Planning for Transition in Life

Life is full of changes. These changes often involve transitions which can take many forms. Some are standard to just about everybody (such as transitioning to the workforce as a young adult or to retirement later in life). Others are unique to each individual (such as dealing with a change in employment or adapting to a significant loss of some sort). No matter what sort of change you’re facing, you can make the experience smoother by taking a few proactive steps. Think of it as organizing your life on a grand scale.

When you’re staring change in the face, try applying these three practices to make the process easier.

Consider the Possibilities

Instead of letting life happen to you, you can choose to take charge of your situation. In order to do so, you will need to think about all the possibilities associated with whatever transition you’re facing. Some will be positive and some will be negative. Examining the practical realities associated with a change can make dealing with them much easier. Knowing what you’re up against allows you to prepare yourself mentally, emotionally and in all other ways.

Let’s say you're preparing for a move to a new state. On the positive side, you will be faced with many new possibilities: a new home, new friends, new employment or educational opportunities, and a chance to make a fresh start and reinvent yourself. Some potential negatives in this situation include leaving friends and family behind, facing the unknown, the stress of being displaced, and the financial burdens associated with making a major move.

Start by making a list of the postives and negatives you expect to arise from this new situation. Then carefully think through how you can deal with each of them.

What can you do to alleviate some of the stress associated with the challenges?

How will you take advantage of the new opportunities this change presents?

Plan Ahead

General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Planning is everything. The Plan is nothing.” What does that even mean? Simple. Planning is vitally important. In planning you think through the possibilities of what you may face and develop a strategy for dealing with them. In so doing, you prepare yourself for what lies ahead. But why is the plan nothing? Because things rarely go exactly as planned.

At times of transition in our family my husband has often paraphrased a famous quote from Helmuth von Moltke, a German Field Marshall from the late 19th century. Generally speaking (no pun intended), he said, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” In other words, you can plan all you like, but when it comes time to implement the plan, the realities of life are likely to force you to adjust as you go. That’s OK. Effective planning can actually prepare you to make the necessary adjustments.

The most important part of planning is setting goals. As you examine the possibilities associated with your changing circumstances, think about what you want from this new phase of your life. Then decide how you will achieve those goals. It helps to start at the end and work backward. Once you’ve decided what you want your life to look like post transition, determine what you need to do now to make your wants a reality.

Retirement is an excellent example. We all know we are going to face it at some point, but it definitely represents a transition. Entering retirement unprepared can result in significant financial stress. In addition, one can face loneliness, boredom, mental and physical deterioration, and a sense of uselessness. By setting goals for your retirement you can avoid most, if not all, of these potential negatives. Planning for retirement will most definitely have a financial aspect, but should also include goals regarding how you hope to spend your time. Examine your likes and interests and determine what you need to do now to prepare to enjoy those things in retirement.

I once knew a lady who daydreamed of owning a horse ranch. For many years it was nothing but a fond fantasy. Then one day she had a thought: “Why couldn’t I own a horse ranch? What’s stopping me?” That day her daydream became a goal, and she began preparing for this desired transition in her life. She did research and took lessons and started saving. Each of us has the power to make similar changes in our lives if we’re willing to do the work.

Establish a Support System

Everything is easier when shared with a friend or loved one. No burden need be carried alone. If you’re facing transition (and we all are from time to time), let those who love you offer their support. Share your goals. Ask for advice from others who’ve been where you’re heading. As you identify potential problems or challenges, seek the help and support of others in managing those issues.

Sometimes Transition is Unexpected

I recognize that not all of life’s transitions can be planned for. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or unexpected health concerns are just a few of the many experiences we sometimes face which are neither hoped or planned for. Even in situations where you are facing an unexpected (and unwelcome) change, these strategies can help make the adjustment smoother. There is still strength and perspective to be gained from carefully examining the situation, setting goals for the future in this new reality and turning to others for strength and support.

While we can never truly prepare for the unexpected, we can develop skills and abilities that will help us deal positively with whatever surprises life has in store for us. One valuable skill set we can establish is increasing our emotional intelligence. In his book, A Dictionary of Psychology*, Dr. Andrew Coleman defines Emotional Intelligence as "the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and that of other's, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one's goal(s)"*. 

Recommended Reading

In this section of the website we will examine some of life’s transitions and look at ways to organize, plan and prepare in order to make them smooth and successful.

*affiliate link

**Coleman, Andrew (2008). A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199534067.

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