Life transitions, those moments and events that seem to alter the path of our lives sending us down new roads toward an unclear future, are often accompanied by paralyzing fear that obscures the opportunities for growth. While it is true that in every moment life is evolving and where it is all taking us is never certain, there are moments that strike us as particularly transformative for better or worse. These are the moments when profound change is inevitable despite whatever resistance to what is happening we may feel. These events can include divorce, loss of a job, change of career, a significant illness, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one or a good friend, or even a simple moment of self-clarity where we see ourselves as we are. All of these events have the effect of causing us to look in the mirror and confront our fears, self-doubts, and resistance. We feel vulnerable and often look to others for advice and guidance.
In financial counseling and planning, there seems to be an endless supply of advisors who will assist you in a transition if that transition involves access to wealth. This can feel comforting because it takes our minds off the internal turmoil we are experiencing and shifts our focus to external tasks that give us a sensation of moving forward and taking control of our lives. The reality, however, is that many of the steps taken when we are in a transition phase end up becoming things we wish we had not done. Anyone who has accepted a new job in desperation after losing a job they loved understands this phenomenon. It is very common after the death of a spouse that the survivor starts to sell things, such as the family home, based on a need to take action and feel like they are moving forward. In my experience as an estate planner, these decisions are often ones that the survivor comes to regret.
What should we do when we find ourselves in transition? Stop . . . Breathe . . . Be Still.
The internal turmoil is the "gift" of difficult life transitions. It needs to be explored, considered, and accepted before we move on. If “everything has changed,” we need to (a) understand what has really changed within us and what remains the same; and (b) how these developments affect our values and our vision of ourselves and our goals. All the “decisions” that have to be made in a transition must be made from a place of clear understanding about where we are and where we ultimately want to be. Taking the time to reflect on these questions is essential. Every individual and every situation is unique and the amount of time to reflect will vary greatly depending on a host of factors. Nevertheless, a few basic steps can be identified:
- Step One: Figure out what needs to be dealt with immediately because it is required. Make a list of the things that have to be done. Be careful to separate things that we have to do from things we think we want to do.
- Step Two: Make a decision to ignore the list of “want to do’s” and take some time to focus on self-assessment and a vision of the future. Prepare a list of the key values that you want to animate your post-transition life. Take as much time as you need. This is not easy stuff and no one knows how much time you require better than you.
- Step Three: If you need/want it find an advisor you trust. If you are not sure where you want to go with things, select an advisor whose compensation is not dependent on ultimately selling you a product. Depending on your situation, you may want a counselor, a coach, a consultant, a psychologist, a spiritual or religious guide, or even a close and trusted friend. The key point is that any advisor provides the space and time for you to develop your unique approach going forward, not theirs.
- Step Four: Once you are comfortable with your vision and values, you can then proceed to implement the decisions you are prepared to make.
In going through transitions it is imperative that we be kind to ourselves and keep things as simple as possible. Brooke Miller of The Honey Studio, a holistic perinatal wellness center in suburban Detroit, told me that she advises new mothers that their goals for the first year of their new child’s life is to love their child and survive. Everything else can wait. I thought this was a beautiful example of trying to keep things simple during one of the most exciting and challenging life transitions any one goes through. Brooke’s advice could also apply to divorce, new jobs, starting a new business, or coping with the death of a loved one.
I created Soul of Wealth to share what I have learned about dealing with transitions and to help others through these times. Transitions can propel us forward in ways we only dreamed about if we are open to it. The key is not to get trapped. As Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”