Change & Transition: Knowing the Difference

Being notified that you are being laid off is a big change in your life.  And it’s even a bigger psychological adjustment if you weren’t planning on a forced vacation quite yet.  I just came back from giving a workshop on “Career Transitions” for staff in higher education facing layoffs.  I always start with helping folks understand the difference between change & transition and then the three phases of transition.  That foundation seems to be very reassuring because it shows people the path through their feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.   

Change is a Challenge

Managing the many changes in our lives is an ongoing challenge.  Hopefully, we get better at it as we get older.  We’ve been around the block a few times and we know that yes, things do work out with a bit of patience and proactive effort.  But it’s also important to recognize why sometimes a change (like a new job or a move to a new house) is relatively easy but then when the exact same change happens a couple of years later it is much harder.  Why?

The Difference Between Change & Transition

William Bridges, author of Transitions,  has written extensively on change and  transition. I love his material and have used it in every workshop I give on change management.  Bridges first explains that a “change” is an external event.  Examples are: a move, new job, new baby, getting married, going to college, a death etc.  And we may experience the same change  several times throughout our lives. 

That’s not the hard part.  The challenge is the psychological adjustment to the change.  That is the internal “transition”.  And the psychological adjustment to the exact same change may vary greatly at different times in our lives.

Why Is It So Hard Sometimes?

Several factors make the difference.  The timing of the change – is it “on-time” or “off-time”?  Was the change expected or did it come “out-of-the-blue”?  Does the change impact many areas of your life?  Is it a temporary or permanent change?  Do you have control over the change or not?  These are some of the factors that directly affect how we psychologically adjust to a change in our lives. 

Think about this for yourself.  Look at several changes that you have recently experienced.  How did you adjust to them? What seemed to make the difference?  In my next blog I’ll tell you about the three phases of transition – it might surprise you how we often go through transitions “backwards”.

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