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Here's How to Take Charge of Change in Your Life

When I left my position as a staff psychiatrist for a local non-profit healthcare system, I felt stuck. I was uncertain

about my future in medicine and didn’t see a path forward. For four months, I considered my options, while doing chart reviews to keep some income flowing in. Ultimately, I understood that I wanted to work for myself so I could create the practice setting that reflected my values and identity as a physician.


Looking back, I can see how the initial change, leaving my staff position, was a catalyst for a major life transition. That life transition was revisioning my identity as a physician, and building a life that reflected that vision.


As I wrote about last week, a change is an event that leads to something being different. I went from being an employed physician to working for myself. However, it's the transition that occurred that led to a transformation in my identity. Transition is the psychological, emotional, and behavioral change that response as a result of a change.


So why do we even care about the distinction? Because when you're aware of the process that you're experiencing, you can be a proactive agent in how change manifests in your life. Change goes from being something that happens to you to an event that you navigate with choice and intention.


Before you can do that, it helps to understand the stages of life transitions. In his book, "Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes", Willam Bridges explains the stages we experience when we go through a transition.


It helps to visualize a bridge.


Going through a life transition is getting from one end of the bridge to the other without plunging into the frigid water below. You can't skip from one section to the next, you just have to keep moving forward.


Endings


I tried to rush through the ending when I left my staff position. My eyes fixed on "the next thing", I pushed through to my final work day with little reflection on the experience. Endings mean letting go. You might be letting go of a place, people or previous routines. However, you might also be letting go of a way of being, a part of your identity, a certain security in living in the known.


It's important that we take time to acknowledge whatever thoughts or emotion letting go brings up. Even though we may have initiated and welcome the change, going trough the transition means saying goodbye to a part of our lives or ourselves.


Going through a life transition is getting from one end of the bridge to the other without plunging into the frigid water below. You can't skip from one section to the next, you just have to keep moving forward.

The Neutral Zone


The neutral zone is the great in-between. Once I had worked my last day and prior to starting my practice, I was in a bit of limbo. I felt a pressure to move on to the next phase. However, the neutral zone is an opportunity for reflection and to gain clarity before moving into a new stage. Here we can resolve feelings of regret, uncertainty, or lostness that change often brings.


Bridges explains that more often, we try to rush through this stage. He makes the analogy of rushing across a street. Who stands in the middle of a busy street waiting for a car to plow into them? The middle of the street can feel uncomfortable and anxiety inducing.


Bridges describes the neutral zone as a time of "attentive inactivity". It's a time void of the activities that charaterize your pre-change self. You're breaking ties from some old aspect of yourself, paving the way for what's to come. During this time you might not have a clear picture of what's next, but a transformation out of the old into the new is happening.


New Beginnings


In the new beginning phase, you are living in the identity ushered in by the change. Your thoughts and behaviors are reflective of the renewal that occurred through the process of ending and sitting in the uncertainty of the neutral zone. An internal manifestation of the change has taken place.


After a period of searching and uncertainty, I found my way to working for myself, opening both a private psychiatric and a coaching practice. This change ushered in a shift in my identity from an employed psychiatrist to a physician business owner and physician coach. I saw my work expanding outside of the structure of clinician into business and wellness.


We will all experience change in our lives, some invited and others, unwelcome guests storming through the front door. However, when we understand the process of transition triggered by change, we can become reflective and proactive in how change shows up in our lives.

 

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