What is a life transition?

There’s no doubt about it that previous generations have gone through difficult periods of history. But at least their working lives had some stability to them. We’re talking about a time when the “job for life” existed, something which has now earned its place in the history books studied at school. The stages of life were well defined, and securing a permanent contract marked the beginning of a long-term engagement. If we had talked to those past generations about the scientific literature that surrounds the subject today, they would have probably just smiled. But it’s not to say that they felt more satisfied and fulfilled than the new generation. Nowadays, life transitions are physiological. Even those who have linear careers will most likely still find themselves taking a few internships, apprenticeships and freelance jobs before landing a permanent contract. But even then, they might still change companies.

So, what is a life transition?

Life transitions are periods that involve significant changes to your lifestyle. Some examples of life transitions might include the birth of a child, moving house, starting a new job, getting married or divorced, being made redundant, illness or the loss of a loved one. Even the global Coronavirus pandemic can be classed as a life transition – it’s a major change that we’re all adjusting to. 

Uncertainty is a central part of life transitions

Pier Giovanni Bresciani, Work Psychology professor at Urbino University and SIPLO President (the Italian society of work and organisational psychology) is one of Italy’s leading experts on life transitions. In one of his most famous works (Biographies in transition. Working projects in flexible times. Franco Angeli, Milano, 2006) he rightly observes that these life transitions now occur in a “liquid” social context. The subjective uncertainty that manifests when a company abandons their role in growing with an individual can hardly be replaced by training support at work.

As Bresciani says, people use and mix different elements to face each transition, and these elements make up their own personal resources. That’s why each change, even if positive, is a crucial stage in life. Each ‘movement’ requires cognitive redefinition from the individual. Sometimes it’s incredibly complex: it stirs up anxiety, fear, insecurity and makes us face up to our choices and opinions of ourselves, as well as our opinions of others (or what other people think of us). When leaving the known for the unknown, it stirs up complex emotions that require us to use important personal resources.

Experiences emerging from the transition

Think about parenthood. It’s probably the biggest and most significant transition a person can go through. But parenthood is a transition, which is why we believe that it feeds education. Whatever our role within a company, the learnings taken from this experience can also be applied to the workplace. It’s almost inevitable that parents will have improved listening skills, mediation skills and able to better understand their colleagues. The leadership model, conflict management and time management (and consequently productivity) can change for the better if people are guided to recognise the skills that the transition has strengthened within them.

Defining those experiences

So let’s take a moment to think about how we define “our experience” in more general terms. It’s what we describe on the curriculum, but it’s also a conversation starter. “In my experience” is usually the beginning of a phrase that’s difficult to counter or reply: it almost can’t be questioned because it’s presented as a fact, rather than fiction. But our experiences are built through each transition. The hardest part is facing it, working through it, putting learnings into action at home and at work, because these experiences give us access to new skills and abilities. These life skills, or soft skills, are hard for individuals to identify and transform into a strength point by themselves. Schools and universities don’t teach us to put them into practice.

With Lifeed the blended training platform that mixes digital sessions with real life practice, life experiences are valued and applied to the working environment, We have developed a range of programs that highlight the enormous development potential that lies in every transition. Having worked with companies for five years, we know that people going through transitions can come out the other side feeling weaker or stronger: it depends how they go through it.

Transitions through crisis

The example we referenced before (becoming parents) talks about a positive change. But not all life transitions are triggered by something positive. Think about the Coronavirus pandemic. It has brought about change, in both ourselves and the world around us, and it will be difficult to return to the world as it was before. But this transition isn’t positive or negative. It depends how you live through it. Lifeed Transitions wants to help companies and their employees take positives from this experience. Risks and opportunities become two sides of the same coin that destiny threw in the air, but we have the ability to decide which side the coin will land on. We are social beings: we can’t do this alone. We need to connect with our surrounding context to make it work.

Lifeed Transitions doesn’t just guide people in terms of managing the transition and harnessing its potential for personal growth, it also creates a starting point for team discussion and growth. Participants can contribute to the bottom-up reconstruction of the new corporate culture, starting with the identification and application of new skills that each person has learned. In this way, the coin will land right way up, creating opportunities. It’s what psychologist and politician David Halpern means when he says “post traumatic growth” rather than post traumatic stress. This example helps us to understand how a painful life event, that we tend to think of as negative, can be overcome and even improve a person’s life, if guided and supported in the right way. When handled in the right way, the crisis can become a bridge that helps us to come out the other side unscathed.

Understanding the process

Bridges’ Transition Model teaches us to understand our emotions as we pass through a transition. It takes us through shock, fear, anger. It creates disorientation, mental confusion, frustration or even apathy. If we have the right tools available, we can transform these negative emotions into a new beginning. Similarly, when transitions aren’t managed, the company’s wellbeing will feel the repercussions. If we don’t use different words and break down stereotypes, we could see an increase in stress levels. What’s more, many people could lose their vision within the company.

Understanding and learning how to improve

The people that have been able to overcome the crisis are those who have best adapted to change. For this to be able to happen, we need to fully understand the changes that have happened. We need to understand the skills that we have developed to manage change and how they can be applied at work. It’s only once we have crossed over that bridge, that we suddenly realise we have come out the other side.

So, we need to look behind us to understand the past, including any mistakes that have been made. The present is there for us to fix any mistakes. The past isn’t prophetic: what has happened previously doesn’t need to repeat itself, if we learn to avoid it. By looking to the future, our learnings must become generative, as they have helped us to reach this new phase. Creativity, resourcefulness, being open minded, managing change, vision. These are the skills that our survey participants found themselves using throughout the pandemic. They are important skills for the workplace too.

Guiding people through the transition

The Lifeed Transitions program guides participants through the identification phase through self-narration, as well as sharing thoughts through the “corporate rooms”. “Nobody can save themselves” is the first learning that Coronavirus has left us. By discovering our own skills, we can cross the bridge from uncertainty to independence (If You’re Burning Out, Carve a New Path, Harvard Business Review April 2020), balancing out the stress that the crisis itself caused.

It all boils down to resilience. It’s a skill that we can learn and hone. We’re moving from being spectators to protagonists in our own stories. It’s important not to confuse it with resistance: this is simply acknowledging your scars and moving forward regardless. Resilience is the ability to learn from them, identifying and understanding mistakes to transform them into a strength. It allows us to improve on ourselves and face our fears of moving through change, which is completely natural. We can’t learn this by talking about it to somebody else. Transitions reveal meta skills that are in high demand in the workplace. These skills are often difficult to train in the classroom. Skills such as change management, tolerating errors, taking initiative, entrepreneurship, mental agility, leadership, responsibility, self-determination. These skills can all be strengthened through training.

It’s exactly what Lifeed Transitions does. Designed by a scientific team that’s specialised in transitions, it makes space for people to reflect, highlights how their identity changes, reassures them and makes them feel stronger. It benefits everyone because it’s not about how strong the individual is, but about their biological and social context.