Navigating Life’s Transitions

By Phyllis Smith

Life Happens! What’s Next?

Great question! I recently got to spend an hour or so thinking about the answer to this question with a dynamic and diverse group of women. Thank you LRobInspires for hosting, moderating, and supporting us in the discussion. Via the now familiar zoom backdrop, we connected about navigating life’s transitions. A number of the attendees had recently gone through the bittersweet event of sending a child off to college. Others, including myself, were working through sundry major life events: career change, moving houses, elder care, menopause, and marriage!

I know Liz Robinson of Women Inspiring Women through horseback riding. In the past, I have competed in the equestrian sport of Dressage. In Dressage competitions, transitions—the movement between two gaits—are scored with a x2 coefficient. The tests are built this way because transitions are difficult. The judge marking the change looks for invisible aids, relaxation, maintenance of rhythm, and accuracy. The transition in riding is the window into your training and skill. These analogous qualities remind me of things we talked about on the call. The moment in time the judge sees is truly a process. And, even when you are through a particular transition the judge is scoring, there is still more riding to do. Life’s transitions are similar.

You Are Here: Navigating Life’s Changes

My biggest takeaway from the rich community discussion: a transition is not something you simply get through. We all agreed they are not a point in time but more phased and procedural; more of a process, like waking up from a long nap. It is tempting to think, “Once I drop off the kid at college, my new life will start.” However, the so-called next step here is a very long walk, with lots of introspection, emotions, and changes in routine.

To successfully navigate the challenges presented during the transitions we were facing a few women suggested that being intentional was key. Put in some groundwork before the time of change (if possible, of course—there are plenty of times when this isn’t possible). We talked about even the easiest transition causing fear—fear of the unknown and fear for all involved. Our word cloud for the emotions we were feeling during our transitions ran the gamut from high to low.

What Emotions Come with Transition?

Our word cloud for the emotions we were feeling during our transitions ran the gamut from high to low

Those going through empty nesting voiced the importance of having empathy for the feelings on both sides, with a similar application to having aging parents in your life. Understanding and having compassion for yourself and everyone involved in the transition makes the journey, if not easier to experience, at least easier to navigate.

People shared the ways they were coping with the stress of life changes giving us all some ideas for some additional self-care: journaling, therapy, exercise, finding and building community, as well as allowing for others to take care of us. None of the coping came easy to folks but we all had dipped our toes into a few areas which had helped. We all also had started up new things recently as part of our process.

Skillful Decluttering to Lighten Your Load

Some transitions make you feel as though you are letting go of part of your identity: who am I if I am not doing X. It’s the perfect time to have a fresh start. Maybe you were spending all your time doing X and not doing things that brought joy into your life. How can you feel more freedom in your life during a transition? Is it by working through the emotions as you’re beginning to transition from one phase to another? What is this transition bringing up for you? What do you need to let go of so that you can further step into your life’s purpose?

Turns out, I asked myself these questions a few months ago: How do I write the next chapter of my life? My answer was to leave my 30+ year career as a software project manager. I had reached my emotional capacity for both the environment and the requirements of the job. I wanted a change to a job I cared about, but before I started looking, I decided the best way to proceed was to simply resign. People asked me if I was retiring when I told them the news to which I would respond, “No, I’m retooling.” Hoping to acquire new skills and enhance my network led me to Women Inspiring Women.

Some decisions in my life have had me second-guessing them, but not the decision to leave high tech. My question now is What Next? I feel a sense of freedom even now amid the transition—not like I’m waiting for the right time but recognizing that the time is now.

Neither Here nor There but That Works Too

My plan is to network through the new normal of community Zoom calls, online training, volunteering, and mentorships to find a new occupation. Until then I am in the “messy middle” as I’ve heard it called. I’m embracing the mess—I kind of love it, even the hard parts! As I head into the age of 60 in January 2024, I am discovering new things about myself and letting go of old patterns that have been weighing me down and keeping me in one place for way too long.

I don’t have the words yet to add details to the chapter; I don’t even have a title! I am, however, compiling my supplies: taking a writing class, volunteering at a local land conservation organization, getting involved in community events, and spending time with friends I haven’t seen in a long time. So much of my career path has been putting one foot in front of the other, ending up in new jobs based on corporate reorgs, and filling gaps on my various teams. My new approach is to be intentional now about what I spend my time doing and what I build as I do it.

My confidence was confirmed when I attended the call last week with the energetic group of Women Inspiring Women: we are all amid transitions and we will get through them by supporting each other!

About the author: Phyllis Smith is an experienced project manager who has spent 30+ years in software development. She provided an unusual combination of technical expertise within her teams with her liberal arts and humanities education. Her relatively unique background in the industry enabled her to see the big picture in situations where her more left-brained colleagues would be focused on the minute details. She recently started attending the Women Inspiring Women calls to expand her network as part of a career change she initiated last year. More on her story below as she describes her experience attending a recent call about Managing Change and Life’s Transitions.

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