Adjusting to Life Transitions

I recently read that Australian swimming great Stephanie Rice felt depressed and irrelevant when she stepped away from competitive swimming. The sense of loss can be daunting for star athletes who retire from their sport.

The question they face is: What do I do now? Their identity is focused on their sport performance. Their goals and rewards relate to the sport. Then poof — all gone. 

The challenge of making a big transition occurs for all of us again and again. It happens when we start school, leave home, get married, have children, see the last child leave home, get divorced, move to a different city or country, start a much different career, retire from work, or suffer a major disability.

Think back over your life: How many major changes in direction have you experienced? Have you experienced some I have not mentioned? 

Entered the military? Left the military?

Starting university is very hard on some high school graduates. They may leave the only home they have ever known and feel lonely. The courses are challenging; the social demands are great. There are temptations everywhere. 

You might say to me: OK, smart guy, what’s the secret to coping well with a life transition? 

I would say to you: Thanks for calling me a smart guy. 

Then I would say what the main secret has been for me: Preparation and confidence. When I migrated to Australia, I learned what I could about the culture. More importantly, I had travelled to many countries, so I understood that things vary from one country to another, and I had personal evidence that I could operate in different circumstances.

It also helped that I freely chose to make the move. We don’t always get to choose. 

I had a backup plan: Return to my birth country. I never needed to use it, but I took comfort in having the option. 

Social support is valuable for coping with all sorts of pressures, including those involved in a major life change. When I migrated, I had my little family for support. 

Being a relatively calm person helped me. I did not expect everything to be easy. When the going got hard, I persisted. 

Transitions are often tougher to handle than we expect. Going into one with a goal of coping reasonably well (not perfectly) is likely to help. 

What will be your next big transition? Are you prepared? Confident? 

 

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

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