I was walking with a friend a few days ago and she said “Well, we survived. Our focus for the last year was survival, really, and we did it. Now what? What’s next? ”
I think these are great questions. Maybe you’ve lost jobs, friends, family and/or opportunities or you’ve found them. Maybe you’ve worked harder than you ever thought you could or haven’t worked at all.
Whatever the case, as the country opens, you may find yourself taking a big, deep breath and wondering What do I want for myself, my family and my community? What now? What’s next?
Susan Beaumont’s discusses the basics of transitions in her book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season.
All significant transitional experiences follow a predictable three-part process:
- Separation: Something comes to an end.
- Liminality: This is an in-between season marked by disorientation, disidentification, and disengagement.
- Re-orientation: Finally, often after a long and painful struggle, something new emerges.
This period of transition, from lock-down to opening up, is an opportunity to consciously create a transition.
It is an opportunity to look at what’s working and what isn’t. And it may not have been happening for a very long time. It’s an opportunity to intentionally re-create your life based on your deepest longings and inner guidance.
Most everyone on the planet is having this experience, going through this three-part process together, albeit at different paces. Let’s unpack this idea a bit more.
The first phase is the point in time when something changes or comes to an end. Beaumont describes it as “a period in which a person, group, or social order is stripped of the identity and status that previously defined it.”
The separation could be sudden, like a car accident or being fired, or planned, like retirement or a child going off to college. Whichever the case, the separation or ending is usually clear and unalterable.
The declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic forced our lives as we knew them to come to an end in March of 2020. I believe this was the point of separation from our lives as we knew them. The specific losses or separations were different for everyone, but we all experienced some dramatic change in our lives.
The second phase is uncomfortable because we’re neither here nor there. Some separation has occurred and we have not yet discovered what’s next.
Beaumont describes it as “a disorienting period of non-structure or anti-structure that opens new possibilities no longer based on old status or power hierarchies. New identities are explored, and new possibilities are considered.”
During this phase we often feel like we are wandering around in the desert, unclear how we got here, and feeling lost and unsure about how to find our way out. Lots of emotions emerge (fear, grief, anger, etc.) and we often feel dysregulated and confused.
Uncertainty is the hallmark of this phase. This is often the most difficult phase for people because we want to KNOW – know how we will survive, where we will work, how we will pay the rent, etc. But in this liminal phase, we don’t and can’t know.
We must navigate by feel and surrender to the process of discovery. We must put one foot in front of the other and have faith. Our work is to navigate the uncertainty from our inner knowing, our intuition, rather than from our fear.
The third phase might also be called “Re-emergence.” During this phase, our new way of being or way of life begins to emerge. Beaumont describes it as “a reforming period in which the person, group, or social order adopts a new identity, is granted new status, and designs new structures more appropriately suited to the emerging identity.”
We have started the new job and are beginning to acclimate to the new company and role. Or maybe we’ve gotten clear that it’s time to move to a new city and we are beginning to explore where that will be and when we’ll move.
During this phase, the direction becomes clear, and we begin to move in that direction. Much is still being revealed, but we are relieved to know what’s next even as we are re-orienting to this new adventure.
Now What? What’s Next?
While the country as a whole may be entering re-emergence, some individuals and organizations may still be in the liminal phase. They may be looking outside their little world for the first time in many months and wondering “What now? What’s next?”
Maybe you have held on but aren’t thriving. Maybe you have been hearing it’s time for something different but have been waiting until there was less chaos and confusion. Maybe it is time to find a job, but you’re not sure you want to go back to what you were doing.
Whatever your situation is, this is a fertile time to be in the liminal phase.
As a whole, things are looking up and we now have the opportunity to consciously take stock of our lives. We can begin to intentionally explore how we want to live going forward. In times of big change, I recommend getting to the core of who you are – your values – and use those values to guide your next steps.
Engaging in values exploration exercises helps you articulate the things that really matter to you. Then you can explore what they mean to you and identify if there is a gap between where you are now and what life would be like if those values were fully expressed.
If you want to explore this on your own, consider the following inquiries:
- What values are important to me now? Brainstorm all that are important to you and narrow them down to five or 10.
- Is the work I am doing satisfying? Am I contributing in a way that is fulfilling?
- What’s missing in my work life? Does my work support me and my family financially?
- Which relationships serve me in this new phase of life and which relationships are ready to be released?
- Am I living in a location that nourishes me and my family? If not, where am I called to be? How can I explore moving there?
- What is the one change I could make that would increase my happiness?
- What have I been putting off doing that’s possible now?
And then there’s the big question: “What do I know that I wish I didn’t know?” Get quiet and sit with that for a few minutes.
Is there something you’ve known for a bit but have been (are?) afraid to say out loud? If there is, take a breath. Feel it. Face it. Name it. Then breathe again and see what emerges, see how you are re-oriented.
Summer Discovery Specials
If you want some support in this process, I offer a 2-hour Discovery Package where we move through a values clarification process, explore the gap, and set some goals and intentions for moving forward into your new life. It’s a powerful experience and comes with one follow-up coaching session at a discounted rate.
Some Resources for Moving Through Transitions
The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope
How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season by Susan Beaumont (Please Note: this is a book about church leadership and moving faith organizations through transition whereas the others are about moving through personal transitions.)