Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a man blindly careering toward a midlife crisis, I was interested to read a book that sought to explain how people transition from one life phase to another.

I was particularly intrigued to learn how to do so in a healthy and reasonably normal way (not that I ever aspire to normality, but as I’m talking about territory that is personally uncharted, I’m happy to hold hands with someone who knows the best way through).

I wasn’t disappointed.

At least not initially.

WBT

Bridges (an apt name) talks about a “transition” being different from a “change”.

A change, in his definition, is about behaviours: doing things differently. A transition is about a deeper thing, a state of being, it’s about being someone else.

Changes can lead to transition and transition can lead to changes, but they’re not quite the same thing.

The transition phase is then made up of three stages: ending, the neutral zone, and lastly a new beginning.

This is the crux of the whole book: change starts with “endings”: you have to end the previous phase, and then go through the emptiness and confusion of the neutral zone before emerging ready for the new beginning.

The lessons for change management here are clear:

  • Acknowledge (celebrate) the past
  • Don’t rush to go on about the future and vision, people won’t be listening*
  • Be clear about what is ending, and what is not
  • Expect confusion and ambiguity – have the support in place
  • Celebrate success

At first I was glued to it. The opening chapters, explaining the above process, were real learning experiences for me that I eagerly devoured, but as the book wore on, it became a bit circular and repetitive, the illustrative stories feeling a little simplistic and the points rather laboured.

I would have preferred a longer book with more depth (referencing other sources) that would have felt a lot more substantial. It whets the appetite rather than giving you a satisfying feed, so that even after reading what is a readable and interesting book, I didn’t feel I had a deep-enough understanding of its central thesis.

 

Footnote

* We need to show we have a vision for the future state, the lesson here is simply not to labour the point at this stage, it won’t land well until people have gone through the “endings” phase

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