Adapting in times of change

By Felicity Dwyer | Career change

Mar 25
Changing landscape

We know that we are living through a time of change. The UK has just entered the Covid-19 lockdown. In this blog, I would like to share some ideas with you about change in general rather than career change in particular.

The future is always uncertain

The future is inherently uncertain. This is always true, but generally small incremental shifts happen day to day. So we don’t notice them until much later. We can look back fifteen years, before the era of smartphones, and see a different world. But from one day to the next our lives didn’t seem so different.

The new normal

The current situation won’t last forever.  However, I feel that some things will forever be different when we go back to “normal”. It will be a new normal. My sincere hope is that we can bring valuable learning from this period of reflection, into the future. We know from scientists that were on an unsustainable path environmentally for example. We may find that we need or want to travel less in the future than in the past. And perhaps there’ll be a greater appreciation that the most valuable work in our society is providing food and of course healthcare. Some of these valuable jobs are those not traditionally accorded high status, from delivery drivers to supermarket staff.

No-one can truly predict the future, because it emerges out of the present. This means that times of great change hold great risk, but they can also foster creativity and potential. A small shift in the trajectory of our future can make a massive impact over time.

Change v. Transition

In William Bridges’ book Managing Transitions, he talks about the difference between change and transition. Transition is the process we go through as humans, in adapting to change.

“Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team…. Transition is the psychological process people through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal”   (Bridges 1995)

In a typical change context, the end and beginning tend to look quite clear. You are promoted from team member to manager. The end of one role and the beginning of your new one is the change. The transition is the process you go through to start to really feel you fit the new role.  Bridges calls this in-between phase of transition, the neutral zone. Endings-Neutral Zone-BeginningsPart of adjusting to change involves acknowledging endings. This may involve grieving for what has gone, celebrating what has been achieved, marking an end.  And then recognising and accepting the mixed emotions of the neutral zone. Then be open to recognising the beginning, when it arrives. Psychologically this may not immediately follow the ending. And of course these stages may not be as linear as the diagram shows.

During in these Covid-19 times the situational context is also in rapid transition. And aside from our personal and collective transitions, there isn’t yet a clearcut ending or beginning. It may have started for you with a news story in a far off country. Or a realisation that lockdown measures were affecting Europe. A few days ago  I was adjusting to moving my coaching and training work online. Then I was adjusting to the idea of home schooling. Then to the lockdown and rule that we should only go out once a day.

In the neutral zone

So we now find ourselves in an extended and ever shifting “neutral zone” with all the feelings that can include. There may be uncertainty, grief, fear and anxiety for sure. But also reflection, innovation, new perspectives, even new hope.

I see people reaching out to offer help in the community, bringing out the most generous and altruistic side of human nature.  And also of course I see people judging others, displaying greedy or fearful behaviour, and sadly a few incidences of racial prejudice.  This is because we are human beings and we have have light and dark in ourselves. I recognise in myself that this time has made me aware of some of my less admirable characteristics, as well as my positive traits.

For those of you in lockdown, I’ll be sharing ideas over the next few weeks which are more specifically related to your working life. How can you can use this time to reflect in a positive, creative and constructive way for a return to a “new normal”?  How can you maintain a positive focus?

What matters to you?

To get started, perhaps the most fundamental question to think about is what principles are really important to you, your values. Even in the most inauspicious situations, we can always choose to try and live by our values, to show kindness for example, when part of us would rather shrink back. And showing kindness to ourselves as well when we fail (as we most likely will) to meet our values as fully as we’d like to.

You may find it valuable to spend some time writing down your thoughts. You can use a question as a prompt such as “what matters to me?” and write down what comes up. Don’t censor or edit as you write, just let your thoughts flow.

Need some help?

If you would value some help in thinking through the changes in your work life, my supportive career transition coaching  is now available via Zoom, Skype or phone.




About the Author

Felicity is a career coach. She help people who want to change career, start a freelance business, or build their confidence. Felicity writes about career and business development, leadership and personal effectiveness.

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