I seldom have clients tell me that they learned valuable life lessons when things were going well. However, I have had many people tell me that they figured things out, and learned a lot about themselves and their values, when they went through a difficult period. This is often the case with clients that I counsel for burnout.
Do we extract most of our learning from difficult experiences? The end of a relationship…learning about an affair… the death of a friend… being terminated from a job… changing cities… leaving university… having an ill child.
All of these types of experiences involve endings. The period of time that immediately follows an ending, and that continues until a new beginning occurs, is called a transition period. This process is discussed by author William Bridges in his 2004 book titled “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes.”
Transition periods, or “transitions,” bring significant change with them. These are the times when we develop important philosophies for ourselves. It is while we are in transition that we feel mired down, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. In physical terms, this territory might resemble a bog, or a swamp. We are stuck in the muck, metaphorically, when we are in transition.
Yet, we extract our most important insights when we are mired down in transition. It is during these times that we discover what our true values are and where our personal boundaries lie. We realize what our self-worth is and what it needs to become. We begin to understand what our emotional needs are and how to meet those needs. And we experience how strong we are and how important it is to put ourselves first.
I find it helpful to recognize that we all do some of our best learning when things are not going well. When we are overwhelmed. When we feel anxious and sad. When we cry. When our energy levels are low and we are perplexed about how to move forward. When we realize that we are exhausted and are experiencing burnout.
It is during these periods that we can become motivated to try to figure out how we got into the situation we are in, and determine how we can prevent ourselves from returning to this situation again.
Read more about How People Change.
After we have extracted our learning, and find ourselves at the other side of the transition, we have achieved a new beginning. It is at these times that we often say we would not have missed the learning that we achieved while we were in transition, even though it came at great cost.
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
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