“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar …..
“I – I hardly know, Sir, just at present,” Alice replied rather shyly, “at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”
-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Our lives are an on-going series of changes. A new job, a marriage, a divorce, a graduation, an illness, the loss of a friend, becoming a parent or grandparent. Sometimes we re-arrange our furniture, buy new clothes or get a different car.
At times we are simply making changes to the organization of our lives, but at other times we find that we are fundamentally altering ourselves in some large and undefinable way. That fundamental change in who we are is considered transformation.
Change and transformation, while they may appear similar to the eye, are very different animals. Change is the rearrangement of events or things in our lives that require adjustment. Transformation, on the other hand, deeply changes our psychological and social sense of identity and do not happen quickly.
Transformation Runs Deep
I remember the experience of becoming a new parent. I had to get up often each night to feed my son, dress him in the morning and learn to interpret his distinctive cries. So many changes – but it was great to have a new baby, right?
But over the next few weeks and months, I found the changes to my daily schedule ran much deeper than interrupted sleep, or endless new baby activity during the day. I found myself feeling sad, utterly confused in my own life; it seemed like I had lost my life’s purpose in exchange for this new human. Guiltily I was sometimes angry. How could this be?
Little did I know that my soul, my very identity, was undergoing a transformation.
It’s a Process!
Transformation is a process that occurs gradually over time; it has a beginning, a middle and an end. However, unlike change, transformation runs in reverse order. It begins with an ending of some sort, meanders through a confusing middle phase and completes with a new beginning.
Imagine that you have decided to change your job. Perhaps some time ago you began to register dissatisfaction with your work, perhaps the work is no longer challenging, or perhaps a boss is just too difficult to work with.
Whatever it is, your dissatisfaction mounts until you register “I’m done with this!” Although your thought of “I’m done” signals a decision and a pending change, in all likelihood your transformation began months ago.
In fact, at a deeper, very subtle level, perhaps you have long been thinking that your skill set has exceeded the needs of your job, or that a relationship with a boss could be more productive. Chances are your seedlings transformation have been growing for some time.
As you move toward your decision to make a change, you may have noticed a tension growing. It could feel like an internal tension, or perhaps you think it is coming from your environment (but it’s not). It may seem that change is worth postponing – unknown futures are barely tolerable as we hold on dearly to what we are familiar with! Yet, by this time your transformation is well underway.
At some point, your decision will be made (“I’m looking for a new job”) – or the decision will be made for you (“We’re letting you go”). However, your transition manifests, take the credit for your personal transformation that is now entering its second stage – the confusing middle.
The Confusing Middle
Often, we enter the confusing middle of transformation with a mixed bag of feelings. On the one hand, we are glad to release what is no longer deeply relevant in our lives. However, looking into your future is disorienting and can be frightening. It is often marked with anxiety, sadness and loss for what you once had – even if you have outgrown it – and a feeling of being lost at sea. Even our best-laid plans for change carry intense signals of transformation as we begin to grow into our new identity.
One step at a time is the recipe for well-being in the confusing middle. This is a difficult time as our familiar anchors are no longer there to steady us.
We may question our next steps and question our deepest values. This is the work of transformation – questioning, wondering, exploring. It can be a glorious time or a time of tremendous struggle. But the struggle is 1) not necessary and 2) unhelpful.
Transformation is a natural process. It is natural to say goodbye to the old and stumble into the unknown future. Try as we will, this uncomfortable time cannot be avoided – don’t even try. The painful struggle of transformative periods happens because we try to control them, suppress* the tumultuous feelings and fight our own forward momentum rather than sitting back and enjoying the ride.
Here is the best ‘pain reliever’ for the confusing middle. Acknowledge that your transformation is natural and gradual – don’t fight it. Give yourself permission to let go of clingy feelings and attitudes and replace them with a very clear declaration: “I am in a transformation! I’m going to explore …. [new jobs, new people, new cities, etc.].”
This is a strong statement that deliberately declares a time of personal exploration where the only objective is to learn and experiment with alternatives. Move toward those things that will provide you with greater satisfaction or fulfillment; walk away from things that you don’t want.
Reality is Calling
Change and transformation are two distinct experiences – it is important to distinguish between the two. Change, like switching jobs or relocating, only apply to things that you must adjust to. Need a new job? Get a new job. Need to relocate? Then relocate.
Reality has its very real requirements and we all need to do the right things to support ourselves. I am not suggesting just dropping your life and wait until the transformation is complete. However, I am suggesting that transformation is a long-term undertaking. Honor the process, be patient and compassionate with yourself. Transformation is a certain thing!
As you forge new pathways toward your transformed self, your next version of you, some events or people on your exploration will click and stick. It may be a job you never thought you would like, people you had never planned on meeting or perhaps places you least imagined yourself going.
But when you are simply exploring and opening yourself to new opportunities some things will simply feel right. These moments are the inklings of your new beginning. Like a detective, follow those clues to your emerging sense of self.
One clue after another you will discover new elements of yourself. Nurture all that clicks – these are the seedlings of growth signaling you onto your new path, toward your transforming identity.
Notes to Self
Transformation is a maturing of your already-in-place identity. It brings forth richer values, a deeper sense of self, others and the world, and adds greater meaning to your life. It is the long-game that you are gradually living into – full of mystery and intrigue; a slowly moving process that requires patience, strength and curiosity.
Changes, on the other hand, are far quicker and require only adjustment or changing habits. They are surface level events and most commonly don’t impact your deeper psychological or social identity. In the realm of change, you have more obvious control.
Both transformation and change can happen at the same time. You can change a job that also requires a much deeper personal transformation over time. You might lose* a spouse, a short-term event, but spend years in transformation as you grieve and find a new purpose.
The signs of transformations start subtly and grow until your new identity takes shape. The path in-between may feel horribly bumpy but remind yourself – frequently – to let go of internal resistance. Let sadness and loss flow through you and resolve naturally. Finally, declare that transformation is afoot and commit to exploring new alternatives.
Never stop! You can always look back, but you can ever go back!
Feature Image Credit: istockphoto.com
Inpost Image Credit: istockphoto.com