To re-cap our roadtrip: two individuals with wildly different musical preferences (I’m a broadway baby and he’s a bluegrass boy) crossed the smokey mountains, survived a flash-flood in Nashville (and celebrated by eating delicious pancakes with this lovely lady), breezed through the flat farmland of Arkansas, and arrived safely in Texas 20 hours later. I’ll miss Appalachia, but it feels so good to be home. I forgot how hot the summer sun is here, but I also forgot how much I love the open skies and swift sunrises.
Being in mental transition mode since graduation last June, I keep preparing for the changes that are happening and being slightly caught off guard when they aren’t as monumental as I think they will be. Speaking to two of my friends who just got back to the U.S. after living abroad (in Turkey and Israel, respectively), both of them were surprised by how easy it was to both go and come back. They expected the transition to be more turbulent, to have longer adjustment times, to be reeling with nostalgia and culture shock.
The transition from D.C. to Texas is certainly no where near as dramatic, but as I sit at my kitchen table — having bleary eyed, lazy morning conversations over coffee — I feel like I never left. The new neighborhoods, highway construction, restaurants, and shops, however, remind me that this isn’t my town anymore. I have been absent for the changes and life has gone on without me. In fact, it has done laps around me and left me standing in a maze of streets I don’t recognize.
Humans are resilient and–as much as we may resist it–we are born to deal with change. We adapt, both physically and emotionally, to our surroundings and often don’t notice the changes until we look back and suddenly no longer recognize ourselves. In six days I leave for India, I don’t know where I will be four months afterwards, and the news that my parents want to sell our house within the next year means that this may be the last time (or second to last time) I return to this kitchen table.
I have a feeling the next few years will be like that, rife with constant changes and transitions. Psychologist Shannon Kolakowski writes on how to make the most of them.
1. Recognize that transitions are hard because they can shake your sense of identity. We naturally define ourselves in part by our surroundings. When these surroundings change, it can be disorienting. Getting married changes your identity from a single person to a partner. Having a child changes your sense of identity from wife or daughter to now include being a mother. A new job changes your identity or role at work.
2. Being in transition is a wonderful opportunity for growth. Take a look at the parts of yourself and your life that you most value– how can you bring those parts of yourself into your new role? Next, look at the areas of yourself that you’d like to make changes to. Perhaps you’ve been neglectful of some important area of your life. Transitions are an opportunity to begin practicing new habits and ways of interacting with others.
3. Remind yourself why you chose to make the change. In the midst of feeling a little lost during a transition, it can be easy to regret your decision. When doubt creeps in, review the reasons you made your decision. When you see the big picture, it helps you move from feeling overwhelmed to understanding that this is a temporary adjustment, and while it’s difficult now, you are willing to go through some uncertainty and discomfort for the long term gain.
4. Recall other times in your life when you’ve successfully dealt with transitions.What helped you get through that period in your life? Looking back, how do you feel about the past decisions you’ve made? What were you proud of, and what would you have done differently? Reflecting on your past can help you to make good decisions as you move forward.
5. When you’re in transition, it’s easy to become overly focused on yourself. One way to shift your focus is to look at others who may need your help. If you’re at work, it may be a coworker who you notice is having a bad day. If you’re in a prenatal yoga class, reach out to another mom-to-be that seems like she is having a hard time. Making an effort to support others helps you remember that everyone struggles at times, and that human connection can be a powerful aid in helping get through it.
6. Part of what helps you feel secure in transition is having a support system. Make an effort to stay connected; keep in touch with your family, call up an old friend who lives in the area you just moved to, volunteer or get involved in an organization, ask a new co-worker to join you for lunch. Find people who you can really talk to; whether it’s a trusted friend or close family member, being able to share how you’re really feeling can be a tremendous source of strength for you.
I think the reality is that most transitions happen so quickly that you can’t possibly wrap your head around the changes and what they actually mean while they are happening. I guess I will find out.