Navigating change is a skill. A skill we will need as we emerge from Covid lockdowns. The world has changed, and we need to learn to live in it again.
The ‘transition bridge’ idea is sometimes used to help mission workers. Although based on David Pollock’s book about Third Culture Kids the ideas are a development of work on transitions by William Bridges.
The focus on transition rather than change is important. Change happens all around us, but ‘transition’ is what happens inside us as we respond to change.
The basic idea of the transition bridge is that we move through a series of phases:
- Settled: Before we can move forward, we need to start by letting go. We need to leave behind the settled comfort of our existing routines. The old normal with its predictability and familiarity (whether we have felt peaceful and happy in it, or stuck and bored) is about to give way to something else. This “something else” is a period where we experience all sorts of emotions with its disorientation, frustration and sense of loss.
- Leaving: And so we step onto the bridge, with its sense of movement and instability. This is the unsettling part; we may be filled with doubt and apprehension, or a sense of excitement and adventure. This stepping out phase often includes times of saying goodbye and preparation for the future. Endings. Sometimes, as with moving to a new country, or having a baby, we have time to walk through this phase. Other times, as with Covid, we have just found ourselves thrust out into the unknown, something which magnifies the feelings of anger and denial, shock and fear.
- Chaos. Now we are in the middle of the bridge. The old has gone but the new hasn’t arrived. All sorts of anxieties can emerge, feelings of being overwhelmed, frustration and unhealthy habits. We can become apathetic and sceptical as well as disorientated and confused.
- Entering: Now we can see the other side of the bridge. We can tentatively start to take steps into the new world. We can start to explore and to adapt, to work out what to do and how to live. This phase can take a long time. As with other steps on the bridge we all do this at different speeds. However, it can be a time of creativity and energy, with growing excitement at the new possibilities.
- Resettled: In time we step off the bridge at the other side. We have a new normal with settled routines, friendships and a sense of belonging. It might not be what we wanted or expected but we know where we are.
So what’s this got to do with Covid?
Here in the UK, we are about to get to stage 4: entering. At times last year felt like leaving and being propelled into chaos. The old world passed but we have little idea about the new one. Some of us hope that we might ‘build back better’ but there’s little agreed sense of what the future should be.
But now, as restrictions ease, vaccines increase and things open up we have to prepare for what happens next. I relate to the shock and denial of the early months, which gave way to the disorientated confusion and scepticism of recent months; but am I really going to be re-energised, excited and committed in the months to come?
Transition recognises that we will feel a range of emotions, some positive but others less so. It recognises that we will move at different speeds depending on our personality, life experience and other factors. Although you can visualise the experience, everyone is unique.
Entering recognises that we need to find new ways of living, exploring the boundaries, taking a few risks and adapting to change. Hopefully, it will remind us of the need to be kind to each other as we adapt but also recognise that in different countries things are not yet getting better.
One of the dangers is that, in our personal need for stability and understanding of what’s going, we try to push others into creating greater security and predictability than they are able to. So, in organisations, we want to know what the plan is, what the new rules will be. We crave vision and effective planning.
In language school, I hated the sense of having no idea what they were trying to teach me. Some of this was the quality of the language school but it was also my British worldview crashing into a new way of working. My adjusting to life on the transition bridge and seeking clarity where there wasn’t any. I needed to learn to live with the chaos.
We might crave certainty, but we need to live with insecurity and ambiguity. Nevertheless we can be positive and look to make the best of whatever unfolds.
We have been changed by Covid. Thousands died and many more will live with ongoing health issues. But what happens next will depend on how we adjust to this new season of life….. so be creative; grieve with those who mourn, laugh with those full of joy, look to do things differently and walk humbly with God.
For a video explanation of the transition bridge see https://vimeo.com/517092502