Life transitions after 50
Managing life transitions can be difficult. In my 30s I rather naively thought life would be plain sailing after 50!
Why I suffered from this illusion I have no idea? Perhaps it was just wishful thinking. However now well into my 50s, I do of course (like everyone else) continue to go through life’s transitions, be they loss of a loved one, moving house, changing direction, retirement or learning to live with a long term illness or disability.
William Bridges describes transitions as a process through which we go starting with the end of something, moving through a neutral phase and then starting new beginnings. I find this notion helpful and positive as it looks to the future and says ‘something different will come from this’.
That doesn’t take away the fact that transitions can be painful and difficult to navigate. Being 50 itself didn’t feel too much of a transition to me at the time but looking back there were things associated with that milestone that were tricky. My eldest son getting his first car seemed to spark a huge feeling of loss for me, I think it symbolised his independence and him moving on and away from me.
So endings are often associated with loss and we grieve. This phase of the transition is about accepting something has ended. Perhaps you are leaving a career where you have achieved a great deal, led a team and been respected and admired? Finding yourself without the structure of work, colleagues and the daily focus on achieving can be a major life-change. It is important to acknowledge these feelings which can be accompanied by sadness and apprehension about the future.
The neutral phase
The neutral phase involves accepting the end of something, but you have not yet psychologically moved into the new beginning. This time can feel confusing and somewhat ‘rudderless’. We don’t quite know how ‘to be’ and the future might seem unclear. I gave up alcohol in my mid fifties and went through a period of about three months where I literally felt like I didn’t know who I was. So much of my self-image was wrapped up in a social life that was associated with drinking, I just couldn’t picture how I would have any fun anymore at celebrations, events, even dinners out!
New beginnings are self-explanatory, acceptance of the 'new' is fundamental at this point. A focus on what is positive about this phase is an important step in moving forward. Often difficult things we face in life lead to something positive, it is why we hear people in the most extreme circumstances say ‘at least some good has come of this’. Some people seem to relish change and move through these phases quickly, others take longer and may get stuck for a while.
What we can know is that things will always change and the future will be different to today. Understanding we are going through a transition, accepting an ending, living through the uncertainly of the neutral phase and then if not embracing, being open to a new beginning, I think can help.