What is the difference between a life change and a life transition? A life change is external and situational; something tangible such as a separation agreement or a “pink slip” when you lose a job. Whereas a life transition is internal and psychological. It is the internal work we do to reorient and readjust ourselves to our new external reality.
Many of us do the life change but do not do what I call the “transition journey work”. When we only do the life change, we often keep repeating the same patterns in our lives and become frustrated and unfulfilled. An example is someone who consistently chooses new positions for the money without understanding and choosing based on their passions and what makes their soul sing. Another is someone who marries three, four or five times and after the initial honeymoon phase ends up in each relationship dealing with the same issues again and again and again, and either stays in the relationship and remains unhappy and unfulfilled or leaves and starts the process again.
The Benefits of doing the Internal Work
When we commit and take the time to do the internal psychological work and switch our beliefs and actions from resisting to embracing change, we no longer perceive change as a threat.
So how do you learn to embrace change and view it as a creative process that opens you up to new possibilities?
By understanding yourself and how you respond to change and why. And having a framework and tools to support you to navigate the journey.
The Art of Change Framework
Based on over 30 years of experience working with people and organizations in volatile environments including conflict zones, I created the “Art of Change Framework”. It is based on the metaphor “life is a dance” and underpinned by the belief that “embracing change is a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities.” Faced with yet another life transition, I decided to apply the “Art of Change Framework” to that transition and document the journey so I could share it with others.
On October 7, 2022, I had hip replacement surgery for my left hip. Due to osteoarthritis, I hardly had any cartilage left in it. That was the first major surgery I’d had.
My Transition Journey: Applying the “Art of Change Framework”
Step 1 – The first step in the “Art of Change Framework” is Shine the Light. This is where you explore how you respond to change and why.
Rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 in terms of how you typically respond to change “1” being “scares me to death” and “10” being “I thrive on it”. I rate myself as a “9” as I typically enjoy change and starting and experiencing new things. Perhaps you relate. The next activity is Rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 in terms of how you typically respond to a change that is imposed on you and that “comes out of the blue” such as when you receive a lay-off notice or when your partner says they no longer love you. I rate myself as a “6” on this scale.
Step 2 – Choose Your Dance – This is where you choose the transition you want to focus on, as it is preferable to focus on one transition at a time. The transition I’m choosing to focus on is my hip replacement surgery.
Step 3 – Feel the Rhythm and Learn the Steps – In this step you begin doing the work associated with where you are on your transition journey that includes: 1) an ending; 2) a neutral zone; and 3) a new beginning (adapted from the work of William Bridges). Each phase has work associated with it. The work associated with the ending is letting go and identifying lessons learned.
What did I have to let go of as part of my hip replacement surgery?
- Fear I had about “going under the knife”
- The emotions associated with grief; losing my once healthy hip, the one that had enabled me to run, jump, swim, hike … for all those years
- The belief that I had somehow caused my hip cartilage to deteriorate based on all of the track and field, running, and jumping and other sports I have done since my youth
- My independence as I had to let my partner and others support me during my recovery
- The ability to do activities I regularly do such as yoga, walking in nature, swimming, hiking …
- The belief that I’m getting old and as we age our health declines.
Step 4 – Practice, Practice, Practice – This step involves embracing change in your body and continuing to do the work associated with the phase of the transition journey you are in.
As part of the ending phase above, what lessons did I learn from the experience?
- Patience; I had to learn that recuperating from this type of surgery takes time; at least three to six months
- To reach out and ask for support
- To receive and be okay depending on the physical and emotional support of others
- What an amazing caregiver my partner Alan is
- I am challenged to sit still and not be physically active
- This provided me the opportunity to pause, reflect and take stock of my life and identify the many people and things I am grateful for
- I received the insight that as it was my left hip that was replaced, it is representative of my feminine side. Perhaps my new hip will have “amped up” my feminine energy and help me to spend more time in flow and move forward more quickly and easily without driving and striving.
The neutral zone is the phase between the ending and the new beginning. The work of this phase is to get clear and envision the life, relationship, career of your dreams. It provides an opportunity to create and visualize what your new life will look and feel like. This can also be a fearful place as you have “taken the leap”, are entering unknown territory, and you’re not sure what’s on the other side or whether there is a net to catch you.
I could have chosen not to go on the surgical wait list about a year ago, but after encouragement from my partner I said yes.
What will my new life look like? I see myself:
- playing with my grandkids, going up and down slides with them (including water slides), climbing on recreational equipment
- kayaking with my Sweetie, going on motorcycle rides, and feeling comfortable on the back of Alan’s motorbike
- awakening each day feeling whole, healthy and without pain
- hiking and walking with friends and family on a regular basis
- doing yoga three or more times a week
- believing that life continues to be an adventure to be lived to the fullest
Step 5 – Share Your Dance with the World – In this step, due to the positive ways you respond to change, you inspire and are a positive role model for others.
Applying the “Art of Change Framework” to my recent hip replacement experience reaffirmed for me that the 5-step “Art of Change Framework” and process takes you on a journey that transforms you from resisting and fearing change to moving through personal and professional transitions with greater ease, grace, and playfulness, resulting in increased clarity and confidence.
If the “Art of Change Framework” resonates for you, I encourage you to apply it to your own personal and professional transitions. I welcome your comments and questions below.
 Bridges, William, Transitions; Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2004.