Change – It's An Ongoing Process, Not a Single Event
We all face endless change and adjustment in life. Regardless of whether they are externally driven changes, such as those initiated by geo-political events, or those internally generated by personal maturation processes, or other responses required to life events such as welcoming a new child, starting a new job or career, marital discord, divorce, or the death of a family member.
Unfortunately, life never remains static and therefore, neither can we.
Noted change management author, William Bridges, has identified a simple three-step model for understanding and coping with the changes in our lives:
I really like Bridges’ model because it acknowledges that all changes – whether the “good” ones or the “bad” ones – start with something ending in our lives. Despite how much we might be looking forward to the change (e.g., beginning college, new job, getting married, moving), the new thing initially requires that we forfeit something.
We usually have to release the well-known, the accustomed, and the comfortable. This may take the form of modifications to existing relationships, moving from a neighborhood where we’ve lived for years, giving up our recognized position of “authority” or being the “go-to” person at work. It may be that we’ll have to walk away from a social circle that we’ve had for our whole lives. Friends with whom we attended school. A big comfortable house, with a cool backyard for entertaining, plenty of room for the kids and all their friends. Perhaps it’s something as simple as a quick and easy commute to work.
Regardless of the transition in our lives, probably the first thing(s) that we’ll become aware of are the things we must bid farewell.
2. Neutral Zone
The next part of the process is I think the hardest one. We’ve given up all the recognized, dependable, comfortable, accustomed things that we’ve trusted to expedite our routine decision-making processes, a support group we can share our lives with. We’ve had to give up all the established “safety nets” we’ve incorporated into our lives: the insurance agent we’ve relied upon, our child’s teacher, the club where we’ve become well established and have a strong support network.
The Neutral Zone is the place where all the “old stuff” has to be left behind, but the corresponding new support infrastructure hasn’t yet been created, or if built, they are still still being firmed up and rather delicate.
Living in the Neutral Zone can be quite intimidating as you live in a state of novelty, ambiguity and uncertainty. But determination and perseverence are the keys to a successful trip through the Neutral Zone.
Little by little, over time, we get things established for our new life. If we’ve just started college, we’ve attended all our classes, met the teachers, made some friends, and perhaps joined a fraternity or sorority. If beginning a new occupation, we’ve overcome the initial shock of being the rookie, to being a full-fledged team member, and we’ve learned a lot about how to peform the duties expected of us. We’ve met our bosses and many of our associates (perhaps there’s even someone newer to the team than we are). We’ve probably found a new home or apartment, unpacked most (if not all) the boxes. We know where the best grocery stores, drug stores, cleaners, car repair shops, beauty salons, and hospitals are located.
Things are finally settling into a normal schedule, and life is becoming more secure – and more predictable every day (although it will never become totally static, or change-free).
We’re assimilating the change and growing into our new roles and adapting to our new setting.
This takes time. The worst thing you can do is expect that it will occur overnight – it won’t. Give yourself, and your family, sufficient time and space, to adapt to the change – and they will!
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