The Pain and Promise of Transitions: 7 Reflections on Growing in the Midst of Change

August 16, 2015
Todd Hall

Transitions are part of life. We experience transitions in our personal lives and organizations experience transitions.

Transitions bring with them vulnerability. An unsettledness. Things are not what they used to be. And the future is uncertain. We don’t like transitions for the most part. They bring pain and often loss. But they also bring the promise of something new.

Transitions are front and center for me right now. A little over a year ago, my wife went through treatment for breast cancer (you can read about what I learned through this here). At the same time, a long-term client was dying of cancer. She died rather suddenly last spring. Now my oldest son will head off to college next week. My world has changed in recent years and is in the midst of changing yet again. I am trying to find the “new normal.”

Maybe you’re going through some transitions of your own. A new job. A new manager. A key person in the company left. The loss of a loved one.

Whatever the transition is, it’s probably brought with it a sense of vulnerability and uncertainty.

So, how do you move through a transition and stay connected to yourself, your loved ones and your team? How do you help your organization maintain, and even strengthen a culture of connection during a transition?

Here are 7 reflections to help you stay connected and grow through transitions. I share this as a fellow traveler on this journey.

1. We need emotional space to process transitions. Give yourself time and space to process transitions. It may not seem “productive” so you’ll need to remind yourself that you truly need space, and that this will promote growth in the long run. If you’re leading a team in transition, give the team space to process. Create some space for dialogue and interaction about the transition. Look at the long term outcomes; not just the short term.  The goal is not to get rid of pesky emotions and maximize productivity today. The goal, as Simon Sinek poignantly says in Leaders Eat Last, is to “build more organizations that prioritize the care of human beings.” (p. 18). If you do this, your people will commit to your cause bringing about sustainable high performance in the long run.

Through the transitions I’ve been going through, I have come to realize more deeply that I need space to process what has happened, and that I need to create that space. Immediate productivity has suffered, but connection has strengthened as well as a focus on what is truly important and the ultimate goal of my productivity.

2. We need others to help us process transitions. You are not an island. I have come to realize that there were subtle ways I believed I could do life, and be successful, on my own. These transitions painfully shattered those delusions, but they also brought the promise of a new perspective on life and a fresh desire to connect with the people that come into my life. They have brought a renewed desire to reach out to others. So, as you are going through transitions, reach out to others. And be there for those who reach out to you.

3. It’s normal and good to grieve the loss of what was. Let yourself grieve. Jesus said, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” There is a deep psychological truth here; mourning brings about healing and comfort, even though it’s painful at the time. Les Greenberg, a well-known psychotherapist and creator of Emotion Focused Therapy says, “You can’t leave someplace until you arrive there.” You must arrive at the grief.

4. Most transitions have a mix of positive and negative aspects. It’s normal to feel a mix of such emotions. Give yourself space for the full range of emotions and the inevitable ups and downs that come with the territory. For those on a team going through a transition, remember that there will be ups and downs and try to create space for this.

5. People process transitions differently depending on their personality and life history. Don’t expect others to process things the same way you do. If you don’t understand why someone is reacting the way they are, give them the benefit of the doubt, and if appropriate, seek them out to try to understand better what their experience is. This will require that you truly listen and desire to understand the other’s perspective and not just try to convince them of yours.

6. Vulnerability is strength. It doesn’t feel like it when we experience vulnerability, but it truly is strength. Vulnerability comes from a measure of security to be where you are, rather than to deny the emotional reality of what things mean to you.  Vulnerability fosters connection, because it reveals to you, on a deep emotional level, that you need other people in order to thrive in life. If you don’t accept this, you’ll try to lone ranger your way through life and that always ends badly. There are times going through these transitions that I feel very vulnerable. There are moments when it feels “weak.” But at the end of the day, being vulnerable helps me accept who I am and accept what is. When I do this, I accept and love others more readily. So, let yourself be vulnerable and be more at peace with who you are and where you are. Model appropriate vulnerability to your team, especially if you’re in a formal leadership position. This will set the tone for a culture of connection.

7. Remember the promise of something new. If you deny the reality of the pain of transition, the new will not have meaning, or you’ll never arrive at the new. You must process the meaning of what was, and come to imbue it with a new sense of meaning. As you do this, take a step back occasionally and focus on what is emerging that is new, healthy and fresh.

I recently saw my sister and dad at a family event. I noticed that, because of these transitions and losses, I have a renewed desire to connect with my family and strengthen these relationships. I don’t think this would have happened were it not for some of these transitions. I also noticed a new patience with my oldest son. This has changed our relationship for the better.

What new experiences and ways of relating are emerging for you? For your team?

I hope these reflections help you move through transition in a healthy and positive way.

More From Dr. Todd Hall

Beyond Happy: 5 Factors for a Fulfilling Life, Backed by Science

All You Need is Love (at Work) 

2 Big Ideas to Create Meaning in Your Work

Todd Hall, Ph.D. is Chief Scientist and cofounder of Connection Culture Group. Dr. Hall is a psychologist, author, and consultant focused on helping people live and lead with connection. He is a co-developer of the MCORE motivation assessment, and a contributor for the Human Capital Institute. You can learn more about Dr. Hall's work at

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