Written by: Virginia Macali
Date: June 30, 2016
“Every ending is a new beginning.” I read these words that a friend wrote on a box covered with a decoupage of magazine photos. Such a keepsake was popular in the 1970s. Years later, I began to understand the wisdom in these words.
Throughout some of life’s transitions, like going from one job to the next, experiencing the end of a relationship, moving to a new home, or experiencing a host of other life events, I found solace in the words of William Bridges. He wrote Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes: Strategies for Coping with the Difficult, Painful, and Confusing Times in Your Life.
He starts from the point of view that every transition begins with an ending. He sees this as a necessary part of the whole process of change. Sure enough, the examples I mentioned above, began with an ending. The Bridge’s Model has three parts. An Ending. A Neutral Zone. A New Beginning. Endings can come swiftly or slowly. They may be anticipated or not. It is a death of some sort. The Neutral Zone is that place In Between. Finally, there is a New Beginning, or rebirth. These delineations are not always so clear-cut. They may overlap. Here’s a video that describes these stages of change.
With the Neutral Zone, things are not the same as they were before the ending and the new beginning is not here yet. In this zone, there is uncertainty and not knowing. There may be a sense of disorientation and disengagement. One may feel anxiety, edginess, fear, and a lack of control and clarity. It can be unnerving and we may feel like we’ve lost our edge, competency, and direction.
Bridges affirms these experiences while giving ways to make sense of this neutral zone. There are cautions against quickly moving into the next thing. This can be a rich time to slow down, reflect on values, strengths, inner callings. It’s a good time to spend more time in solitude or a retreat of some sort. There can be a sense of emptiness, as our culture urges us to get on to the next thing and fill ourselves up with something, anything. This is tempting. Bridges offers support for this transition by saying the first function of the neutral zone is surrender. By this, he means stop the struggle against the emptiness.
One thing that can happen in the Neutral Zone is a sense of renewal. It may be just what we need as we rest and prepare for the new beginning. It is a good time to schedule time outside your normal routine and environment. This gives space for reflection and space for something new to arise. Simplifying life is a common theme of people in this midst of transition. Whether it’s cleaning out the basement or deleting files on the computer, there is a sense of clearing out.
While in the Neutral Zone, in addition to allowing plenty of space, there’s the opportunity to explore forgotten interests, explore curiosities, talk to people about the questions you have, and follow where life is leading you. It is a time to do some experiments and explore unknown territory.
Sooner or later, out of this in-between space, there will be a New Beginning. And don’t be surprised if it doesn’t look like you thought it would.