How William Bridges’ Work on Transitions Changed My Life….

By Kim Gowland, Executive/Leadership Coach, Brilliant Transitions Coach

Before I retrained to be coach in 2018-19, I had a successful 25 year career in museums in galleries, in marketing and then senior leadership.  Over the last five years of that career, I started to fall out of love with it, it seemed to have lost its meaning and purpose for me, I felt disconnected from it.  I felt lost, unsure of how to get out of something that I didn’t enjoy any longer, and totally unclear of where to go next.  What was I fit for? After all, if I wasn’t a cultural leader, what was I?
I had some coaching to help me unravel things, and my coach said the magic words to me: “You seem to be going through transition”. She recommended a book that I should read, William Bridges’ Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes.

This was the book that changed my life, in more ways than I could have imagined. It helped me find my way through leaving my old career and finding a new one much more suited to who I was and what I had to offer. It helped me to understand the emotional and psychological process I was going through, and navigate it with more confidence and calm. Later, Bridges’ work formed the basis of my own signature coaching programme, Brilliant Transitions, which helps clients (many of them senior leaders like I was) to navigate their own career and life transitions.

The core premise of Bridges’ book is his explanation around change and transition. Many people think change and transition are the same thing. They aren’t……

Change is situational : A move to a new city or a shift to a new job or career. The birth of your new baby or the death of your parent. The replacement of your manager to a new one. A retirement.

Transition is psychological: Transition isn’t about the events that happen or what we do, but the inner re-orientation and self-redefinition we have to go through to incorporate these changes into our life.

As Bridges says “Without a transition, change is just a re-arrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, won’t take.”
So we can prepare all we like for a major change in our lives but if we don’t understand and process our own transition, a situation can blindside us and create huge challenges.

The process of transition happens in three stages:  Ending. Neutral zone. New beginning:

First, the Ending.  Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one, not just outwardly but inwardly. Letting go is hard as it involves letting go of our old sense of identity and connection to things that we once aligned with. This is a process of disengagement, dismantling, disidentification, disenchantment, and disorientation.

Second, the Neutral Zone. When we are letting go, we enter the Neutral zone. In a way this is the empty space in between the ending and the new beginning. We aren’t that old person any longer but we don’t know who we will become. Nothing feels solid or certain.  This is the time when we must surrender to what is coming next and wait it out until we know ‘where next’. This is tough and uncomfortable for many of us, and the temptation is to get out of the neutral zone as fast as possible, to push forward or reverse to safety. But the neutral zone is the place where much of the transition happens and can’t be rushed. It is a time for reflection, being alone, looking out for signs and signals to take us in our new direction.

Third, the New Beginning.  We end the process of transition with a new beginning.  Once we have experienced the ending and the neutral zone, we can launch ourselves anew, changed, renewed and energised to move forward with our new life, career, identity, way of being. Unfortunately, new beginnings aren’t always easy either! We resist them, fear that if we make them, we will destroy all our old life, the things which we have learned to equate with ‘who we are’.  But if we get learn how to navigate this time, or get professional help from a coach to do it, the rewards can be immense!
The rewards can include : A sense of reinvention and rebirth. A connection to our true authentic selves, aligned to our values for now, this time in our lives. Finding a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives and work. Inner confidence, resilience and strength.

What did learning about transition do for me?

  • It helped me navigate the process of leaving a long career which no longer served me and to find a new one as a coach, which gives me fulfillment, joy and a sense of purpose. I feel like I am making a difference to my clients and in the world. I am my best self.
  • It helps me every time I feel like there is something which might be outdated in my life, I have the knowledge, skills and experience to navigate whatever changes come my way
  • It forms the basis of my signature Brilliant Transitions coaching programme, which I set up in  2020 during the pandemic. This six month 1-1 programme helps clients who are going through career and life transitions to navigate the process and find new direction, purpose and confidence in their lives and work. Every one of my Brilliant Transitions clients reads William Bridges’ Transitions book, to underpin their coaching experience with deep learning around the subject.
  • It was the inspiration for my Brilliant Transitions facebook group, which supports people through change and transition through inspirational content and a supportive community.

Life is full of transitions. Learning how to recognise them and navigate them will make our lives richer and more meaningful.
Do get in touch if you would like to know more: