Transitions are always uncomfortable for everyone. In order to grow it is important to tolerate the discomfort, that is an ordinary part of transitions. It was the school bus driver in kindergarten, who talked me onto the yellow bus, persuading me this brand new experience would be okay. I am still grateful to her that she helped me learn early that it’s worth it to go into the unknown. Kids need that kind of practice with sleepovers at somebody else’s house with a different set of rules. The transitions from elementary to middle to high school to college to the real world are all important times.The transitions of finding a summer job, having a difficult boss, a best friend moving away, and a favorite pet dying are preparation for reality, struggle and uncertainty.
Embracing uncertainty is one of the keys to life. Laura Perls, a famous therapist, said you can’t grow with both feet in the familiar or both feet in the unfamiliar. Too much of the familiar can be deadening (thank goodness marriage brings new people into the family circle). Too much of the unfamiliar can be too scary (Having a tooth drilled without Novocaine). You need to have one foot in the familiar and one in the unfamiliar in order to grow. Transitions can be opportunities to practice this. Giving a child that enters nursery school a transitional object is to bring the familiar to the new setting which is one way to play this out and help a toddler with that transition. A transitional object could be a scarf with Mom’s perfume or a necklace she wears often.
The more practice someone has with making awkwardness, uncertainty and discomfort bearable, the greater likelihood of success in life. There are so many transitions in life after the first school bus ride: riding a bus downtown, going in and asking for job applications (and then following up), getting out of your room and the safety of the chair behind the computer, joining a sports team or signing up for tap dance lessons. All of this is preparation for life’s big transitions: getting married, moving to a new state, losing a job, declaring bankruptcy, coping with foreclosure, the death of a spouse, kids leaving for college and couples being alone again. Living well is about preparing for all the possibilities. So many people seem to make assumptions that their life is supposed to be a “certain way”. That “certain way” because I’m smart, or I went to an Ivy League, or I grew up rich, or, or, or…I call this illusion about life the American Straight Line of Progress, which looks like this:
American culture feeds this point of view with the myth of success in everything. Remember Mona’s law in Tales of the City: You can’t have a great job, great apartment or great partner all at the same time.
Other cultures don’t have these same expectations. Asian culture holds a point of view that is much more encompassing. Transitions, struggle, pain and setbacks are expected. So many Americans are surprised by what Asians percieve as ordinary.
This reality of embracing the complications of life is far more accurate. Transitions throughout our lives prepare us for all that lies ahead. We need all the practice we can get so we learn to find our way through all of life’s bounty and hardships.