Creating Powerful Life Transitions

Contributed by Debby Stone.

14440757471_4538ba9065_o (1)Graduation season is drawing to a close. This year, I attended two graduations and know several more students who are moving on from high school or college. Perhaps you, too, have attended one or more graduations this year. And, even if you haven’t attended one this season, I am sure that the memory of caps and gowns – yours or someone else’s – is an easy one for you to bring to mind.

I have always thought of graduation as an ending. The graduate is leaving his particular school, finishing a degree and receiving a diploma that indicates completion. However, as I have reflected on the process, I realize that graduation is also a new beginning. There is a reason that the accompanying ceremony is called commencement. The commencement ceremony marks the beginning of the next chapter in the life of the graduate. It is a celebration of his accomplishments to date and of the promise that lies ahead.

I find it powerful that we mark completion of schoolwork with a ceremony. When a student finishes high school, college or graduate school, she doesn’t simply move on to the next step – more school or a job. Rather, we gather around her to help her look back over her accomplishments, celebrate, and plan for what lies ahead.

It’s a shame that we don’t do more of this in our everyday lives. Think about how quickly we move from one task to the next, from one job to another, from our current city to a different location. We don’t mark the shift with a ceremony, and we don’t typically even stop long enough to reflect on what we are leaving behind and what lies ahead. What would be different if we did?

Imagine if we paused long enough to look back at a job we are leaving so we could appreciate what we learned during our tenure with that organization. Imagine if we stopped to reflect on the memories we have amassed while living in a particular place. What if we paused after completing a task or reaching a goal and reflected on what we have accomplished and what it took to accomplish it.

I often work with clients who are in transition. During our time together they may leave one job and begin another, reach a long held goal, or move to a new home or city. When my clients leave a job, I always advise taking some time off before starting their new one to engage in just the sort of graduation and commencement we are discussing. And, although not everyone takes that advice, those who do find that by consciously graduating from their previous role and equally consciously commencing their new role, they are able to be more fully engaged in what lies ahead, find more focus in their new role and consciously integrate the learnings from their previous job.

On the flip side, those who do not take a break, those who do not create the space for conscious graduation and commencement, often find that they regret not having punctuated their transition with some sort of ritual, ceremony and pause. For example, one woman I know left her job with a company she had been with for 25 years. Her last day there was on a Friday and she started her new job on the following Monday morning. She did not give herself time to pause and reflect, and as a result, she did not have an opportunity to celebrate her time with the company that had played such a pivotal role in her life and career for a quarter of a century. Today, if you asked her, she would say that not marking that transition is one of her biggest regrets.

There is much to be gained from creating a ritual to accompany a move or shift from one chapter in your life to another. Just as school graduations allow for reflection, celebration and visioning, the commencement ceremonies we could create would do the same. Our transitions would become powerful tools for learning and growth.

How have you marked the big shifts in your life – a goal reached, a new job, a big move? What graduation and commencement ceremonies have worked well for you? What did consciously marking the transition provide?