And one ought to consider that there’s nothing more difficult to pull off, chancier to succeed in, or more dangerous to manage, than the introduction of a new order of things.
—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes came ashore with his men at Veracruz, knowing that his men were extremely reluctant about the challenges ahead, and wary of the dangers. Some of them had called it hopeless. Faced with a continent full of unknown adversaries, each person in his party was ambivalent about moving ahead or turning back. Cortes burned the ships.
We will never do anything important that will feel comfortable in the beginning. The change is the event. The situation. To move to a new city, divorce, retire, experience a significant loss, take a new job, lose an old one, or change careers. As we focus on change, we address the rituals of change, the work tools, the strategic goals.
The transition is the process, the internal story of change: a shift in orientation, even of self-definition. In transition, we let go of the old story, the outlived chapter, and evolve into a new story. A new identity internalizes the changes to sustain and enhance them. Otherwise, we return to this most powerful organizer of the human psyche, identity, no matter what new behaviors we engage in—unless we evolve our identity along with the new experiences. We can develop a transition story that provides the coherence to reassure in the present and foreshadow the future.
It’s the ending that makes the beginning possible. Every transition begins with an ending, a change event, and we have to let go of the old before we can begin the new. People in transition will create new ways to return to the old story. And as Agnes Allen, American writer, said, “Almost anything is easier to get into than out of.”
Understanding the dynamics of both change and transition become essential to craft a strategic and successful passage to an uncertain future.
There will always be things we don’t plan that change our lives: things we don’t want to happen but have to accept, things we don’t want to know but have to learn, people we can’t live without but have to let go, things we can only get ready for after they happen.