Life transitions are confusing. Between endings and beginnings is a fallow space where nothing seems to be happening. Actually, it is a time of quiet creativity and renewal. Something new is in the works.
When most of us consider beginnings and endings, we usually start with beginnings–a new relationship, a new job, a new project. It may seem backwards to start with the end of something, and yet it is so logical. I first read this concept in a book called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges and wondered why it had never occurred to me before.
Change is inevitable in life. It is happening all the time. Bridges calls it “a shift in the externals of any situation.” Transition is more personal; it is internal, emotional, organic. What intrigued me about Bridges’ description was his three phases of any transition: “an ending; a disorienting sort of ‘nowhere’ or The Neutral Zone; and a new beginning.”
When I look back on my career, I can see that before a new phase began, what existed before it had to end, and this was rarely a tidy process. Endings were often painful even when they were something I had initiated or expected.
Graduating college is the end of education despite all the hoopla about this moment being the beginning of the future. That comes later, but for most people that future is pretty unclear on the day the degrees are handed out. We know where we’ve been, but we may not know exactly where we’re going. I thought I did, way back then, but I was wrong. What few of us think about or are aware of is the space between endings and beginnings—the bridge that must be crossed to get from one to the other.
When I finish a writing project, especially a book, I feel a sense of loss. Even if it is successful, the process of writing is over; and whether I realize it or not, I am grieving. When a new project starts, I am filled with energy and excitement. I can’t wait to get started. The adrenaline rush is amazing. But between the end of one thing and the beginning of another, there is what feels like an empty space.
What I have learned is that it is not empty at all. It is filled with creative activity. When I am restless and unsettled, it means I am about to give birth to a new idea. After all these years, I should recognize this dynamic, but it always catches me off guard.
William Bridges is not the first author to write about that space between. “During this internalizing stage,” wrote says Robert Fritz in The Path of Least Resistance, ” the result being created is growing organically, developing from within, and calling forth inner resources.”
Fritz is describing the creative process. So much of it takes place out of sight we are rarely aware of what is happening. Then suddenly, there is a new beginning. For those of us who struggle with “the neutral zone,” it is important to remember where the action is. Like an iceberg, most of it is beneath the surface.