A month or two ago I wrote a blog about saying goodbye, the first part of transition that happens after a change. Remember, change is an event. Your transition is your emotional, mental, and behavioral response to that event.
Learning how to say goodbye helps you make space for the newness coming your way. But it doesn’t end there. There are two more parts in the transition process. We’re going to dive into part 2, the “messy middle”.
I’m not saying that the middle must be messy. But let’s face it, the middle is like nougat. No one can really
make sense of it, but it holds the edges together. My intention isn’t to say that the middle must be crystal clear. Just that understanding what it is and why it’s there can help you navigate any transition that you’re going through.
When I left my last job, I didn’t have a clear landing pad in view. I didn’t even know if I wanted to continue practicing clinical medicine. I was totally lost. I just knew I had to get out of there and gave myself 4 months to figure things out.
That four months launched me into the messy middle. I had to sort through a bunch of emotions, aspirations, and practical issues to decide what to do next. After a whole lot of doubt-filled days and sleepless nights (and after a brief stint doing utilization reviews), I decided to open my private practice.
What makes the messy middle so challenging? It’s full of big and unexpected emotions. The bigger that change, the more intense the emotions may feel. It’s one of the most difficult parts of experiencing any significant change.
Fortunately, you can learn to ride out the emotional waves that come with the period of uncertainty in the middle of transition.
When a snake crawls onto the path in front of you, can you stand there and wait for it to slither away? Even as your brain is screaming, “Danger! Danger!”
Can you tolerate sitting with your anxious feelings?
We often struggle to feel our uncomfortable emotions. Instead, we run from them or shove them into a dark corner of our brain, and try to stick some other lighter more acceptable emotion in their place.
Emotions are information but they don’t have to consume you. You can let an emotion emerge and rise to the surface without responding to it. You can feel it and then choose to do nothing.
For some people, feeling uncomfortable emotions might seem impossible or overwhelming. If you’ve experienced trauma, you might need to relearn how to safely feel some of your emotions with professional help. If this describes you, find a mental help professional who can help you learn how to experience your emotions in a safe way.
If you believe that you can experience your emotions safely, then when you’ve experienced a change, allow the emotions that emerge to bubble up to the surface. Sit with them and let yourself tolerate the discomfort for a while.
Emotions are information but they don’t have to consume you.
Think of the burning you feel in your lungs when you run. It’s uncomfortable, but you can learn to tolerate the discomfort for a period of time.
Wait it out
I’ll tell you a secret. Eventually, all emotions will pass. Even the biggest and most uncomfortable ones.
Think of a time when you were a child when you were really angry. Do you still feel that same intensity of angriness? Recalling the emotion might trigger some transient angry feelings, but most likely your current experience of anger is a shadow of what you experienced back then.
Emotions are like clouds. Eventually, they float away. Sometimes, pausing and letting the wave of strong emotion recede can help you manage your emotions.
When you’re smack in the middle of transition, your emotions can shift from one moment to the next. One minute, you’re yelling at the driver who cut you off on the freeway and the next, your feeling overwhelmed trying to decide whether or not to indulge in a Netflix binge or hop on your Peloton.
Feeling irritable, confused, and overwhelmed can all come up during the middle of a transition. But give them a little time and the feelings will pass.
Look for the gift
Emotions are data. They’re letting you know that your brain is feeling some kind of way about the situation that you’re in. The brain is saying, “Hey, this is important to us, pay attention.” How is your brain using your emotions to try to help you?
Emotions might be telling you to approach or avoid a situation. You don’t have to do what your brain is urging you to do, but you can try to understand why this situation is important to you.
Don’t try to avoid or white-knuckle it through the middle part of transition. The emotions that come up during this time of uncertainty give you a chance to make sense of how things are changing so you can be in the best position to move forward.
Welcome your emotions without being controlled by them and move into your future with confidence and intention.