How to Thrive During Transitions

It isn’t the changes that do us in, it’s the transitions.

What is the difference?

In his best-selling book, Transitions, William Bridges explains, “Change is external, transition is internal. There can be any number of changes, but unless there are transitions, nothing will be different when the dust settles.”

Ignoring the Space

The biggest misstep people make in transition is ignoring the space between endings and beginnings.

Organically, a transition needs a space between the end of one thing and the start of another, but we crowd it out with anxiety—the pressure that we need to hurry ahead. We’re told stopping for a minute is being lazy.

David Whyte laments this in his book, The Heart Aroused, “The hurried child becomes the pressured student, and finally the harassed manager. This process [of hurrying through life] is begun very young, and the inability to pay real attention to our world may be difficult to recognize.”

These transitions can be: family-related, career-related, unexpected, or we may experience adult developmental stage transitions—where deep questions of the soul arise and our perspective must change, requiring a more inward shift.

Facing a Transition

When facing a transition of any kind, we come to a crossroad and the opportunity to face our fears about the path ahead. Our next calling pushes us to develop and grow ourselves in new ways, and most often requires us to think in new ways also.

When we’re not mindful and sometimes unclear about the next step, in her book, Elegant Choices, Healing Choices, Marsha Sinetar reminds us that, “in unconscious regions of our souls, we fear our own goodness and talent and strength, which when developed fully, make us more responsible to take on the things we now avoid.”

There are times when we’re wanting to move forward and the only place we can go for ideas is the creative, unique, and nonconforming territory of the true self; a place we can reach only when we are still and unhurried.

What transitions am I facing currently?

What do I want to have happen?

Explore the space between endings and beginnings

William Bridges continues, “That many individuals ignore this space in between and jump from the end of something in their lives directly into the next endeavor.

For example, someone loses their spouse or partner and immediately jumps into another relationship. Or, they lose their job and feel pressured to move immediately into something else so they can pay their bills. Then, a few weeks or months later, they realize this job isn’t a good fit.

There is a middle in the transition process—the nowhere between two somewheres. In transition there is an ending, then a neutral, and only then a new beginning. But those phases are not separate stages with clear boundaries.

The three phases of transition are more like overlapping, slanting strata in any situation. This is a space between the old reality and the new. It is a time when the old way is gone and the new doesn’t feel comfortable yet.

Common responses to the neutral zone:

1) If you don’t expect it and understand why it is there, you’re likely to rush through it and to be discouraged when you cannot do so. You may mistakenly conclude that the confusion you feel is a sign that there’s something wrong with you.

2) You may be frightened and try to escape, or

3) You will realize that the neutral zone is the individual’s best chance for creativity, renewal, and development. This is a time to step back and take stock, a time to question the “usual,” a time for creative thinking, for experimenting, a chance to embrace losses as entry points for new solutions, a time for brainstorming.

Sometimes you feel empty or flat. You have to keep going, but your fantasies seem to involve quitting and getting away from it all. You’re surrounded by conflicting signals and contradictory demands.

One day things seem to be moving forward; the next day backward. Nothing makes sense. You’re busy, even overwhelmed by your life—and, at the same time, you feel apart from the world where everyone else acts comfortable.

Occasionally in this state you have moments of clarity in which you suddenly see everything in a new and meaningful light. But then a moment or a day later, the clarity is gone.

Strategies that allow you to thrive during transitions

This involves stepping into uncertainty rather than stepping away. Everyone’s experience in the neutral zone is personal, and so it’s easy to assume that ours are not normal. The fact to remember is that they are normal. So,

• Take time outs—quiet times and solitary places as a retreat from the chaos of the nowhere.

• Examine priorities. The “middle” may be a time between one set of purposes in your life and another. It’s a time to look at how you’re doing in relation to your priorities and ask if they still make sense to you.

• Look at yourself creatively: what you desire, what your real abilities are, what resources you have and what your temperament suggests.

• Brainstorm a list of possibilities—15 or 20 of them, ridiculous as well as plausible, trivial as well as serious.

• Look for little ways to experiment with new behaviors.

• Design a new learning adventure.

• Make a plan to change your life.

Remember that even the changes you want to make put you in transition. When this happens, follow these rules: show up, be present, tell the truth, and let go of outcomes.


The times when we are empty of ideas, adrift in a sea of ambiguity and nothingness are part of transitions.

In our linear culture, any episodes of disruption, time out, feeling lost, or time off are viewed suspiciously. Yet life is a series of cycles and was never meant to roll out on a straight line.

Thriving during transitions (in the neutral zone) demands a range of skills: being willing to let go, staying in the dark long enough, nurturing your visions and dreams, following the clues as they present themselves, remaining true to yourself, and having the belief that something will appear.

What has been my life pattern of change and transition?

What helps me to manage the void?

What have been the important catalysts that moved me into a new stage?

What encourages me in the face of uncertainty, transition, and unexpected challenges?

As I’ve looked back at the trials and life changes I’ve experienced, there has always been a learning experience that builds confidence and resilience as I move from one stage to the next.

When I’ve used the space between to carefully ponder my next step, I’ve made the best transitions. It’s as if I’ve hung windchimes that remind me there is music in the air—even in the middle of a storm.

4 replies on “How to Thrive During Transitions”

Some very helpful thoughts on how to deal with the feeling associated with change. Love the “void” metaphor. There’s a tendency to view this as bad, but reframing it as opportunity shifts everything. Thanks!

Thanks for your comment. Our society encourages us to hurry to the next event. Taking time in between requires courage and patience and mindfulness when everyone around us is screaming, “Get a move on!.

After my husband passed away, I had a year to mourn, prepare to move and to mentally prepare for a huge change – one of moving into the work force after being away for 20 years, changing my surroundings and getting use to being a single parent.
I am so grateful, I had that year. I was able to grow into the change and that gave me strength, courage and confidence. If there had been no space between the end and the huge new beginning – I wonder if I could have done it.

Thanks for sharing your story. So good to hear from you, and that you had the wisdom to stay in the neutral zone after the passing of your husband. I’m celebrating your success with finishing school, and finding a niche in the art world.

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