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Managing Change in Transition

by David Rickabaugh

You’ve recently experienced a major change in your external circumstances – possibly the loss of a job, a change in your organization or life, or perhaps the loss of a relationship or a loved one – and you are in the middle of the process to adapt to that change.  Learning how to navigate this career transition process is important, because approaching it well can shorten the duration of the process and decrease the severity of the negative impact you experience.  Think of this process as more of a marathon than a sprint.

William Bridge’s Transitions Theory can help.  This career transition model explains how humans adapt to change.  Bridges defines Change as an alteration in your external circumstances, and it most often happens fast.  Transitions, on the other hand, are about your internal experience as you move through life, often marked by major milestones. 


Moving through the transitions required to adapt to change involves 3 phases:

Phase 1

Endings: Letting go of what was; saying goodbye to what was.  This includes letting go of old ways, patterns, and often people who have been important to our daily lives.  An ending impacts our confidence, morale, mood, sense of competence, and often hits hard at our self-esteem.  Often an Ending results in moving through the 5 D’s:

  • Disengagement – Separating yourself psychologically from what was (your company, your job, your relationship, your routine).
  • Dismantlement – Changing your behavior patterns – taking things apart. 

  • Disidentification – Letting go of your old identity or social role… being unsure of who you “are.” 

  • Disillusionment – Discovering errors in what you assumed about yourself, others, and the world around you.
  • Disorientation – Feeling confused and losing the motivation to pursue your former goals.

Tip: Let yourself feel the pain of the ending and to process the 5 D’s.  Doing so will shorten the overall process and keep it from being cyclical. 

Phase 2

The Neutral Zone: This phase is about letting go of the old and seeking the new.  You’ve realized that the old doesn’t work or exist anymore, but you haven’t identified what the new ways are yet.  We cycle through feelings like anger and frustration to experimentation and hope, as we move through rounds of experimentation.


  • Take your time, but don't spend too much time ruminating over what went wrong. Work to stay positive – focus on what’s good in your life.
  • Consider taking a break or vacation to distract yourself while you process.
  • Make sure you get support from friends, family, and even a professional like a therapist or a coach.
  • Let yourself dream about what you want in your future.
  • Talk to people about job possibilities – learn about other businesses and explore opportunities.

Phase 3

New Beginning: Often the line between the Neutral Zone and a New Beginning isn’t clear.  It’s characterized by an increase in confidence, morale, energy, and hope.  You may begin to feel antsy to move forward.  You begin to pursue new ideas and opportunities, or even engage in a new opportunity like a new job.


  • Check to be sure you are authentically ready to pursue new beginnings – or are you just trying to flee the uncertainty of the Neutral Zone? Starting a new job that isn’t right for you may create additional unwanted change.
  • Continue to seek support from friends, family, and professionals.
  • Set goals that are about learning, not achieving.
  • Seek reinforcement, positive feedback, and rewards.
  • Take steps to boost your confidence and positivity.


About the author:

david rickabaugh.jpg


David Rickabaugh

MSc Coach Psych
Senior Consultant | Waldron 

David is passionate about helping others to identify and accomplish their goals, to be more successful in their careers, and to live happier, more satisfying lives. He embraces evidence-based, scientifically proven methods, including cognitive behavioral coaching and positive psychology interventions.