Transitions are scary. Lawyers, whose very job requires predictability of an outcome, have a particularly hard time with the unpredictable nature of transitions. Let’s rescue the word and the experience together.
We all go through transitions in life. In the realm of professional transitions, we have anxiously awaited acceptance to our preferred law school and looked for our first legal job, with at least a part of us doubting a successful outcome. In the age of layoffs and decreased hiring, we might find ourselves between jobs throughout our legal career more than once. Even if you are employed, you might start exploring other options, which sets a transition in motion.
Transitions are inherently anxiety provoking. Sadness, a fear of the unknown, doubts and a glimpse of hope are all normal attributes of a transition. There is no way to know whether taking a risk by leaving the job you dislike will pay off. You wistfully look back on what you are leaving behind, the security and the familiarity of that life lulling you into fleetingly wishing you didn’t have to move forward. You can also be jolted into a transition involuntarily and experience many of the same emotions.
To get through a transition well, it’s important to remind yourself that you are in a transitional period at the moment. Whether you are looking for a job or thinking of a job or career change, you are in transition, and it’s natural to be struggling.
Transitions have been described to have three stages (according to author William Bridges):
- Endings. You leave behind that old job, house, relationship, etc. It is important to mourn the loss of whatever you are leaving behind, so that you can give yourself a chance to move forward.
- New beginnings. There is a stage of getting used to the new job, home, a change of lifestyle, etc. It will take some time for you to adapt, but having grieved the loss of what was left behind, you will feel freer to accept and embrace the changes.
- Neutral zone. The name sounds innocent enough, but this might be the most disorienting stage of a transitional period, which is the interim phase between these two stages.
There is some overlap of the neutral zone with the first phase. For example, you start expressing the dire dissatisfaction with your current job/career/relationship/living situation and so on. You then begin to figure out your needs, priorities, hopes, dreams, values and finances. You are weighing options and considering other possibilities that will lead you to the next stage. However, the current situation has not ended yet.
This can be a discombobulating experience because we are hardwired to resist change, which stokes insecurities, anxiety and fears. These responses to change are natural because things in your life are no longer predictable and familiar. You are mourning the loss of what was and are struggling to identify what’s next and how to adapt to it.
If you are going through a tough time, be kind to yourself. Instead of despairing or berating yourself for getting to this point, remind yourself that you are struggling because you are in transition. It’s important to grieve what’s no longer with us, letting go of the emotional attachment to what we are leaving behind. The middle transitional phase is scary, uneasy and disorienting but full of hope and excitement for what will come next.
May you begin to view transitions as a period of struggle that leads to growth and opportunity, and may you treat yourself with compassion throughout your struggles.
Guest blogger Dasha Tcherniakovskaia has changed careers after devoting 10+ years to corporate law. She has worked as a paralegal at a major financial institution and an associate at a large Boston law firm. She has since received a master’s degree in counseling and works with individuals struggling with the stresses of life.