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Understanding Career Transition

By Randi Bussin

In this article, I will address two concepts. The first is the difference between a career change and a career transition. The second is the different stages people go through as they step out of an old role and begin anew.

I will follow up in the next article with some tips to help you go through the three stages of a transition that I will describe in this article.

Most people use the terms "transition" and "change" interchangeably - but they are not synonyms. According to William Bridges, consultant and author on individual and corporate change, it's important to make a distinction between the two terms because they are profoundly different phenomena. 

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Change

is any external variation in your life such as a new job, company reorganization or merger, a new home, or a new relationship.

Transition

is an internal shift within you. It means you have reached a point where it is time to let go of an assumption, self-image, or dream.

A transition could be precipitated by an external change. For example, you could be laid off from work (more of a change), which could motivate you to step back from your busy life and assess if it is time to think about pursuing a latent passion/dream or shifting your work focus to have more meaning or balance for you.

This period of self-reflection could result in redefining who you are and what you do for work. It could ultimately result in a career transition to an entirely new field and a new role.

Transitions are a process

They begin with an ending, develop into a neutral phase, and end with a new beginning. In order to build anew, you need to dismantle and provide space in yourself and your life for the creative act of constructing a new career. 

Begin with an Ending

Transitions begin with a five-phase ending process. This is a pre-condition for self-renewal, and, oftentimes, people try to avoid this stage or rush it, as it can be very painful.

  1. Disengagement - This is an actual break from the ordinary way of life as you know it - separating yourself from activities, relationships, and settings that have been important, but are no longer working for you. Think of it as externally removing yourself from old systems and contexts.
  2. Dismantling - This involves the actual taking apart of your life as you used to know it before disengagement occurred. This can mean dismantling the world you operated in as well as the identity you had built in this world.
  3. Disidentification - If you think of disengagement as the external change that started the transition, you then can think of disidentification as the internal changes that alter the way in which you experience yourself. You begin to lose the old way of defining yourself, and you are no longer sure who you are. Giving up titles and roles are an important part of your identity, and it is important to disidentify from these during this phase.
  4. Disenchantment - This a true shift in your world view; things just don't look the same anymore. This can involve emotions such as disappointment and shock. It is a time to look below the surface of what you thought to be so. It is the sign that you are ready to see and understand more now.
  5. Disorientation - Disorientation is just what it sounds like - you don't know where you're going, what you should be doing, or what has meaning for you.

The Neutral Zone

The neutral zone is the time in between the old life and the new. In order to build anew you need to dismantle and provide space within yourself for the creative act of constructing a new life. For many people, this can be a terrifying stage as you have gone through the phases of the ending zone, but clearly still have no idea where you are heading. You are confused, lack direction, and can be gripped by fear. People have described this phase as a period of emptiness, suffering, and confusion.

However, this phase is absolutely essential to finding a new beginning, and it is important for you to surrender to this phase of emptiness and stop trying to escape it. I often suggest that my clients get away for a few days and take a personal retreat. The solitude associated with a retreat allows you to see and experience the world differently and opens you up for transformation.

Think of it as a period of inner reorientation where realignment begins to take shape.

A New Beginning

So, how do you know when you've reached the point of a new beginning? Beginnings are often inauspicious and quiet. When you are ready, the opportunities will begin to appear in front of you. Inner signals will begin to point you in the right direction.

What are these inner signals? They can be subtle, and, oftentimes, hard to notice. They could be some or all of the following: an idea, an impression, an image, a hint, a comment someone makes, a dream, or a fantasy.

An inner signal is NOT a billboard with the word "Answer" on it - it is not an answer in the traditional sense. It tends to be more of an inner realignment, more than an external opportunity. However, an external opportunity could precipitate this process.

A few key points lead to success in this phase:

  • Begin to take action.
  • Visualize yourself doing the final result, or in the final state.
  • Take things step by step and recognize this is a process.
  • Shift your purpose from trying to achieve a "goal" to living in the process, learning what you can, and making contacts where appropriate.

In the next article, we will address some general tips for managing career transitions, taking into consideration the three-step process outlined above by William Bridges.


About the author...

Job-Hunt's Career Change Expert, Randi Bussin, founder and president of Aspire!, is a career coach and counselor with more than 25 years of business, entrepreneurial, and career counseling experience, including DISC assessments. Randi has experienced several major career transitions (from corporate to small business owner to career counselor to coach) and personally understands the effort and commitment involved. She has appeared on public television's "Job Doctor," and is a frequent contributor to Bridgestar's Leadership Matters newsletter, The Ladders job-search Web site (www.theladders.com) and her own blog, which offers advice on career transition, job search, and labor market trends. Follow Randi on Twitter @Aspire4Success.


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