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How to Get UnStuck

Creative Commons LicensePhoto credit: Pi.Gra
What do you do if you’re stuck in one place and you want to move on?

…both the person who leaves early and the one who stays late are avoiding endings and the discomfort of facing the fact that there is a break of some sort in the continuity of things.

— William Bridges
Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes

Once upon a time a little kid would climb a couple of feet up a chain link fence so he could watch the “big kids” play next door… but he always wore these big clompy tennis shoes with humungous toes that got stuck in the links… after a while the little guy would get bored and decide to climb down – only to find that his shoes were securely stuck… and then he’d start calling out to his empty yard, “Hep… hep… hep…”  Eventually he’d wiggle out of those clompy shoes and get on with his day.

Each of us will, at some time in our lives, struggle to understand the endings that have transpired to change our lives. We’ll find ourselves grappling with those “breaks in the continuity of things”.  Some of us will quickly wiggle out of the grasp of “what was” and move forward into the rest of our lives.  Some will get stuck holding on to “what was” and endure the pain that accompanies the mindless muttering of our hearts: “this is not how it was supposed to be…”

Endings Can Be Difficult

We often mark beginnings in our lives. But endings? Endings often get short shrift – aside from deaths and funerals, we generally don’t give endings much fanfare; instead we focus on the apparent new beginning that’s about to unfold.  Even graduation from high school is deemed a “commencement” instead of an ending.

According to transition expert William Bridges, how well we cope with life-changes depends upon how well we navigate through the three stages of a transition:

  1. Letting Go
  2. The Neutral Zone
  3. New Beginning

The Letting Go Stage is all about acknowledging endings and cutting the ties that bind us to the past… without dishonoring or abandoning our roots.  And that can be a tall order.  Letting Go can be a short or a drawn out process.  But if all we can do is hang-on for dear life to “what was”, we’ll languish forever in a never-ending End.  Change will go over and around us.

Until we’re able to acknowledge that there has been an ending we will be stuck on the fence, calling “Hep, hep, hep”…

Until we let go of whatever is pulling us back to “what was but isn’t anymore” we can’t successfully move forward.

So how do we move on?

Letting Go

In his organizational management text, [amazon-product text=”Managing Transitions” type=”text”]0738213802[/amazon-product], Bridges recommends several actions that will ease us into letting go and moving on:

First, identify what you’ve lost or are about to lose – ask yourself questions like these:

  • What’s changed?
  • What’s different now?
  • What do I miss?

Then, acknowledge and accept whatever answers you give yourself.  And don’t be surprised if you’re emotional over those perceived losses.

Allow yourself to grieve, to feel sad, angry, frightened, depressed, confused, joyous, relieved, …whatever!

Then, carefully, clarify what “isn’t over.”  Savor those things; begin to imagine their benefits.

And finally, Bridges advises, honor the past but “mark the endings – dramatize them.”  He cites the legend of Spanish conquistador, Cortez who, knowing his weary men were feeling hopeless about invading a wild new world, “burned the ships.”  It was his ruthless way of telling those sailor-warriors – there’s no turning back.

And so it is with us – there’s no turning back; we either languish in “stuck” or we go on.

So, consider doing as Bridges advises: gather a memento or two, honor your endings and move intrepidly into the next transition stage: The Neutral Zone.  (More on that in my next post…)

Don’t doubt the fact there’s life within you.
Yesterday’s ending will tomorrow life give you.

— Unknown

What do you need to let go of so you can move on?

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