Education Plus

Navigating change

The decade spanning the years from 18 to 28 entails several major transitions for most people. The first involves moving from a relatively contained and cosseted school environment to a larger, more diverse and open college campus. Next, we leave our alma maters behind to join the “real world” as we enter the work force. Some people enter into romantic relationships, choose to get married and possibly have a child during these years. Most leave the comforting haven of the parental home to set up their own residences. All these shifts involve umpteen changes. Further, a person may be dealing with change on multiple fronts—entering the work force, sealing a marriage, moving home and becoming a parent. While some people seem to adapt more fluidly to the changed circumstances and demands, most people go through some struggle as they gain a foothold in their altered lives. How can we ensure that we pass through these major milestones and other seasonal changes that await us in the years to come, without getting unduly ruffled?

Change vs transition

Author William Bridges who has written a book on the subject, draws a distinction between ‘change’ which refers to situational variables or circumstances and ‘transitions’ which involve psychological factors. If situations are altered but we don’t refashion our inner selves, then the change is just cosmetic. Bridges argues that society generally focuses on change without giving adequate import to the “inner reorientation and self-definition” that you undergo as you adapt to an altered life. According to him, all transitions involve an ending, a neutral zone and a new beginning. So the first step involves letting go of the former life, which may not be so easy after all. On your first day, you may find yourself in a large, impersonal college campus with class sizes as large as 100 and hanker for the more contained sections you had in school. Or, you may report for your first day at work and feel caged in your cubicle, especially after 4.00 pm, as you nostalgically reminisce about going home from college around that time.

A reason why letting go of your former life may not be so easy is that all transitions involve a period of adjustment, ironically, as Bridges sagely points out, not only do we need to get used to changes wrought by negative life events but also to those resulting from positive ones. Most of us readily acknowledge that tragic happenings like the death of a sibling or parental divorce involve inner turmoil and subsequent adjustment, but few of us realise that positive events may also lead to difficulty, albeit of a more benign kind. Nobody views entry into college or a new job in a threatening light. Weddings, especially in India, are celebrated with much pomp and fanfare only to disappoint the newly-weds who may not have anticipated the inner disquiet they feel in their newly transformed lives. While the birth of a child is heralded as one of the greatest joys of life, why do women then undergo post-partum depression? Thus, knowing that positive events also call for acclimatisation may help us be more prepared when we initially feel let down by a favourable development.

Neutral zone

Very often, when we make a new beginning, be it a job or a relationship, we are quick to pass judgement on whether this is the right move for us. However, our initial misgivings may be “the natural result of transition rather than a sign of personal malfunction or interpersonal breakdown,” as Bridges advises. So, instead of getting perturbed by the first flickers of doubt or even our ambivalent state of mind, we have to make sure that we give ourselves time to adapt to the recent developments in our lives. Even though external events can change our lives instantaneously, the psychological retuning that we have to go through takes a lot longer.

Bridges cautions us not to rush through the “neutral zone.” As we go through inner transformations, we need to ask ourselves what we have to let go in order to move on, and second, we need to look for fresh opportunities that await us as we enter a new role. A number of people prefer to have some quiet time to themselves during this stage as they work their way through the recent shifts and turns in their lives. It is not uncommon for people to be overcome by a feeling of emptiness at this time; it is quite natural.

Just as seasons morph over and over again, we have to prepare ourselves to deal with the many changes that life offers us. While young adulthood involves considerable shifts, it probably prepares you to face the myriad changes, some predictable, others random, that lie in store for you. As you learn to navigate these transitions with increasing grace, your age is not measured by years but by the wisdom you have garnered.

The author is Director, PRAYATNA. Email:

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Printable version | May 24, 2022 8:43:30 am |