Self Renewal Involves
Letting Go of the Old
and Embracing the New
Throughout the course of our lives we experience many endings and many beginnings. In nature we observe times when things move slowly without visible change – and then suddenly an acceleration occurs followed by a transformation. Daffodil shoots emerge from the cold ground, and then before we know it bloom in a dazzling array of perfumed beauty. Tree leaves which have been green all summer suddenly turn gold and within a short time are blown to the ground, the tree’s branches left bare. Transitions are as natural as night and day. And so it is with our lives.
Life transitions are predictable changes in our lives associated with a discontinuity with the past. With each change we must give up the protective structures which have carried us through and then face the world anew with a sense of fragility and vulnerability. These times of disruption may force us to test the limits of our ability to adapt. However, with each transition we have the opportunity to learn a great deal about our inner coping resources and to ask ourselves what we really want out of life. This period of self-reflection can then lead to self-renewal and a new phase of stability and eventual equilibrium.
At times transitions are thrust upon us dramatically and unexpectedly. Disabling accidents, the deaths of those in our lives, divorce, the loss of a job, an illness – all of these events mean that we must leave something behind and then adjust to a new way of living, even if we feel totally unprepared to do so. These events can strike without warning and leave us in a personal crisis characterized by denial, anger, mourning and withdrawal. But not all transitions emerge from negative experiences. Marriage, a new job, a move to a new city, the birth of a child, reacquaintance with an old friend – these events, which may be planned and expected, can also lead us into the process of a life transition.
Sometimes life transitions occur because we find ourselves in a rut. We may have the nagging feeling that something is wrong, although we can’t quite put our finger on the reasons. Our lives are not going the way we thought they would and time is passing us by. We feel that it is time for a change. This can happen at any time, but it is most common during what Gail Sheehy has called the “predictable crises of adult life” which often accompany our decade changes ( that is, our twenties, our thirties, our midlife years, etc.).
As William Bridges pointed out in his book, Transitions, our life transitions are composed of an ending, a “neutral zone”, and a new beginning. When a transition occurs, we need to give up