I felt that something had broken within me on which my life had always rested, that I had nothing left to hold onto, and that morally my life had stopped. And yet, I could give no reasonable meaning to any action of my life. And I was surprised that I had not understood this from the beginning. My state of mind was as if some wicked and stupid jest was being played upon me by someone. I ask myself, what will be the outcome of what I do today? What I shall do tomorrow? What will be the outcome of my life? Why should I live? Why should I do anything?
—Leo Tolstoy, A Confession
There are 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. And some things we can get ready for only after they have already happened.
The change is the event. You move to a new city, divorce, retire, have a significant loss, take a new job, lose an old one, retire, or change careers. As we focus on change, we address the rituals of change, the work tools, the strategic goals. And every ending begins something new.
The transition is the process. It’s the internal story of change: a shift in orientation, even in self-definition. In transition, we let go of the old story, the outlived chapter, and evolve to a new story. Gradually. We internalize the changes to revise our identities in order to sustain and enhance the changes. Otherwise, the most powerful organizer of the human psyche, our identity, is what we return to no matter what new behaviors we engage in unless we evolve our identity along with the new experiences.
It’s the ending that makes the beginning possible. An effective narrative—a good story—can build a bridge to integrate the best and most adaptive of the past, to pack up and carry the most relevant aspects with us to the next engagement. Most of us experience a transition to a new situation as a time of confusion, loss, insecurity, and uncertainty. We’ve left our comfort zone and haven’t established a new one. We inevitability oscillate between holding on to the past and embracing the future. We think we have lost the narrative thread of our predictable lives.
Seldom is a good story so needed as when we undergo a significant transition. A story renders meaning to the past, present, and future, so we feel less lost, more oriented. The power of the story can help to pursue our purpose, to clarify and solidify. The antithesis of a story is “just the facts.” Every change, every transition will impact your money story in some ways.
For your story, the protagonist is you, and what’s at stake is the quality of your life. Any transition is about a world that changes inside and outside. There is one prerequisite for managing the rest of your life: you must begin long before you start. Having options, plans, and an organizing story become increasingly vital.
To make the new story coherent, you have to engage the discontinuity, get inside the uncertainty, dance with the questions, and embrace the unknown. To insure continuity, keep your reasons for change grounded in your character, be clear about what you want personally and professionally, and choose a story form that lends itself to your tale of reinvention.
The transition story provides the coherence that will reassure in the present and foreshadow the future. The person you were yesterday is the person you are today, and the person you will be tomorrow. Only more so.
This story is yours to write. Whatever you experience you either create or accept. And whatever you think, feel, and experience you create each moment.