.  And whether it is clear to you or not, the universe is unfolding as it should.” (Desiderata)

Understanding the Stages of Change

Change brings up many emotions as we transition from the old into new beginnings. We may experience heightened levels of stress or agitation, frustration, hopelessness, optimism or excitement.

The following model is adapted from William Bridges – managing transitions. It highlights the different stages of change. 

What changes are you facing or considering in your life ?

Each one of us has to discover what is possible in personal success by having the courage to step out into the unknown and manage whatever changes comes into our lives, whether that is a change in career, in family, friendships, health or financial circumstances.

Steps in Managing Change

Navigating transitions require awareness and skills. At each fork in the road there is a time to make decisions, a time to celebrate, a time to grieve, a time to let go and a time to move forward, albeit hesitantly at times.

How we manage change and uncertainty is a major factor in determining how successful we are. Some steps to help include the following;

Step One: Build awareness

When faced with transition, it is vital to acknowledge that change is a process, which once understood, enables us to make sense of the journey.

Where are you on the change curve?

Step Two: Acknowledge endings. Let go.

This is a time of letting go, of releasing past relationships, careers, possessions, ways of being, lifestyles and perhaps more. In letting go, we commit to moving on.

This may also be a time of grieving, of coming to terms with changed circumstances. Sometimes, in order to let go, we need to forgive somebody who hurt us or did us wrong. The act of forgiveness is powerful as it releases us.

It is important to recognize whether you are ready to move on or whether you need more time to pause and regroup. Without enough processing time, you risk either being

paralysed by the past or shut down in the future because you have stifled negative experiences or emotions, which simmer inside until something triggers an avalanche of unexpressed emotions including hurt, grief or anger. 

The following model shows how repression of difficult events or experiences can lead to shutting down.  The only way out is by going through the emotions, fully feeling the sadness, the hurt and the pain in order to coming back up to feel joy, happiness and release.

Step Three: The bridge between realities—sitting with the unknown

Now we must negotiate the neutral zone—the bridge to new beginnings. This can be a confusing, in-between time when we are not sure what to do next. It is a time of reflection, questioning, re-grouping and re-evaluating our situation and/or sense of purpose.  This phase requires courage, honesty and strong commitment to a new journey.

It is normal at this point to yearn for the apparent safety of the past.  It beckons alluringly, however to retreat there has a high cost as it can keep us stuck in old familiar patterns, habits and behaviour that no longer serve us or allow us to change.

The only real security in this world is within us. It stems from knowing at a deep visceral level that no matter what life throws at us, no matter what lies around the corner, we will cope and come through, perhaps a little battered, perhaps a little less egocentric, definitely a little wiser, and ultimately unbowed, ready to continue.

Step Four: Explore new beginnings

The final stage in transition requires an exploration of new beginnings. It demands curiosity, flexibility and openness. Coupled with trust and a willingness to explore new possibilities. Commitment and courage will see us through.

Becoming aware of our values and motivations. Learning new behaviors and skills.  Embracing new patterns that eventually become new beliefs and habits all enable us forge a new and meaningful chapter.

Questions Along the Way

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Change pushes us to explore edges of ourselves that we may never have experienced before. It creates opportunities perhaps unimagined to this point.  It requires space for reflective thinking.  It is a catalyst for growth and renewal.  It is a journey requiring courage, fortitude and determination.

“May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.”
John O’Donohue