Some Strategies for Managing Major Life Transitions
One must acknowledge first of all that transitions and change are stressful. Furthermore, positive transitions — marriage, promotion, an award — may be as stressful as negative ones. A U-shaped curve seems to accompany most major life transitions. At first, after the transition has been initiated, the mood of the person or organization that is undergoing the transition will tend to turn from optimism to pessimism; excitement may give way to disillusionment. Production will fall off until the bugs are worked out in the system; the change will proceed slower than expected; advocates of the change will discover negative consequences or side effects that were not anticipated. Only at a later point, after the person or organization has traveled through this “valley of despair” will transitions begin to reap some benefits — if they have been successful.
The planner of a personal or organizational change must anticipate this period of stress and introduce ways to reduce its negative impact. Perhaps the simple anticipation of stress is itself one such way; several other more specific suggestions follow. As in the case of the Tin Man of Oz, these suggestions often involve support offered by other people. This support can be engaged through formal ceremonies (such as occurred at the Emerald City) or through assistance provided by those people with whom we interact on an individual basis (as in the case of the support offered by other characters in the movie). There are also strategies that involve finding one’s own internal resources of support that have always been there – much as the Tin Man found that he already had a heart.
Ceremonies: Every culture creates specific events that signal major life transitions for a member of the group. For example, in most societies, entrance into puberty, marriage, birth of a child, divorce and the death of a loved one are made the focus of a ceremony. Similarly, many organizations acknowledge the entry of new people into the organization by means of initiations, orientation programs, social gatherings and so forth. Most organizations also have some type of a ceremony to acknowledge the promotion, move or exit of individuals from the organization.
Ceremony serves two important functions in helping people manage VUCA-Plus challenges and life transitions. First, it helps anticipate the stress that is associated with the challenges and transition. The ceremony serves as a signal, formally telling us that some intensive times are immediately ahead. Second, the ceremony indicates that other people care about this transition and are available for support in this endeavor. In a society which seems to be increasingly less ceremonial, we must plan for our own ceremonies.
We should provide ceremonies for significant other people. Remember that the marriage ceremony may be more important to the transitional processes of the parents than to those of the newlyweds. Perhaps the practice of some couples, who periodically renew and update their marriage vows as a means of acknowledging the changes that have continued to occur in their relationship, is as important for them as the initial ceremony. Similarly, team off-sites serve to maintain and deepen the personal relationships tested during the year, especially for dispersed teams.
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