Planning for Personal Change: A Map for Resilience

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Planning for Personal Change: A Map for Resilience

Before you come to residency, make sure that you have prepared yourself, your family and your workplace for your next steps into the EEC program.

“We have to let go of old things before we pick up the new – not just outwardly but inwardly, where we keep our connections to the people and places that act as definitions of who we are.” William Bridges (1980)

Setting out to pursue a Master’s Degree is a major life transition, and so it is also important to plan for the changes that will take place in your personal life. Life as you have known it will change, must change, in order for you to successfully navigate the challenges that lie ahead in the next two years. There will be less time and energy during the next two years for some of the things that you hold most dear. But you can plan for that. Awareness that change will occur, being ready for your own responses to that change and learning how to communicate these changes to those around you is the first step in making sure that you remain invested in all the important areas of your life. Each person has the capability to become more resilient through change and to proactively plan for the ways that the change will impact our lives.

William Bridges, in his book Transitions (1980), outlines what happens to someone when they are faced with a major life change. His work is based around the belief that after a change, (for example, entering graduate school) there are three stages that a person must go through in order to prepare for what is ahead:

Endings—Neutral Zone—New Beginning

Many RRU graduate students report that they were unprepared for the transitions they experienced during their course of their studies. Even though entering a graduate program in some ways feels like a “beginning”, previous learners report that they were highly impacted by the “ending” of life as they knew it before they began the program. They also report that the “neutral zone” can be a time of confusion and decreased energy, and yet a time of deep personal learning which enabled them to fully embrace the new beginning.

In his article, Don’t Forget to Manage the Transition Too (1996), Bridges describes the necessity of allowing oneself to go through each of these stages in order to make a new beginning:

First, transition always starts with an ending. Even though change can be initiated by something new, the internal psychological processes that accompany it always start by separating from, getting closure on, or bidding farewell to the old reality and the old identity that went with it. You cannot make a good beginning without making an ending first. After the ending has been made, a beginning is possible – but it cannot occur immediately. First you must go through an in-between state that there is no accepted name for – a time when the old reality and the old identity are gone, but the new ones have not yet taken root in your mind and heart. In my writing I call this the neutral zone to capture the in-between-ness and the neither-this-not-that quality.

As you now enter this transition in your life, you may encounter a time when you question your decision to add graduate school to an already full life and satisfying career. Bridges says, “ It is frightening to discover that some part of us is still holding on to what we used to be, for it makes us wonder if the change was in fact a bad idea” (1980). It is precisely at this time when you have the opportunity to recognize the three stages of personal transition after a major life change and begin the process of embracing your “new beginning” as a graduate learner. There may come a time during the first year when you feel that you have lost your enthusiasm for your studies. This is a completely normal and expected response, not an indication of failure or lack of competency. So, recognize these feelings as a natural occurrence of the “neutral zone”, as a bridge between the ending and the new beginning.

Preparing for and remaining resilient

How can one prepare for and remain resilient through this major life change that entering graduate school brings? Darryl Connor (1998), in his book Leading at the Edge of Chaos suggests five ways that one can not only be strong through a time of change, but also become stronger than one was before the change!

Connor suggests that one must develop these five behaviours to gain and maintain resilience:

Remain Positive Maintain the security and self-assurance that are based on a view of the world as complex, but filled with opportunity

Stay Focused Keep a clear vision of what must be done

Be Flexible Develop a creative ability when responding to uncertainty

Be Organized Structure approaches to managing ambiguity

Remain Proactive Engage change rather than defend against it

Some suggestions you might consider based on this model are:

  • Expect lots of complexity in the next two years in all areas of your life and remain hopeful.
  • Keep the things most important to you as priorities; everything else will fall into place.
  • Keep a vision of yourself receiving your degree in two years.
  • Learn new ways to welcome uncertainty and ambiguity as a natural part of life.
  • Find ways to keep your materials and assignments organized.
  • Remain curious rather than fearful about the processes of personal change
  • Remain engaged in the relationships and activities that give you energy and fulfillment
  • Seek and develop a few supportive relationships with members of your cohort this summer. Keep in close touch with them throughout the distance modules.

By becoming aware of the natural processes of personal change, you can structure your personal life to not only absorb the changes, but also to allow your life to be enhanced by the changes.

Transition and Resilience
Your Personal Plan for Transition & Resilience

Now that you have had the opportunity to read about life transitions after a major life change, spend some time preparing and planning for how you will take the necessary steps to plan for the changes which are now occurring in your own life, and for how you can remain resilient throughout. Review and Reflect on Topics 1 through 6 in the below links.

The Balancing Act of Adult Life

Being a busy adult in today’s world is definitely a “balancing act”. When you add graduate school into that mix it becomes not only challenging, but also very exciting! We encourage you to browse the following previously cited article by Sandra Kerka,  “The Balancing Act of Adult Life”.