How to Emotionally Survive a Year of Transition


Werewolves know it's true: the transition is the most painful part.

Werewolves know it’s true: the transition is the most painful part.

It’s easy to mistake a year of transition for a year of depression.

For example, you might move to a town and wonder if you’ll end up hating it there. You mistake your period of adjustment for depression.

Or you are hurt by someone who was very careless with your heart, and you discover that the road to the forgiveness is the longest, hardest walk you’ve ever taken. It’s a process. But you don’t understand that yet. All you know is that after all this time you’re still resentful. So now you’re stuck feeling resentful and guilty and weak for not being over it already.

Or you might be moving into a new phase of adulthood and have difficulty accepting that it’s nothing like adulthood was for you just 5 or 10 years ago, so you have an existential crisis about it.

Or you want a baby even though you’re not set with your finances or career, but you try for it any way just in case it takes you two years to conceive like it did for that one couple you know. You get pregnant on your very first try and find that pregnancy doesn’t feel anything like you how you thought it would feel.

Or your friend dies.

Or you try to start a new business (while juggling a full-time day job) and feel discouraged by how challenging it is in the beginning. You work nights and weekends without pay. You feel like everyone is enjoying life except you. You wonder if it will pay off in the end.

Or you take a huge financial risk by forbidding your spouse from returning to a soul-sucking 9 to 5 job. You want him to pursue his dream, to love work again, even if it means you’re back to charging groceries to your credit card. Well, maybe. You actually have no idea if you’ve made the right decision, and in the meantime, you commiserate with your other broke friends about it.

Or you land a brand new job and fear you’re not as good at your new position as the president of the company hoped you’d be, so you write a blog post about how crappy you feel about not meeting an important person’s expectations.

Not that I can relate to any of these examples. (Cough, cough.)

Oh, who am I kidding? I went through all of the above transitions this year. Have you noticed how emo my blog topics have been compared to the previous year?

It’s been like a 12-month marathon of Sad Dog Diary entries around here:

But at my day job, of all places, I learned how to survive life’s big transitions so they don’t feel like full-fledged depression.

Two weeks ago I learned that the government was coming in to audit my company. For most employees, an audit means working a few extra hours of unpaid overtime to make sure everything looks impeccable. But if you’re a manager like I am, you crap your pants because the buck stops with you. Sure, as the leader you get credit when things are going well. And yes, you get a pretty good salary. But if the government finds any problems with your work, it’s the leader’s head on the chopping block, as it should be.

So I wrote this post the day before the audit. You could probably tell that I felt defeated even before my evaluation. I already had a big cardboard box prepared to pack up my cubicle. (I’m kind of a catastrophic thinker. Can you tell?)

I thought I sucked at my job because it was a hard year without much visible progress. But now I understand that a lot of beautiful things happen on the inside when things aren’t progressing fast enough on the outside.

During a year of transition, regret and worry can overwhelm you on a daily basis. All you can think about is what went wrong, what could go wrong in the future, and how far away your wishes and dreams feel. This was me, from 8:30 am – 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, all year long.

But if you lay everything out on paper– from your accomplishments, to challenges, to goals, to step-by-step plans for execution– things feel manageable. I know this because on the morning of the audit I was asked to quickly write a short narrative summarizing the progress (or lack thereof) of my department before the government arrived. I was afraid to write it because I feared it would just be written proof that I’m a screw-up. But to my surprise, what was supposed to be a 3-paragraph apologetic blurb ended up being a 3-page report of pure awesome. I couldn’t stop writing about everything I successfully accomplished despite all the challenges my team faced. When tasked with listing ideas for how to overcome said challenges, I came up with excellent solutions. And when forced to list my goals and plans, I felt, for the first time, very optimistic about the future of my department.

All this to say: Write things down. Take a step back and look at the big picture. You’ll realize that transition, although it feels chaotic, isn’t actually the hell hole you think it is.Transition is about growing pains. It’s about emotional discomfort because you’re growing so damn much in a short period of time. It hurts, but it’s a step towards the good.

In the end, the auditors totally skipped over my department and never read my 3-page report. But my preparation for Judgment Day forced me to audit my own heart and balls. I am grateful.

If last year was a year of hellish transition for you, the prize must be just around the corner. The secret to emotional survival is knowing that the good is coming. After all, when you’re at rock bottom, the only place you can go is up.

Your Turn: What transition is forcing you to endure growing pains right now? What have you accomplished or learned despite it? What do you have to look forward to?


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5 Responses to How to Emotionally Survive a Year of Transition

  1. gordon says:

    Hi Kimberley, it has been a while since i last checked in and lo and behold i find a set of posts that resonate….just like when i stumbled across your site for the first time. I’m in transition and have been for over a year. I’m looking for the goal to aim for and maybe i’m looking too hard. I recognise the pitfalls of doubt and it is difficult to find focus as i try to find where i should be by trying different things all while the voices of regret and what if shouting at me. Perhaps first i need to find out who i am. Writing it down …clarity and reflection but not a big stick to beat yourself up…a way of seeing….plan do check act……plan do check act….thankyou for your blog…

    • Kimberly says:

      Hi Gordon, great hearing from you again. Yes, I think it would be wise not to be so hard on yourself. (Easier said than done! I’m very guilty of doing the very same thing, and have had others point that it out to me too.) Fortunately for you and me, transition doesn’t last forever. Change is always happening, but transition– with the constant agony of feeling unsettled– doesn’t. One thing that has helped me narrow down where to focus is to think back to times when I felt more settled and fulfilled. Which, by the way, wasn’t a time when things were going perfectly. It was a string of years when I was doing fulfilling volunteer work with very dear friends. That, and a time when I was in grad school with very like-minded, wise and kind people. This pattern shows me that I MUST be engaged in meaningful work with people who share a common cause.

      Anyway, if you trying thinking back to your most fulfilling periods in life, maybe it will help you “find out who you are” as you stated. You’ll likely find a pattern like I did. And once you do, you don’t necessarily have to recreate the same circumstances from your past, but there is likely a similar feeling that you can recreate now, at this time in your life.

      Best of luck, Gordon! Thanks for sharing, and I hope to hear from you again.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great post and also glad you like the sad dog diaries ;)

    I can answer your first “your turn” question easily but not sure about the follow up questions. Your post has made me feel inspired to try writing it all down though.

    However, an honest question: what do you suggest if you write it all down and your accomplishments (or lack thereof) look just as bad on paper as they do in your head?

    • Kimberly says:

      Glad you’re going to give writing a shot. I hope it gives you a more balanced, big-picture perspective.

      But to answer your excellent question…well, sometimes people really have screwed everything up, and there’s just no way to positively reframe the situation. But whether your mistakes are manageable or catastrophic, I’d hope that writing it all down serves to increase your awareness and accountability in an honest and compassionate-towards-yourself way, not a shame-inducing way. The only way to fix a mess is to have a clear head about what happened, who is and isn’t your fault, and what steps need to be taken moving forward. This can’t be done if you’re too depressed/ ashamed/ discouraged/ overwhelmed to make serious lifestyle changes. So if you look down at your paper and things are truly terrible, I’d suggest this: Imagine that your most beloved, trusted and wise loved one saw your list. How would he or she respond? What would he or she suggest?

      Thanks for the awesome question!

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