Career transitions are a process. In William Bridges model, there are three stages of transition people go through when they experience change. They are:

  1. The Ending or Letting go
  2. The Neutral Zone
  3. The New Beginning

Below, I examine each in more detail.

Stage one: The Ending – Transitions begin with a five-phase ending process. This is a pre-condition for self-renewal, and, oftentimes, clients try to avoid this stage or rush it, as it can be very painful.

  1. Disengagement – This is an actual break from the ordinary way of life as you know it—separating yourself from activities, relationships, and settings that have been important, but are no longer working for you. Think of it as externally removing yourself from old systems and contexts.
  2. Dismantling – This involves the actual taking apart of your life as you used to know it before disengagement occurred. This can mean dismantling the world you operated in as well as the identity you had built in this world.
  3. Disidentification – If you think of disengagement as the external change that started the transition, you then can think of disidentification as the internal changes that alter the way in which you experience yourself. You begin to lose the old way of defining yourself, and you are no longer sure who you are. Giving up titles and roles are an important part of your identity, and it is important to disidentify from these during this phase.
  4. Disenchantment – This a true shift in your worldview; things just don’t look the same anymore. This can involve emotions such as disappointment and shock. It is a time to look below the surface of what you thought to be so. It is the sign that you are ready to see and understand more now.
  5. Disorientation – Disorientation is just what it sounds like—you don’t know where you’re going, what you should be doing, or what has meaning for you.

Stage Two: The Neutral Zone

The neutral zone is the time in between the old life and the new. In order to build anew you need to dismantle and provide space within yourself for the creative act of constructing a new life. For many clients, this can be a terrifying stage as you have gone through the phases of the ending zone, but clearly still have no idea where you are heading. You are confused, lack direction, and can be gripped by fear. Clients have described this phase as a period of emptiness, suffering, and confusion.

However, this phase is absolutely essential to finding a new beginning, and it is important for you to surrender to this phase of emptiness and stop trying to escape it. I often suggest that my clients get away for a few days and take a personal retreat. The solitude associated with a retreat allows you to see and experience the world differently and opens you up for transformation.

Think of it as a period of inner reorientation where realignment begins to take shape.

Stage Three: A New Beginning

So, how do you know when you’ve reached the point of a new beginning? Beginnings are often inauspicious and quiet. When you are ready, the opportunities will begin to appear in front of you. Inner signals will begin to point you in the right direction.

What are these inner signals? They can be subtle, and, oftentimes, hard to notice. They could be some or all of the following: an idea, an impression, an image, a hint, a comment someone makes, a dream, or a fantasy.

An inner signal is NOT a billboard with the word “Answer” on it—it is not an answer in the traditional sense. It tends to be more of an inner realignment, more than an external opportunity. However, an external opportunity could precipitate this process.

A few key points lead to success in this phase:

  • Begin to take action.
  • Visualize yourself doing the final result, or in the final state.
  • Take things step by step and recognize this is a process.

Shift your purpose from trying to achieve a “goal” to living in the process, learning what you can, and making contacts where appropriate.