In Life Is In The Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, Bruce Feiler offers encouragement and strategies for navigating a common experience so many of us struggle with: transition.
Bruce Feiler has written several books, including New York Times bestsellers The Secrets of Happy Families and Council of Dads. After experiencing his own personal crisis after being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer, he interviewed hundreds of others navigating disruptive life changes. What Feiler discovered was a world wrought with periods of transitions we often don’t have the proper tools to process. This book is the culmination of insight he learned through personal experience, research, and the stories of the people he interviewed.
Table of contents
What exactly is a transition
In this book’s context, the definition of transition refers to times of change or disruption to our usual patterns. Feiler writes that 52 kinds of life changes surfaced in the hundreds of interviews and research he conducted that people seemed to experience again and again. He refers to them as ‘disruptors’ and categorizes them into five main themes: the body, love, work, identity, and beliefs. He writes that the average person experiences 36 of these disruptive changes throughout their lives. With disruptive changes and life transitions so common, it’s clear that being able to navigate them well is an important skill.
Feiler shared examples that rose in discussion from each category. Disruptions in the body could range from weight gain to battling a chronic illness. Falling in the love category were experiences like divorce or suddenly caring for elderly family members. Job changes or career jumps topped the list in the work category. Changes in identity can happen when you make a big move and start over. And in the beliefs category, disruptors can look like reevaluating a particular idea, spiritual practice, or religion.
Of course, some transitions are easier to process than others. There are disruptions to everyday life that shake the foundations of our existence. Feiler calls that a lifequake.
What is a lifequake
Feiler says lifequakes are transitions that fundamentally change how we perceive ourselves and our lives. These can be voluntary changes where we choose a different path and jump into the unknown, but they’re often events outside our control and don’t choose. A tragedy could upend our lives, we could be involved in an accident, or we experience personal hardships like getting laid off. They’re events that often leave us with the question: “what now?”
While those examples are negative, lifequakes aren’t always negative changes. Significant positive life events like buying a home or graduating can feel very overwhelming. Essentially, lifequakes are times of transition that dramatically shift our lives or worldviews and cause us to reevaluate what’s meaningful in our lives. On average, Feiler says people experience three to five of these lifequake events.
Navigating seasons of significant change
With practice, we can turn our destructive events into meaningful transitions. The first step the author shares in how we do this is acceptance. So often, our initial response is denial and resistance, which is normal. We cling to what’s familiar and have difficulty accepting how our lives have changed. Acceptance can happen in one quick epiphany or through a series of slow revelations. It’s an empowering state, allowing us to move from “why did this happen” to “where can I go from here?”
The author also stresses that acceptance doesn’t mean we wish away or deny our difficult emotions. We can grieve our losses instead of pretending everything is ok. Practicing acceptance means we allow space for those hard feelings, too.
Practices to implement during a transition
In his book, Feiler talks about the importance of rituals in coping with the passing of one life stage and the beginning of another. These can be social, like parties celebrating a graduation or soon-to-arrive baby. They can involve objects, too. Some people wore jewelry that made them feel more connected to loved ones. Even getting a new hairstyle after a significant change can help us say goodbye to what was, while embracing what will be.
Creativity is also something Feiler says can help us create a new chapter during a transition. It can help accelerate the healing process after a crisis while providing an avenue to explore new possibilities. Like rituals, having an external symbol or representation of what’s happening internally can be cathartic and be a source of joy during tumultuous times.
Writing, in particular, has proven to be a powerful outlet during seasons of transition. The author says storytelling is a lifeline during a crisis. The narratives we think and believe influence our perspectives on how change impacts our lives. It can mean the difference between moving forward and staying stuck. Writing in a journal can help us evaluate our thoughts and create a new story around our experiences.
Creating a new narrative
Feiler realized that how we spoke about our life transitions made a difference. People who described transitions as difficult but ultimately leading to good outcomes felt more empowered and positive. Those who talked about life transitions as impacting their lives for the worse were often more depressed and stuck. He calls it the redemption narratives and the contamination narratives.
We’re not always able to control what happens to us, but we can control our response. The author encourages us by saying we can rewrite our stories any time we choose. It’s dynamic. And we can use that perspective-shifting storytelling ability to get us through any life change that comes our way. The way we view and talk about our life stories influences our overall sense of happiness and well-being.
Feiler raises the point that we expect neat, linear life paths, but that’s not a realistic expectation. He suggests that we accept the idea of having a nonlinear life. Changes and disruptors will cross our path. And while we can’t always control what happens, we can control our response.
Ultimately, we have the power to determine if transitions and life disruptions influence our lives positively or negatively in the long term through practices like acceptance and creating a new life narrative.