12 ways to cope with life and career transitions
Major life events and changes, both positive and negative can have a huge impact on us personally and professionally, forcing us to stop, assess and develop in different ways.
Read on to discover 12 effective ways to navigate and cope with life and career transitions.
Just when life is singing along beautifully and it feels like the sun is shining down on your every move, suddenly something changes.
In turn, everything seems to shift and the world can feel a very different place.
I’ve put together some successful techniques to add to your personal toolkit, helping you process and navigate life and career transitions.
There is a saying attributed to John Lennon that you may have heard or used yourself;
“Life is what happens to you whilst you are busy making other plans.”
This is not meant to say that we shouldn’t plan for our future or have goals and ambitions, rather it is a caution to be flexible and aware that even the most meticulously laid plans can be derailed and this is all part of life. I also see it as a way of reminding ourselves to be more present and not forget to live and appreciate the moment.
Even life transitions that are longed for can be sometimes tricky to navigate. Getting that longed for job in a new city or country can come with multiple transitions at once. Or perhaps you’ve decided to change direction with a new career. Even if the change is everything you’ve ever dreamed of, there can be stress and complex emotions to navigate.
In truth, the only thing we have control over is ourselves. As the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus observed:
“We cannot choose our external circumstances but we can always choose how we respond to them.”
So how can we prepare for life and career transitions?
Sometimes, what may at first appear to be a disaster, can prove to be the catalyst for a change you didn’t even know you needed. At other times, we can be feeling crushed or overwhelmed and perhaps unable to put a name to the feeling, yet this turns out to be the beginning of a new phase or chapter in our lives.
As we grow and develop through our lives, there are an infinite number of ways we can evolve over time. When we’re experiencing or approaching a potentially challenging time, it’s worth reflecting on the different types of transition that we’ve successfully navigated in the past and reminding ourselves of our own power and agency to overcome the next challenge heading our way.
Developing habits and intentions which take you out of your usual comfort zone to build resilience is a positive step in aiding us to better prepare and feel more equipped to navigate both positive and negative life and career transitions.
What do we mean by transitions?
The list below is not exhaustive. Maybe one or two chime with you as either something you’re experiencing currently, recognised from the past or expect to experience in the future.
Moving from one level of education to another, such as graduating from high school and starting college or Uni completing a degree program and entering the workforce.
Changing jobs or careers, gaining a promotion, starting a business, being made redundant or retiring from the workforce.
Entering or ending a romantic relationship, getting married, having children, experiencing infertility, or becoming an empty nester.
Moving to a new town or country, starting college or a new job in a new location, or downsizing/upsizing to a smaller/bigger home. Perhaps you are moving from a shared house to your own space in another area or are used to city life and are moving to the countryside.
Dealing with illness or injury, recovering from surgery or a medical condition, or adjusting to life with a chronic illness or disability. Living with physical transition changes. Finding the right medication or changes to diet.
Changes in personal beliefs, values, identity, or attitudes, taking on new hobbies or interests, making significant lifestyle changes, engaging in or letting go of an existing faith or identity.
Changing financial circumstances through getting a job promotion or experiencing job loss, adjusting to an economic downturn, inheriting money or assets or going through a divorce or bankruptcy.
Loss and Grief
Coping with the loss of a loved one, a pet, a job or a relationship and learning to adjust and navigate your way to finding new ways of living that encompass your loss.
Navigating the changes that come with getting older such as not being seen as youthful, changes to how you see yourself in relation to others, dealing with family and parental responsibilities, health issues and retirement.
Running through all types of transitions to a greater or lesser extent could feel traumatic. Trauma is not felt equally, varying from person to person depending on circumstances. What one person can seemingly cope with effortlessly, can completely floor another person. That is also true that one person’s ability to navigate one type of experience doesn’t not necessarily mean that they can navigate all that life has to offer.
And that is OK. We’re all different and experience life in an individual way.
How to deal with life and career transitions
Acknowledging our past transitions and how we managed them can enhance our ability and fortitude to navigate future transitions.
Accepting that change and growth is part of life can help us build the resilience we need to deal with the unexpected and emerge stronger on the other side.
With the right mindset and tools, we can more successfully navigate future transitions with a greater sense of compassion for ourselves.
12 effective tips to help with the transitions and challenges you may be facing.
1. Acknowledge you are in a transitionary phase
Take time to honour what once was, acknowledge the regret for what will no longer be and gently remind yourself that this phase will pass.
Broadly we can understand people’s reactions to change through the SARAH model adapted from the Kubler-Ross grief change curve which is slightly different as with grieving we learn to incorporate loss into our lives rather than move on from it.
The stages of the SARAH model are:
Change takes people from their comfort zones, creating situations where power, influence, and truth shift. In addition, everyone has their own personality, thoughts, and beliefs and these are surfaced during times of uncertainty and upheaval. The stages of the SARAH model are not necessarily linear and will vary from person to person.
2. Connect, accept and understand your emotions
It’s normal to feel a range of emotions during a difficult transition, including sadness, fear, anger, and frustration. Instead of suppressing or denying these emotions, allow yourself to sit with them, feel them and process them. Talk to a friend, coach or therapist, journal your thoughts and feelings and take time to reflect on what you’re going through. Dr Gloria Wilcox designed a simple Feelings Wheel Tool to help people expand their awareness of emotions.
3. Develop your own practice of self-care
During any transition, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself. This can mean getting enough rest and sleep, eating nourishing food, exercising regularly and spending time outdoors.
Affording yourself time to do things you can or do enjoy. Whilst things might understandably feel out of control in other areas of your life, choosing to look after yourself is something that is within your control and can make all the difference.
For me, writing and reflecting can help with getting yourself unstuck. Taking it outside of your head and onto a page. What to do if you’re feeling stuck.
4. Let go of rigidity and embrace flexibility
While it’s natural to want to plan and exert control over certain aspects of your life, sometimes things happen that we simply have no control over. The best we can do is be open to new experiences, explore possibilities and use curiosity to approach opportunities even if they weren’t part of your original plan.
The less rigid you can be in your approach, the less resistance you will feel in your body as you flex and adapt to any new circumstance.
5. Create a sense of momentum through intention and purpose
Focus on progress not perfection. Adopting how you’ll approach the big thing that you face is helpful. For example, setting an intention of ‘momentum’, specifically that each day you’ll do something no matter how big or small that is in line you’re your intention of creating momentum. Breaking tasks down into chunks and focusing on moving forward to create momentum.
For example, if you need to re-write your CV and the overall task is overwhelming, aim to do it bit by bit. List out your roles and experiences one day, add in your personal bio the next and then tackle summarising your achievements the following day. Keep going until you have completed each section then you can refine it at the end. By doing a little at a time and focusing on your intention for that day, you will create the drive needed to complete the task over time. You may find career coaching is a real support when dealing with a career transition.
Chunking tasks can help you stay focused and motivated in other ways during a difficult transition. Whether it’s a short-term goal, like cleaning out your wardrobe or decluttering the kitchen drawer of doom, or a longer-term goal like starting a new career, planning the steps, having achievable mini-goals and having something to work towards can give you a sense of purpose, being intentional with a greater sense of direction.
6. Project and reflect
A good exercise to guide your intention and unearth your true path is by projecting forward to the next milestone – be that a 30, 40, 50 or 60th birthday – and reflect as to how future-you would look back and counsel you at this moment in time.
Would future-you be content with how your life is panning out? Or are there small steps you could take towards course-corrections that you could deploy now to ensure you are more aligned with your purpose in the long run.
Try not to get too hung up or rigid about what you should or should not have achieved by what age, this exercise is about surfacing your purpose not a measuring stick against peers or other people.
7. Seek support and community
Surround yourself with people who are encouraging and understanding. If you’re not ready to share with those close to you, sometimes it’s easier to reach out to a community or connect with a specialist organisation that can help.
Finding a mentor who has been through a similar experience can be helpful and support groups can provide inspiration.
“Joanne’s coaching style is warm and engaging with a sensitivity that evokes real honesty and trust in the shared space. I reached my aim of being able to unearth and articulate my purpose and with that an easy to see career path. Being able to refine and work on my interviewing skills and clarity of purpose has not only given me great confidence it has landed me my next career role! I highly recommend Joanne for coaching for people that are wanting to change careers, looking to pursue new roles and for support when going through any change or personal transition.”
– Emma J | Senior Manager Leadership Development and Learning | SMP Global
8. Remind yourself of your own agency
Remind yourself of situations you’ve overcome in the past, transitions you’ve navigated successfully as even seemingly small achievements can remind you of your own power and agency.
Take some time to reconnect with your unique strengths – you can text and ask a friend for the top 3 strengths off the top of their head if you need some help to get started.
Consider the challenging situations you’ve navigated in the past, celebrate and acknowledge the way you handled them.
9. Develop a daily practice of gratitude
It’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of a difficult transition but practising gratitude can help you shift your perspective and find the positives.
Take some time each day to reflect on what you are grateful for, whether it’s a supportive friend, a sunny day, a delicious cup of coffee or simply that you got through the day.
Remember the things you can do, such as go for a walk if you are able or speak to a friend or relative on the phone and give thanks for these things. Being grateful for even the simplest things in life can be very rewarding and build positivity.
10. You either win, or you learn – so learn to embrace it
Nelson Mandela once said ‘I never lose. I either win or I learn.’
Losing is not final; it represents the opportunity to try again with more knowledge than you had last time.
Transitions or change can sometimes feel daunting or scary. If you can, try to remember to embrace the idea that when you try something new, you either succeed and it’s a win or you don’t succeed but you do learn something new.
The familiar and comfortable can wrap us in a false sense of security making change or difference feel overwhelming.
However, change is always an opportunity for growth and personal development. Instead of resisting or fearing it, embrace change and see it as a chance to learn and evolve yourself. Take the opportunity to reframe it as a chance to learn new things, meet new people and adopt new ways of thinking.
Our brains are built to create new neural pathways and think of the new changes as lightning sparks of inspiration to your brain.
11. Cultivate patience
Developing the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious. Be kind to yourself and remember while some things move quickly, other things will take more time.
Any big change such as redundancy – whether planned or unplanned – can require considerable effort to manage. It takes time to absorb the change and adjust to the new reality. It’s OK to take the time you need.
Financial pressure may feel overwhelming but by giving yourself a little time and space, making sure you acknowledge the small victories and successes along the way, you’ll be better able to manage in the long run.
12. Being in the here and now
Aim to be more present in your own life at each moment. You can do this by looking around you at what you have and taking time to pay attention to the moments as they happen. Consider how you are resourced to handle life and remind yourself that you are not your successes or failures.
Your story may shape you, but it doesn’t define you.
It’s easy as humans for us to grow accustomed to external validation and grow reliant on our job or relationship determining us a success or deeming us a failure. But we are all more than the things that happen to us. You define you.