Do you feel you are in a transition period in your life?

In midlife, you might feel like you’ve reached a crossroads. You pause and circle around to look for a sign to point you in the right direction. But there are no signposts to guide you.

You thought you’d figured out how to live your life. But suddenly, you realize that you don’t know which way to go. You feel lost and confused. The thought of mustering the courage to make your own way and blaze a new trail can be scary and overwhelming.

According to William Bridges, PhD, this feeling is normal. You might wonder why you can’t navigate your midlife smoothly like everybody else. But that’s just an illusion. You can’t transition to a new stage in life without going through this confusing and disorienting phase.

 

🔀 Three phases of transitions

The book cover for In their book, “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes,” William Bridges, PhD and Susan Bridges describe the three phases of transitions.

🍂The 1st phase: Ending 

❄️ The 2nd phase: The Neutral Zone 

🌱 The 3rd phase: A New Beginning 

🍂 The First Phase of Transition: Ending 

 Bridges uses seasons as a metaphor to explain your life transition phases.

In the fall, leaves fall from the trees. During the winter, there are no leaves on the trees. Then when spring comes, new buds appear on the brown branches.

Just like the trees need to lose their leaves, when you transition to a new stage of your life, you need to lose the old “you.”

Throughout your life, your desire for big accomplishments might have been driving you forward. But when you reach midlife, what you desire in life may shift. You might be more interested in the psychological and spiritual sides of life.

What are the “leaves” you need to lose? What are the beliefs, assumptions, or attitudes that are no longer serving you? You need to let go of them.

To transition to a new stage in your life, you need to create space in your life. Therefore, the first task for a transition is actually not to learn new things, but to unlearn old things. You need to let go of things that are holding you back. If you don’t do that, there isn’t any space for the new “you” to emerge.

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❄️ The Second Phase of Transition: The Neutral Zone 

 The second phase of transition is the neutral zone. What’s it like to be in the neutral zone?

The neutral zone is like winter.

During the winter, it seems like nothing is happening and everything is dead. But this seemingly dead period is really important for new buds to come out in the spring. All the preparation happens during this time.

You can say the same thing about the second phase of your life transition.

Just like winter, this period is dark and confusing. Since you let go of your old “you,” you feel lost and empty. You struggle to find the new “you,” but the task isn’t quick and easy.

You will feel overwhelmed and might give up your journey to find the new “you.” You might want to deny your urge to change and return to the way you were. But at the same time, you feel a strong inner longing for change in your life.

Bridges say this confusing period is inevitable and important. You don’t want to rush to find a solution to “fix” yourself and find a new path to take. Give yourself time to figure out how to climb out of the dark chasm.

 

✍️ A few suggested activities for the 2nd phase 

Bridges offers a few suggestions while you’re in the neutral zone. Use these activities to find out what you really want in your life. 

✅ Find a time and place to be alone.

✅ Keep a diary of what is happening inside you and how your feelings are transitioning. This will help you to contemplate and clarify your feelings.

✅ This is a good time to write your autobiography. The process of writing it will help you clearly see where you’ve been and where you hope to go.

 

In this phase, you are vulnerable and weak. You might’ve been always driving yourself to “excellence” prior to this stage of your life. But in this phase, accept a “good enough” mindset and be kind to yourself. 

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🌱 The Third Phase of Transition: A New Beginning 

In late March and April, new buds will start coming out. But with your life in transition, it will be hard to predict when the third phase will begin.

Bridges says when you are ready, you’ll find an opportunity to move into the third stage of transition, a new beginning. He says it is like the right hotel key card opens the right room. It just clicks. 

In late March and April, new buds will start coming out. But with your life in transition, it will be hard to predict when the third phase will begin.

Bridges says when you are ready, you’ll find an opportunity to move into the third stage of transition, a new beginning. He says it is like the right hotel key card opens the right room. It just clicks.

 

🎬 A few suggested activities for the 3rd phase

Bridges advise some actions to take when you find an opportunity that aligns with your new inner desire.

✅ Stop being still. Start exploring the opportunities and take actions. Only actions can lead you to the new “you.”

✅ Begin to identify yourself with the new identity. Start saying, “I am ~” with your new identity.

✅ Take it step by step. Don’t be attached to the end results. Focus on the process.

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🤔 Imagine you’re ninety years old

If you feel like giving up on the life transition journey since it is confusing and overwhelming, try this experiment that the Bridges suggest in their book.

Imagine yourself being ninety years old now. You will know how your life has turned out.

From that vantage point, look at the life stage you are in right now. Are you on a straight path or are you at a major turning point in life? If it is the latter, what kind of actions would you like to take now? If you don’t take action, what kind of life will you end up living?

 

💡 Do This Now:

If you’ve been feeling confused, empty, and lost in midlife, rest assured that you aren’t alone. Give yourself permission to take time to figure out your next steps in life. Remember that transitions are a natural part of life, and they can lead to growth and self-discovery. By following the suggested activities in each phase, you will gradually move closer to your new beginning.

As you work through your transition, be patient with yourself and stay open to change. Focus on your personal growth, and remember that the journey itself can be just as rewarding as the destination. With determination and resilience, you’ll emerge from this period of uncertainty with newfound clarity, purpose, and fulfillment.