This article is dedicated to William Bridges, who passed away in February. Bridges was an author, teacher and consultant whose pioneering work on transition transformed the way people think about change.
I had an opportunity to become a certified trainer in his model and teach it during a major corporate transition. For the first time, I was able see the faces of my class participants as they truly understood change.Bridges gave us a vocabulary for understanding and talking about change that had been entirely absent. He helped us understand how people experience change and what tools they need to get through it.
In Transitions, Bridges explains that individuals experience change in three stages: an ending, a period of confusion and distress, and a new beginning. He noted that because Western culture offers few rituals to mark the passage through these stages, people often try to skip from the first stage to the last.He suggested that individuals should spend time in a “neutral zone” as a way of psychologically accommodating the space between.
The book struck a chord with readers, and by the time the 25th anniversary edition was published, it had sold more than half a million copies.He followed it with Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change in 1991, also a national best-seller.In 2001, he published The Way of Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments. In 1994, he published JobShift: How to Prosper in a Workplace Without Jobs, which explored the consequences of flattening hierarchies and the disappearance of management jobs that characterized the recession of the early 1990s. Bridges accurately predicted the explosive growth of self-employment and helped individuals and companies understand how to prepare for a world in which secure jobs would be increasingly scarce.
To manage change and transition, you must first understand the way your personality type naturally handles change. On a scale from a one to five, where do you fall in the continuum, with five being truly stressed out? It’s amazing to think some people wake up genuinely excited about the next major change at work or in their personal life.
When my husband and I moved out of our studio apartment in Boston to the suburbs, everyone kept saying, “You must be thrilled to have so much space and a garage—and you’re close to the beach.” We both were excited, but as Bridges describes, we were also dealing with the loss of the many wonderful things a large city offers. Once we worked through the transition, we could not have been happier!
The second strategy for managing change is understanding that focusing on our resiliency is what gets us through the second transition stage. During transitions, I make it a point to check on what clients are doing for their resiliency and talk about what can be added to their lives to help them bounce back better.
I cringe when someone says to me, “After this project is complete, I can get back to exercising and not working till midnight.” The stress management strategies you take part in today will help move you to what Bridges calls the new beginning.Instead of telling yourself you do not have time for rest or exercise, ask yourself, “How can I make time to recharge?”
The final strategy is accepting that we need to embrace change to manage our careers in 2013. Social media is a perfect example. Regardless of how much we like or dislike spending time on social media, we all need to learn about it and decide how important it is for us to engage in it.
For instance, LinkedIn is a completely new way to think about our careers. Even if you are happily employed, you should be frequently updating your LinkedIn profile. You also need to think about your competencies and your work style. Ask yourself, “What changes do I need to make to be more effective and have a greater impact and influence in my position?” For example, the mastermind group I meet with twice a month helps me gain perspective to ensure I am focusing on changes that will benefit my clients and my business.
I am grateful to William Bridges for his wisdom. His model clarifies the precise reasons change and transition are so different for all of us. I challenge you to consider one change you could make this month to help you feel proactive about your career development.Challenge yourself to embrace change by realizing it can have a great impact—once you get through the transition.