Life Transitions: An Expert Guide to Thriving During And After Big Transitions (Like Graduation or Retirement)

Life transitions (graduation, getting married, having kids, switching jobs, and retiring for example) can be exciting, but confusing times. You experience big changes to your every day routine and all aspects of your life. Here is a guide to what those transitions mean and how to navigate them effectively.

life transitions

After a nearly devastating set of personal crises – cancer, near bankruptcy and more – Bruce Feiler spent five years talking to people about their biggest life transitions.  He analyzed what patterns people experienced and what was the key to thriving after a big event.  The result is a method for navigating big changes in life.  It is detailed in his book, Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age.

A summary of 8 of his key insights on life transitions and how they might specifically relate to retirement are outlined below.

1. Familiarize Yourself with the 3 Phases of Life Transitions

Feiler has categorized transitions into three phases.  He noticed different people are better at different phases of life transitions. He encourages you to jump to where you can make the most progress, and get out of the phases where you get bogged down.

Phase 1: The long goodbye

Many retirement planners get stuck in the long good bye.  Worried about taking the leap, they’ll keep working, rerun their numbers and delay the big event.  However, once retired they wonder why they didn’t do it earlier.

Are you stuck in the long good bye into retirement? Here is some advice for you:

Phase 2: The messy middle

Others get really stuck in the messy middle and struggle with finding a new identity.  Some people in the messy middle feel stuck and aren’t really enjoying life. If this is you, you might benefit from exploring how to thrive in transitions.

Others are impacted more seriously by the messy middle. Retirement depression is not uncommon as people cut ties with their old lives but  haven’t quite yet figured out what comes next.

Here is one retiree’s struggle in the messy middle.  Read how he came to discover (and ultimately love) his retirement: Retired Abruptly, the Lessons I Learned.

Phase 3: The new beginning

And herein lies the magic.  Figuring out how to move forward into the future you want is the key to making a transition worthwhile.

Make sure you are retiring to something, not just away from your career. Explore 120 ideas for what to do in retirement.

2. Understand the Emotions You Are Feeling During a Life Transition

As excited as you might be about retirement or some other life transition, you may also experience some of the more negative emotions like stress, uncertainty, anxiety, and fear. Feiler found that about 27% of people felt fear followed by sadness and shame.

Identifying an emotion is the best way to deal with it. Take a moment to think about and consciously document how you feel about the transition. Naming the emotions you feel is the first step to dealing with them.

3. Mark Life Transitions with Ritual or Celebration

If you are struggling with emotions, Feiler recommends some specific tactics for marking the life transition.  As he wrote in the New York Times, “Some people coped with these emotions by writing down their feelings; others plunged into new tasks.”

“But nearly eight in 10 said they turned to rituals. They sang, danced, hugged, purged, tattooed, sky-dived, schvitzed. They changed their names, went to sweat lodges, got tattoos.”

Some kind of ritualistic gesture – even a retirement party – can help mark the end of your old life and help you move on to what is next: getting you through the life transition.

4. Rid Yourself of the Habits & Traits You No Longer Need

When you go through a life transition, there are things that you used to do, ways of thinking and skills that were useful to you before that you will no longer need in the future. You can think of ways to transfer those habits and traits into your new life or develop new ways of living more suitable to your future life.

There are probably a lot of traits you carried in your career that really helped you be successful.  And you gained a lot of esteem and maybe even joy from your focused work ethic, sales skills or attention to detail.

However, you might not need those skills in retirement.  In fact, you might need to shed those traits and find new ones before you can really thrive in your new life.

5. Get Creative

A great way to reset your brain is to try something creative.

Whether it is painting, writing, dancing or maybe even starting a new business, creativity is a great way to spark a fresh start.

6. Take Control of the Story

Sometimes life transitions happen to us instead of being a choice. When this happens, it is important to take control of the narrative and make your story be one you want to tell.

Whether you were forced into retirement or if it is a step you are taking on your own, it can be a transition where you feel a bit out of control.

Taking control of the story and controlling the narrative of your life is critical to feeling great about it.  What does this all mean to you?  Here are some tips for finding meaning and purpose in retirement.  Or maybe it is time to write a retirement manifesto!

7. Expect Change – Even After Your Life Transitions

Feiler’s research indicates that we will experience possibly dozens of disruptors over the course of our lives.  And the transitions that ensue can take up to five years to process.

He believes that the number of disruptors each of us experiences has grown.  We have more jobs, more moves and well … just look at the virus and political upheaval.  We are coming out of a long historic period of relative calm, but we will likely experience more change in the future.

Retirement is one of these big changes, but it is important to remember that it won’t be your last.  Here are 18 things that are likely to go wrong in retirement and how to plan for them.

8. Plan Your Future

Okay, this is not necessarily Feiler’s recommendation, but we know that people who create and maintain a detailed plan for their retirement feel happier and more confident about their future.

The NewRetirement Planner helps you discover your path to more wealth and security.  It is comprehensive, easy to use and unbiased.

NewRetirement Planner

Do it yourself retirement planning: easy, comprehensive, reliable

NewRetirement Planner

Take financial wellness into your own hands and do it yourself retirement planning: easy, comprehensive, reliable.

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