The Transition Curve

Two-lane highways in Northern California Mountains where I grew up can be thrilling and beautiful to drive. As you wind your way through canyons and along rivers, the views can be breathtaking. The journey, however, involves some level of risk. Any number of mishaps are possible. You have to change the way you normally drive.

In a similar way, significant life transitions require an altogether different kind of navigating. Our default strategies aren't always sufficient to get us through the challenges. Vision is impeded by unexpected twists and turns. We may need to increase our level of alertness and add some new skills in order to avoid getting stuck in some ditch or, worse yet, driving off a cliff! 

While life is full of challenging transitions, cross-cultural transitions are the mainstay of global workers. I'm always looking for tips at navigating transition successfully. Here's a few I've gathered along the way:

Stay Alert to Obstacles. When I was growing up, a visit to Grandma's required a 3-hour drive on roads which snaked their way through the mountains. From time to time we would pass signs which warned, "Falling Rock." My dad had this 9 year old convinced that I should be watching out for the man Falling Rock, a wandering Indian chief. I've since learned that I should have been looking out for rocks falling onto the road from the cliffs above us.

What are some of your falling rocks in the middle of the road of transition? Some of us are prone to neglect rest and reflection. Others find it hard to prioritize or concentrate. Still others get stuck in the past, while some forge ahead without healthy closure. For me, impatience is a constant rock in the road. Any of these can become potential obstacles to navigating a successful transition. Simply being aware of the places we are vulnerable increases our chances of success.

Adjust Your Speed. Blind spots are natural hazards along the road of transition. We can't avoid them, but we can protect ourselves from unnecessary risk by slowing down and thinking through the next big decision. Have I adjusted my speed? What will make me feel more confident as I head into this change? Persistent prayer and time with God? More time to reflect? Processing with a trusted friend, mentor, coach or counselor? These are just a few important ways to steer your transition forward without collision.

Avoid the Drift. My dad was not only notorious for driving too fast around the curves; he was also a drifter. As the road got long, the urge to close his eyes would overtake him. Then everyone in the car would feel a sudden jolt as he corrected the vehicle back onto the lane. My mom would look over and ask, "Do you want me to drive?" Rather than give up control of the wheel, his answer was to open the window for some cold air and turn up the country music which was already blaring from the radio.

When I find myself having to navigate transition, I always have a choice: remain alert or fall asleep. One requires some intentionality. The other gives way to the confusion and chaos often characterized by the transition itself. A way to avoid this transitional drift is through intentional goal setting. Goal setting in transition is a purposeful activity in seasons where we often struggle to find meaning and purpose. Depending upon where we are on the transitional curve, we may or may not be able to set certain goals. But we can at least set some short-term ones that keep us moving down the right lane and going the right direction.

Pull off to the Side. Some of my biggest regrets during transition have revolved around missed opportunities with God, my family and friends. The problem was with my perspective. I was seeing transition as an obstacle to pass through as quickly as possible, rather than an opportunity to experience God more deeply and make some memories with the ones I love.

From time to time the road you are traveling will ease out of the canyon, straighten out, and give you an extra lane to allow for safe passing. Passing is not a requirement, it's merely allowed. Why hurry and miss the beauty of it all? Pull off to the side from time to time, let the confused and careless pass you by, and savor some time for reflection.

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