Endings, Beginnings and the Transitions we Ignore

12 March 2024
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We left our small apartment in the old district of Montevideo late one Friday night, with the clothes on our backs and a single suitcase for my mom, my dad, and me.

We moved quietly and swiftly through the dark streets until we reached the bus station. From there, we boarded a bus bound for Brazil.

Once we reached Rio the next morning, we stood on the sidewalk, not knowing where we would spend the night.

The only thing that was certain was that we were officially political refugees, with no possibility of returning.

I was seven years old.

Even after 40 years, it feels like an unfinished chapter in my life, and many beginnings I never got to write.

Transitional periods in my life used to overwhelm me, and handling transition periods with self-respect felt challenging. Instead of facing my fears and uncertainties head-on, I choose to avoid them. I quickly moved forward without reflecting on the changes affected me.

Over time, I have learned to use transitions to speed up my personal development.

In this article, we explore various life transitions, their phases, and our common tendency to ignore or avoid acknowledging them.

I will share my personal insights on how I navigate life’s endings, transitions, and new beginnings with self-compassion.

I hope something resonates with you and assists you in your journey of self-improvement.

What are Life Transitions?

Transitions are the periods of change in our lives that occur when we move from one phase or state to another.

Typically, major life events or alterations in our personal or professional situations relate to them.

The Difference Between Change and Transitions

Change is an external event, like swapping jobs.

If you adapt easily, you rarely experience the feelings and emotions that accompany transition.

Transition is an internal process. It is the emotional and mental adjustment to change.

Changes can occur without a transition, but transitions cannot occur without change.

An Emotional Journey from Independence to Responsibility

When I met my first wife, I was independent. We got pregnant quickly, and I was soon to be a father.

I felt happy and proud to be responsible and create a home for my child, but I also felt a loss of freedom and independence.

I felt joy and overwhelmed by a profound sense of responsibility.

I experienced a sense of anticipation and fear about the unknown.

I felt capable, but also filled with self-doubt about being a parent.

Becoming a father was fulfilling, but I had this persistent feeling that I hadn’t reached my full potential, and now it was too late.

I didn’t handle that transition well.

Three years later, I got divorced and found myself in transition once again. I thought I learned my lesson, but life had more to teach me.

Upon completing my nursing education, my time as an ambitious graduate ended. Overnight, I was struggling to transition from being the top student in my class to a novice professional expected to be dedicated and competent.

This new role filled me with a mix of pride, uncertainty, horror, and excitement. A part of me welcomed my role as a professional, and another part longed for the comfort and familiarity of being a successful student.

This time, I handled the transition better, with more patience, and learned about myself.

The Complexity and Importance of Life Transitions

When I met my second and current wife, I knew immediately she was the one. I got married good. I jumped in with no hesitation.

As a devoted husband and stepfather, I feel not only love and excitement, but also a sense of responsibility.

There’s a hidden fear that I may lack the qualities needed to be a good stepfather.

I remind myself that an ending and a transition accompanied every beginning.

While transitions bring new experience and opportunities to my front door, they are not without challenges.

I welcomed the fear and discomfort.

I challenge my self-image by pushing myself to leave the comfort of the familiar and adapt to the new situation.

Why We Avoid or Rush Through Life Transitions

There are multiple reasons I sometimes rush through transitions or avoid acknowledging them.

The fear of change is present, even when the change is positive.

My brain hates the feeling of not knowing where I am or where I am going.

Long-standing habits need to be changed for new over night creates a lot of friction and the brain love easy, fast and fun.

Therefore, my brain goes into survival mode, holding onto what’s familiar and keep a safe distance from what’s unknown.

I have rushed through transitions because of societal pressures or expectations.

I have pursued acceptance, particularly by trying to please others.

What seems like a good approach at first, often breeds resentment. Constantly prioritizing others’ needs and desires over my own made me feel undervalued and overlooked, eventually leading to bitterness and resentment.

Over 20 years of journaling reveals my emotional patterns.

One entry reveals my excitement.

Three months later, another reveals the challenges I faced adapting to the very changes that initially thrilled me.

In a third entry, it’s clear I’m avoiding or slowing down the transition.

I am distracting or numbing myself.

I have learned that shiny toys and what excites me now often cause discomfort and suffering for my future self.

Most of my life’s transitions have involved a loss or ending, which often brought about feelings of grief or sadness.

I now navigate transitions by accepting them as a natural part of me.

Lastly, I accept that I often lack the tools or understanding to navigate transitions effectively.

Although transitions can be difficult, I must see them as chances for growth and embrace them.

Major Life Transitions

Childhood to Adolescence: The “Architect” Period

The “Architect” period, or the transition from childhood to adolescence, is a time of significant change.

This period, typically from 13 to 19 years old, is when a young person forms their identity.

It’s a mental and emotional journey from their family-centered world to the broader social environment of high school.

During this period, they shape their views and set their moral and ethical standards.

Transition from High School to Higher Education

Maria, a former student of mine, left her small town and the people she knows behind in order to pursue higher education in a big city.

This shift brings excitement, but also challenges like homesickness, making new friends, and handling independence.

Maria shared her feelings with me in a text:

“I’m eager, but also sad. Right now, I have new opportunities in my life, but they also require a lot of adjustments. It feels like this marks the end of one life chapter.”

Entering the Professional World

Alex, another of my former students, recently started his first job in a big city.

He told me:

“I was used to being a student, but now I’m entering the professional world, a change that brings both excitement and nervousness.

On my first day, I stepped into a skyscraper for the first time in my life.

They gave me a cubicle and assigned me very challenging tasks.

Work deadlines and office politics have replaced my student life.

I come back to my apartment late every evening, feeling completely isolated.

I miss the university cafeteria and my roommates.

I spend my free time cooking, taking care of bills, and sleeping.

I’m doing fine, but the shift from being a student to navigating professional life feels a bit overwhelming.”

Beginning a Life with Another Person

Sarah, a coaching colleague of mine, shared her experience of transitioning from living alone to sharing her life with someone else.

She said, “I had lived alone for years, enjoying my independence.

Then I met John, fell in love, and we moved in together.

My life changed. I began cooking for two, and my minimalist home now accommodated John’s, let’s say, not so minimalistic lifestyle.

This marked the end of my solitary life, and brought with it adjustments and compromises that I was not used to.

But it has also brought joy because we are creating a life together.”

For some, starting a life with another person is a big transition.

It shifts the focus from just oneself to others as well.

Midlife Transitions

I met Peter, a 50-year-old priest, in the sauna.

As a coach, I naturally tend to probe everyone I encounter with questions.

Peter laughed when I commented that he didn’t resemble a priest without his liturgical vestments.

He confessed he was reevaluating his life choices.

He felt a sense of dissatisfaction and yearned for more from life.

He told me, “I never built a career,” and now it seemed too late.

I asked him, “Is that possible?” — referring to the context of God and the church.

“Yes,” he responded, “I have several colleagues who have progressed within the church while I have remained stagnant.

As our conversation continue, it became evident that Peter was going through a midlife transition.

He is recognizing a lack of professional progress in his role within the church.

He is yearning for a change or a transition to a more fulfilling or challenging role.

This realization can act as a trigger or catalyst for a transition, prompting him to seek advancement within the church, even consider a different career path, or perhaps explore other ways to find satisfaction and fulfillment in his life.

Transition to Retirement

David, a colleague of mine, spent forty years accumulating a fortune through stock trading while also working as a professor.

At 65, he retired.

When I met him for a walk a couple of months after he retired, he told me,

Suddenly, I am no longer a professor, but retired David.

The last few months have been a period of constant change.

I sleep in every morning, and have lots of free time.

At first, it felt like a long holiday.

I have the freedom to read, travel, and indulge in my hobbies.

However, I miss work.

Retirement for David meant the end of his professional identity and the start of a new phase.

For some, retirement is the final life stage, marking the end of work life.

For others, it is the beginning of many years of new experiences.

The Process of Transitions

In their book “Transitions,” William and Susan Bridges explain our journey is a continuous movement from the past, with the present comprising three stages:


The end of something often represents a loss of what’s familiar, requiring me to let go of old attitudes, behaviors, habits, or lifestyles.

The Neutral Zone

This is a period when the familiar is gone, but the new hasn’t fully arrived.

Despite its potential discomfort and confusion, it offers a unique opportunity for growth and transformation.

This phase lets me reflect, experiment, and learn.

I reconsider my priorities, discover new ideas, and build new skills.

By embracing the uncertainty of this phase, I become stronger and ready for new beginnings.

New Beginnings

This is a period that signifies progress and the start of a new chapter.

A phase where I accept the end and start feeling energetic.

I form a new identity, start new routines, and become comfortable in new situations.

Each phase is crucial for successfully navigating through life’s transitions.

Final Thoughts

First, I must let go of the old way of doing things.

I must let go of my old identity to move forward.

This is easier said than done.

I’m no longer who I once was. I’m not yet who I will become, and I’m not who I need to be to master this new situation.

I am a mix of old memories, limiting assumptions, and high expectations.

Intellectually, I know I must let go of the identities that were tied to my previous situation or role.

Emotionally, this is a challenging process as it involves re-evaluating my self-image more than once.

It’s a time where I need to be brave and have faith in something that hasn’t started yet.

My life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.

The times I have faced new beginnings, I experienced some of the following feelings:

  • Sadness from losing the familiar
  • Grief from the end of a life phase or stage
  • Fear and uncertainty about the future
  • Regret or nostalgia for what is being left behind
  • Anxiety about the unknown or upcoming changes
  • Emptiness or a void from the loss
  • Isolation or loneliness because of the change
  • A loss of control over my circumstances
  • Overwhelmed from the magnitude of the change
  • In denial or disbelief about the ending

I must stop numbing and distracting myself and fully embrace the spectrum of emotions, from joy to sorrow.

I must accept and embrace endings, beginnings, and transitions with self-compassion and acceptance.

When I don’t accept myself, needs or desires stay in my subconscious and show up as frustration, dissatisfaction, or regret.

Life will keep repeating the same situations until I accept myself and express my true feelings and desires.

I choose to view my life not simply as a chain of outcomes or end results, but also as an ongoing collection of invaluable learning experiences.

Change and transitions, however uneasy they may be, are integral parts of life and absolute must for all personal development.

Embracing every ending , transition and beginning is the only contructive way forward.

Whatever phase of your life you’re in, be in it.

In your worst moments, there’s something meant for you.

An experience. A lesson. A connection.

Life always provides lessons. Stay present.

Now back to you

What is about to end or has ended in your life?

A relationship? ‘A job?

A friendship or a way of living?

Have you accepted or are you struggling with it?

Do you transition smoothly or suppress emotions, causing more discomfort?

Can you recognize when you’re in transition?

What does it look like?

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