Does Change Stress You Out? How to Reframe Life Transitions

Linda Rossetti

You’re being transitioned. I’m in transition. The word “transition” has taken on a negative connotation in the American vernacular as something imposed or forced — beyond one’s control.

In the movie “Up in the Air,George Clooney plays a suited shark who fires people for a living. He forces people out of their livelihood with mock sincerity, yet ultimately his character offers poignant words of wisdom: “Anybody who ever built an empire or changed the world sat where you are now, and it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it.”

Transition presents a powerful opportunity for meaningful, positive growth.

Transition, Not Change

Job loss, childbirth, care of a parent, illness, menopause, divorce, geographical moves, marriage — the list of potential life alterations is unending. But entrepreneur and author Linda Rossetti stresses the importance of distinguishing between mere change and transition. “You can go through your entire life and have hundreds of changes and never transition once,” she says.

"Women & Transition"When writing her book “Women & Transition: Reinventing Work and Life,” Rossetti spoke with more than 200 women about their experiences and found many commonalities. She came to define transition as the “process of re-examining our assumptions about identity, capacity and values.” It’s taking stock of our lives and recognizing that what holds value and meaning to us can shift throughout our lifetime. How we move forward using this self-knowledge is a choice.

Adopt a Growth Mindset

“Trigger” is the term Rossetti uses for the type of life-changing events listed above. Whether unexpected or anticipated, exciting or demanding, triggers act as catalysts for transition; they spur us to make a decision then to take action.

But even positive transition can be challenging. It’s no coincidence that these experiences and more are listed on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, commonly used to evaluate how stress affects health. Women in particular are susceptible to feelings of stress.

Compounding the problem, “women often interpret triggers as failures,” says Rossetti. This way of thinking can create self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy that lead to stalling, disengaging, or retreating instead of living the life one has dreamed of.

Rossetti urges women to view transitions as opportunities for personal growth, using words like reinvent, redefine, explore and gift when talking about them. The more women embrace such changes, the greater their ability to manage accompanying stress and create an outcome that complements their values and life stage.

What I Want is Enough

Transitions are universal. In fact, Rossetti cites a research finding that 90 percent of women expect to undergo a transition within the next five years. She also asserts that adults, like young children, have developmental stages that they grow through.

According to a Harvard Graduate School of Education study, the first stage is the “socialized mind” in which expectations are set by our environment. Next comes the “self-authoring mind” when we become “our own seat of judgment.” Lastly, we develop a “self-transforming mind” with which we’re able not only to evaluate ourselves but to help others.

Many of us get stuck in that first stage, allowing others to set expectations of what we should be or strive for. An important part of personal transformation is tuning into our inner voice and accepting that what we want is enough.

Change Your Narrative

Sharing her personal story at a recent Family Action Network event, Rossetti explained she was mere steps from the big office yet decided to walk away from Corporate America. “I found myself five years ago in a very unfamiliar place,” she says. “At the time I had children entering elementary school and I did something that surprised myself and everyone I knew.”

Her identity had for years been tied to her successful career, but she wasn’t fulfilled. Her values had changed and suddenly that role didn’t seem to be the right fit for her anymore. As she struggled to figure out what to do next, she spoke with other women about their own transitions. Thus began her next chapter and her new life’s work: helping women in transition.

Rossetti has learned that how we talk about our transitions goes a long way toward making them positive. One tip is to reframe the way we think about and share our histories. Specifically, Rossetti suggests highlighting our values and beliefs rather than our positions and titles when discussing our past. Simple chronology doesn’t adequately convey our experiences.

Research shows that if you smile, even when you’re not feeling happy, your mood will improve. In similar fashion, if we share our history by focusing on our passion, it will move us closer to our dreams.

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