In earlier posts, I’ve talked about modifying one’s way of being that worked well during one’s long career (Competitiveness) and I’ve talked about finding a meaningful Tapa (Meaningful Tapa Emerges). What we really have here, on a fuller scale, is an ending and a beginning.
It’s worth taking good note of this fact, since we’re often not so good at endings, and that can make finding new beginnings harder.
In his book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges writes about the process of ending something and starting something else. When something important ends, for our purposes one’s long career, Bridges points out that denial, shock, anger, frustration/stress, and ambivalence are likely to ensue. After all, one has just ended a fairly consuming activity that ran for perhaps 30-40 years! And one might just have a scary amount of their identity tied up in the long career that was. In a sense, this is almost like death — although fortunately just the death of a part of our lives, viewed from a useful perspective. It’s far from game over. So the ending needs to be celebrated, observed, felt, explored, inhabited, honored, mourned, and in other ways processed fully: the retirement party will simply not suffice. So talk about it, write your thoughts and feelings, paint about it, get drunk and cry about it, share your pain and confusion (or joy and delight, or all of the above) with others early and often. Have a ceremony and bury your company ID card. Do what it takes to move through the steps that Bridges lists above.
And this will help you arrive at what he calls The Neutral Zone. Now you’re not in your long career anymore, but neither have you got a complete new life assembled. This can be a place that feels unglued, where decades of attachment and structure no longer exist, a place of untetheredness. And it can be a place where emerging freedom and possibility can be experienced. One must live in the Neutral Zone for enough time to have new beginnings start to poke their nose out into the open. How long? Who knows. I’ve blogged about it taking me 18 months after leaving my long career before I took on the new opportunity of piano lessons. This must be different for everybody. And yet, the Neutral Zone must be traversed, for if one doesn’t allow their Ending to be processed and a time of gathering and regrouping to take place, the possibility of a sustainable new Beginning is diminished.
As new beginnings start to form up in our mind, Bridges continues, we meet them with skepticism: “I’ll never be any good at that.” “They’ll never want me.” “It’ll never work.” Etc., etc., etc. This may defeat and relegate to the junkyard a number of potential paths or Tapas, or merely delay them to another time. Eventually something will emerge that you can accept as within your imaginable grasp/reach/energy. And you’ll be able to ascribe some importance to it without becoming too fearful of it being unobtainable. This will lead to hope and then enthusiasm and then you’ll be off and running with a new career, if that’s where you’re headed, or with a Tapa to start or add to your collection. And you will have run the course of Bridges’ Transition model.
Quite a process, eh? If you’re mindful of it, that will help you travel the path a bit more easily, and perhaps with more awareness of what’s going on. He notes that Change is Fast (your long career slammed shut one Friday afternoon) and Transition is Slow (takes a while to work through the Ending, dwell in the Neutral Zone, and gradually gather energy to embark on a New Beginning).
Another key takeaway at this juncture is that the first half of your adult life (and even your childhood/adolescence before that) is taken up with proving your competence here on Planet Earth. The second half, the half after your long career, is taken up with finding meaning in your journey from dust to dust. Thus my reference to the Competitiveness and Meaningful Tapa Emerges posts.
Safe travels on your journey!