There are seasons in life that bring more change than others. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to make many upheavals to our daily lives, and, now, as restrictions ease, we are in another period of transition back to activities we haven’t done for a while.
Though we have been experiencing these changes as a whole society, most transitions are more personal: graduations, job changes, retirement, moving, relationships beginning or ending, loss of loved ones. These periods of transition — even the positive ones — can be stressful or overwhelming at times. Having the tools and ability to adapt can help us not only navigate any number of circumstances but continue to grow and thrive during periods of change.
Recognizing Where We Are
It might be easy to feel lost or out of control when so much is happening at once. Both the transitions we might be expecting and the changes we did not anticipate can feel like they are creating chaos and disrupting our sense of normalcy.
PLNU’s director of international ministries, Brian Becker, is accustomed to helping students through transitions. He prepares them to participate in overseas missions and serves as a campus pastor. He shared, “Any transition, likely, will activate a whole range of emotions. We are highly patterned people, so it’s hard to cope with changes in our routines.”
It becomes important to make sure we are not dismissing the feelings that come up while experiencing the uncertainty of the future. Becker said, “There’s always something lost, even when we are moving into better places.” Graduating college students, for example, are trying to move out of higher education and take the next steps for their future. However, he explained that this does not eliminate the tension they feel.
This moving on, even if it is in the direction they want to go, can bring fear, uncertainty, or even grief for what will change. It’s helpful to remember that joy and sadness can exist in the same moments as we process our situations. Making space to encounter the complexity of this time can prevent us from getting lost in it.
It’s helpful to remember that joy and sadness can exist in the same moments as we process our situations.
Even in the face of opportunity, like getting a promotion, we might feel hesitant or wary about stepping into the unknown. Navigating this can mean acknowledging the feelings that are present and looking at what it means for us to cope. This can be an individual task or an effort to connect with a larger sense of community.
If we choose to look at what is difficult about a current transition and figure out how to care for ourselves as we move through it, we can look for new coping skills or patterns that will help in the long run.
Finding Ways to Stay Grounded
Staying grounded is defined as connecting ourselves to the present moment and can help when we are overwhelmed or coping with anxiety. This can look different for many, but in psychology, it is often accomplished by centering our awareness on our senses. Doing a body scan to check in with where we might be holding worry (i.e. noticing the onset of a headache or tightness in the chest), taking the time to meditate, or even just eating sour candy are a few examples of intentionally connecting with physical sensations.
These habits can help us refrain from focusing too much on stress in a given moment. The practices we might try like those listed above do not eliminate what is weighing on us but provide a pause so we can check in with ourselves and take a break to avoid exhaustion.
Recognizing our feelings and knowing how to step away when we need the space to cope is an important part of preventing burnout. This fatigue has been studied at length by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D, and her sister Amelia Nagoski, D.M.A, in their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. They describe the ways exhaustion can result from a build-up of continual stress. It can impact our bodies and minds, from muscle strain to feelings of hopelessness or irritability. Actively taking care of ourselves can mean identifying stressors and the moments where we are holding tension because of those. Even if we cannot eliminate sources of anxiety, we can try to prioritize different exercises that may dilute the intensity of what we are experiencing.
The sisters also examine how separating ourselves from the stressors we are faced with does not remove the stress itself. We may be anxious about moving into a new environment but getting comfortable emotionally in that new space does not mean the body knows that things are safe. They recommend using those grounding activities like being active, breathing intentionally, or even laughing to complete what they call the stress cycle.
Unexpected transitions can be especially difficult to cope with because they can result in feeling like we have lost control. Feelings of anxiety might be especially intense during a transition related to a job loss, for example. It is normal to struggle with this sense of uneasiness, but finding coping strategies or distractions may be necessary to avoid reaching that point of exhaustion.
Focusing on Our Strengths
Rebecca Smith is the executive director of PLNU’s Career Services. As someone who went from working in a charter school to the tech industry and then from a government agency to her current role at PLNU, Smith understands what it means to navigate big career shifts. She shared, “People feel like they come into transitions at a deficit. We like to look externally and compare, but I challenge you to sit with yourself first and ask, ‘What do you have that’s already in your world?’”
Sometimes this feeling of operating at a disadvantage comes when people think a new job means they are starting over. Shifting that attitude can make all the difference when acknowledging prior experience, the skills we bring to the table, or whatever history we have of the things we have already accomplished.
Smith said it is important to remember how “we all started from somewhere. Each transition is another step forward, as we build on all that we’ve already done.”
Reinforcing these positive attributes can build confidence and a sense of security when moving into new spaces.
“We all started from somewhere. Each transition is another step forward, as we build on all that we’ve already done.”
Transitions may also sometimes seem like isolating events where we are adapting to change while trying to keep the rest of our lives running smoothly. When we prepare to move or are about to enter a new job, it is likely that there are still bills to pay and a long to-do list of things we have to take care of. Being aware of our need for support in these tumultuous moments can make it easier to identify lifelines in those we are close to.
“We have hesitancy to be vulnerable in our times of need,” Becker said, “But the boulders are shifting, so we need communities that bear witness to God’s goodness in us, even when we are messy.”
To thrive in periods of transition, we can work to recognize our emotions, commit to finding ways we can care for ourselves, and attempt to acknowledge our strengths while asking for help when it’s needed.
Considerations for a Career Change from Rebecca Smith
Smith has worked for an international technology company, a government organization, three universities, two community colleges, one charter school startup, and a private staffing firm. Her trajectory highlights the importance of following and honoring God in our careers.
A New York Times essay titled “You Can Be a New You After the Pandemic” (April 11, 2021) reminds me of many recent conversations, given my work in career management and leadership development. Professionals and students tell me they yearn to “do something new,” as the world opens up. 2020 reminded us that life is fleeting and precious — why not explore these other career interests now?
Reflect on your reasons for considering a new job. What’s important for you at work? Flexibility, informal environment, upward mobility, company brand, stability, camaraderie, earning potential, innovation? Will those work values be honored if you change roles, organizations, or even sectors? How might your family or your health be impacted by any transition?
Consult your advocates. What can they say about your talents, challenges, accomplishments? Write down as much of this information as possible, so you can assess yourself.
Make sure you’re headed to the next opportunity (not running from your present employment).
Know Your Options
Once you’ve affirmed what you’re looking for (and why), where can you make the best contributions? How are your professional strengths relevant to specific organizations and initiatives in demand right now? What skills might you need to develop?
Networking is the most effective approach to explore your options (according to LinkedIn, 85% of jobs are found this way). The more people you meet through informational interviews, industry associations, or professional events, the more you’ll discover job pipelines and hiring trends.
If you get offered a new role, examine that opportunity from different angles. If you’re early in your career, ask about intentional mentorship or educational courses. If you’re considering your family, negotiate for additional vacation or flexible scheduling.
Know Your God
Do you believe you are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus, to do work He’s prepared — in advance — for you? Do you receive His declaration that His plans for you are about hope for your future? Can you let Him lead your career transitions?
As you evaluate your career right now, realize the world has changed, but our God has not.