How to Navigate Career and Life Changes with Grace and Ease

How many transitions you are in the midst of right now? More often than not, when we’re experiencing change in one area of our lives, there’s a good chance that things are shifting and moving in other places as well. Not Murphy’s law, but probably a first cousin.

If you’re living and working in the 21st century, you’re probably feeling pretty overworked and under-nourished to begin with. When the prospect of change looms with a mounting demand on your time and energy, it can simply put you over the edge.

The predictable flow of change

Fortunately, no matter how it’s triggered, the stages of transition are pretty predictable… how nice that at least some part of the process is! Arnold Van Gennup, the Dutch anthropologist who coined the phrase “rites of passage” over 100 years ago, talked about these occasions being made up of three phases: Separation; Transition; and ultimately, Incorporation.  Even more viscerally, he describes it as: dying→chaos→renewal.

Truly, there’s no avoiding the fact that we must let go, separate, or perhaps more dramatically, kill off some part of ourselves, our lives, our outworn ways of doing business, to make room for what’s ready to flow in.

As William Bridges, the granddaddy of modern transition theory, said To gain, you must first give up.  Every transition begins with an ending.  We have to let go of the old before we can take on the new… not just outwardly, but inwardly, too.” In his first 2 books, Transitions and Managing Transitions, he described how we can navigate both big life changes, but also important career transitions, with more awareness and success.

Understanding each transition phase and how to work through each one powerfully

As a Career & Life Transition Coach, I’ve guided many people to their next “big thing” whether it’s launching their own business or preparing for retirement. Here are some tips and questions to play with as you navigate each stage of your own big change.

1) Release phase

Something is ending. If it’s not in your control (like being down-sized), you can initially feel resistance, but hopefully this unfolds into a sense of relief.

This phase can take many forms for an entrepreneur. One of the biggies of course, is acknowledging what you had to let go of to start your own business in the first place. Then as you build your business, you’ll undoubtably lose a valued contract or employee along the way.  And the ultimate “release” might be when you sell your business and/or retire.

Some questions to ask yourself when you find yourself in this stage would be:

  • What am I glad to leave behind?
  • What will I miss?  
  • What are my top 5 strengths/gift/skills? 

2) Retreat phase

Bill Bridges called this the “neutral zone”, but frankly I think this stage feels anything but neutral so I’ve renamed it! It’s definitely a time of great exploration, both inner and outer. You may feel pretty chaotic or unfocused at the beginning but hopefully you’ll begin to experience more clarity and a sense of acceptance as you move through this discovery process.

In ancient cultures, the value of this period was understood and the elders of the community prescribed rites of passage in the form of vision quests or solitary refuge.

So, create some mini retreat time for yourself when you’re in this phase and journal about these questions:

  • What continues or remains constant? 
  • What can I do now that I couldn’t before? 
  • What do I need to learn from this experience?
  • How can I best use my gifts to prepare for what’s next?

3) Rebirth phase

Time to get moving! This is truly when the original “ending” in the Release phase has become a new beginning. In fact, once the path ahead gets clear and you’re ready to roll, you can actually feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities and everything you need to do to bring them to fruition.

Once again, it’s important to re-group and figure out how to harness all of this newfound energy and commit to your new path. Here are some questions to get you going:

  • Who do I need to be to move forward powerfully?
  • What am I most grateful for? 
  • What is my ideal life/work vision? (write it down or create a “treasure map” or collage)

Moving through change gracefully enhances our lives and our work. The true challenge is to maintain awareness of who we really are through every phase. Once we grasp this understanding, we can view life and its natural transitions more expansively, and even with curious anticipation. I hope you’re feeling a little better prepared for your next big change when it blows into your life!

Deborah Roth
About Deborah Roth 2 Articles
Deborah Roth, MA, PCC is a Career & Life Transition Coach and Relationship Coach, and has spent the last 35+ years coaching, training and speaking in all sectors of the business world. After completing her Master’s degree in Psychology and becoming ordained as an Interfaith Minister, she founded her business, Spirited Living™ ( in 1998. She offers a number of powerful, structured programs for groups and individuals, guiding them through all kinds of life and career transitions, and also speaks and teaches on the subjects of managing life’s big changes, radical self-care, everyday spirituality, conscious relationships… to name a few.