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  • Lindsay Land

Navigating the Unexpected

Managing surprise transitions.

I find that when people hear the word “transition” in regard to coaching, they typically gravitate to thoughts of “big T” Transitions. These are the types of events that come with a lot of preparation and fanfare, like the start of a new job, graduation from a degree program, or the birth of a child. It's easy to understand how a person experiencing these changes would benefit from working with a coach on planning, preparation, analysis, action, and accountability.

Less obvious at first are the “little t” transitions, the ones that quietly slip into our lives and may already be in motion before we even realize they are happening: health changes leading to a new diagnosis, shifts in leadership that affect our work or personal lives, colleagues and friends that unexpectedly decide to move on or move away, or even an increasing desire to try a new experience that you have never had interest in before. At first blush, it may seem that all you can do in these situations is to cope with as much grace as you can and then move on.

Not everyone loves change. Believe me, I get it. But transitions happen all the time and our ability to navigate them well significantly improves our experience and general well-being.

Pause with me for just a second … what comes to mind for you when you think about unexpected transitions? What emotions do they stir in your chest? And, equally important – do you have a solid approach for how to manage them when they come?

To be clear, there are no “right” or “wrong” feelings about this. Sometimes the thought of change evokes excitement, anticipation, and longing for what’s next, and other times it can bring feelings of fear, doubt, or even resentment. While emotions are important, how effectively we process and respond to these situations is what drives our life experience.

I’ve certainly tried both effective and ineffective responses to unanticipated change in my own life. I have tried the “ignore it and maybe it will go away” plan, the “just keep swimming” tactic, and the “my emotions are in charge” approach. Take it from me – not the best ideas! The changes happened anyway, but none of these approaches put me in the driver’s seat of my own life.

I’m happy to say that I have improved at this over time. Through practice I’ve learned to transition better. I’ve learned to engage the change instead of fighting or ignoring it. I’ve learned that I experience more power, joy, and contentment in my life if I evaluate what parts of a situation I can influence and focus my energies there. And I’ve learned that having someone serve as a sounding board really helps me get clear on what I want to do and what actions will draw me closest to my goals.

The next time a “little t” transition pops up and surprises you, I encourage you to:

  • Take a breath. Actually take a minute to acknowledge the change, no matter how seemingly small, and its impact on yourself and others.

  • Ask yourself what your best-case scenario would look like. In light of the change, what would you most like to see happen?

  • Think about the elements of the situation you can most effectively control or influence.

  • Make a realistic action plan, and be ready to readjust as you get more information.

  • If you are a person of faith – pray!

I understand firsthand that transitions can be both wonderful and difficult, sometimes at the same time. If you could use some support in accelerating through these steps, please reach out. I would love to help you.

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