On the Pleasures of Bridges

Since my August 21 entry On the Tribulations of Transitions, a number of people have approached or contacted me to say thanks for posting a piece that resonated with unusual depth. As I’ve told each of them, creating that post had been entirely unplanned. At the same time, writing it had also been utterly effortless, the thoughts coming as they did from a variety of transition experiences whose accumulated trauma had taken me years to articulate (and fortunately eventually manage).*

There are, however, profoundly simple ways of managing transitions—beyond the epigrammatic lists generated by survivors who happen to maintain blogs—and pointing to one powerful source for this information is the subject of this particular blog post.

The source, in question, is William Bridges’ Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. The book makes up for it’s title’s lack of wit by pleasantly overdelivering on the said title’s promise. Two of Mr. Bridges’ most powerful contributions are his distinction between change and transition and his assertion that it’s people’s inability to draw the distinction that makes transitions particularly painful and protracted.

As Mr. Bridges explains in an interview:

As I use the term, change is a shift in the externals of any situation: a new boss, setting up a new program, the death of a relative, a move to a new city, or a promotion.

By contrast, transition is the mental and emotional transformation that people must undergo to relinquish old arrangements and embrace new ones.

Transition has three phases: an Ending, a disorienting sort of “nowhere” that I call The Neutral Zone, and a new Beginning. If people don’t deal with each of these phases, the change will be just a rearrangement of the furniture. . . .

Change is made up of events, while transition is an on-going process. Change is visible and tangible, while transition takes place (or more often, doesn’t take place) inside of people.

Change can happen quickly, but transition takes weeks or months or even years. Change can, and usually should be, speeded up. Transition, like any organic process, has its own natural pace.

Change is all about the outcome we are trying to achieve; transition is about how we’ll get there and how we’ll manage things while we are en route.

Those six short paragraphs alone should be enough to set off a string of lightbulbs in any transition sufferer’s head. The point is: we postmoderns may be incredibly blasé about change, but we’re also pathetically naïve regarding transitions. Our innovation-driven cultures and economies have us believe that constant novelty is good, but that perpetual stream of newness (of product, of service, of habit, of lifestyle, of career, of residence, of partner, of religion . . . ) exacts an indeterminate but omnipresent toll.

All of which is enough to make Mr. Bridges, in my book, a savior of sorts in our postmodern age.

* The same experiences have also been the subject of many of my posts in this blog, proving my hypothesis that what doesn’t kill a writer can at least amuse her readers; on this latter note, see any of my posts on driving-related mishaps.

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