Nancy K. Schlossberg Nancy K. Schlossberg

Answer: They are all in the midst of transitions and not sure how to handle them.

Maria Shriver, separated from Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2011, posted on YouTube, "As you know, transitions are not easy. I'd love to get your advice on how you've handled transitions in your own life. It's so stressful to not know what you're doing next. People ask you what are you doing and then they can't believe that you don't know what you're doing." By the way, I had my publisher send her one of my books about ways to cope with transitions. I have yet to hear from her!

Maria Shriver is not alone. I was invited to speak to extension workers in South Dakota who work with beef ranchers and to deans and faculty at the annual conference of the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC). Both groups were concerned about transitions. The extension workers wanted to know how to help beef ranchers with their retirement transitions. Some ranchers are ready for retirement but don't know how to let go; others are ready but have no family wanting to take over the ranch. They are land rich and cash poor.

The transition issues expressed at the AAMC were slightly different. There was concern about retirement; some faculty want to work forever and the question facing deans was how to encourage faculty to move on, to continue making contributions perhaps as part-time faculty, and how to help those who do not get tenure uncover new options.

Maria Shriver, beef ranchers, medical faculty and many others are seeking ways to understand their transitions, looking for strategies to ease the pain associated with change. The main question being, "How do I get a new life when this one is closing?" The challenge of creating a new life, a new way of being is daunting. It can help if we understand that:

Life is a Series of Endings and Beginnings

All through life we are dealing with endings and new beginnings. For example, we might be ending a married life of many years, a work role that provided a sense of purpose, a family life that has changed. The transition process — whether you’re leaving, figuring out a new place, or starting a new life — takes time. Take retirement: You begin to think about it, for some worry about it, finally do it and eventually integrate the retirement transitions into your life. This can take weeks, sometimes years to get a new life that provides satisfaction. The transition process is about leaving and grieving for the life you had, floundering as you try out new paths during this in-between period, and finally starting a new life. Over time you will integrate the new you with the old you.

You Can Strengthen Your Resources for Coping with Change

We all have a different set of resources to cope with each transition we face. You can assess these resources and then strengthen those in need. I call this the 4 S System. For example, you can look at your Situation during the time of transitions, your Supports that help you get through, your coping Strategies and your Self or resiliency. Take a group of beef ranchers. As they begin thinking about retirement, their resources differ. Some have no available family to take over the ranch; some have children competing to take it over. So their Situations vary. In a similar manner, some have more Supports than others, some are more resilient than others (Self) and some use more coping Strategies.

You can look at any transition you are experiencing, and can ask yourself: Is my Situation OK? Are my Supports in order? Do I use lots of coping Strategies flexibly and am I resilient and optimistic? If your answers are all yes, you are in good shape. But if some of your resources are low, then it is time to try and figure out how to strengthen them.

AND ONE LAST POINT. It is amazing to realize that we are all so different but have ties that bind us together. Maria Shriver, beef ranchers, medical faculty are worlds apart, yet so close.

Blog reposted from Dr. Schlossberg’s Psychology Today blog series Transitions Through Life. Dr. Schlossberg also co-authored the Springer Publishing Company title: Counseling Adults in Transition, Fourth Edition: Linking Schlossberg’s Theory With Practice in a Diverse World.