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How to Recognize & Respond to Career & Life Transitions

By: Kavita Ahuja

Throughout our lives there are inflection points; those times when the decisions we make will affect the trajectory of our lives. 

We literally make millions of decisions every day. From simple ones, such as, “what am I going to wear today?” to complex ones, such as, “should I apply for this job of my dreams?”

What factors do you consider when making these decisions? Often, as professional women, we will use a very calculated approach to decision-making, where we weigh the pros and cons, analyze the potential results, and do what-if scenarios.

When we analyze our choices too much, fears set in, and these fears can prevent us from moving forward in the direction we KNOW we must take. 

What if I told you that the most effective way to make decisions is to first ask yourself - how will this choice make me FEEL? As Linda Rossetti, Harvard MBA, researcher, and expert on Transitions explains: 

“Our emotions can serve as an oracle, not an obstacle, to our success”. 

If the choice in front of you causes unease, stress or anxiety - this releases catabolic energy2 - and should indicate to you that this choice is probably the wrong one. If, however, the choice in front of you makes you excited, happy or hopeful - this releases anabolic energy3- which enables creativity and positive outcomes. 

It is so important to listen to our inner voice - our gut instinct - which tells us when things are not quite right. Usually, before a transition in our lives, we just get that “feeling” that things need to change. It can be nagging at first, but if that voice becomes so loud that we can’t ignore it anymore - it is time to act.

So, what is a transition? A transition is a shift in our thinking about our self-concept, and it signals an invitation for transformational growth that can have a lasting positive effect on our lives.1

For example, perhaps your role at work has been very successful, comfortable and lucrative. There is nothing wrong with the job, and your life is going fine - but are you excited about it? You may start to question if this is really what you still want to do. You may find yourself not motivated by it anymore. Yet, you are scared about applying for that dream role which you have always wanted. Thoughts such as, “I’m not qualified enough for it”, or “what will people say if I go for it?” may come up. 

We often ignore this inner voice and rather than making the transition to the role of our dreams, for example, we settle for minor changes which we think will solve everything. We may take on new responsibilities in our current role, or change our work locations - all in the hope that these minor changes will solve everything. 

This is the difference between Transition and Change. Change is a process through which we alter particulars of a situation, but leave intact our sense of self.  Change involves a known outcome and is very goal oriented.

Transitions, on the other hand, occur when there is a shift in what holds value and meaning to us. They involve unknown outcomes. The choice of transition enables personal growth and new ways of seeing value in ourselves and in the world. It is always a choice.1

Sometimes, changing particulars about our situation will not “fix” everything. Rather, there are times in our life when we have to re-examine our changing identities, our capacities and our values, and ask ourselves hard questions, like, "who am I, what do I really want, and how do I get there"?


A metaphor may help you to understand the difference between change and transition. Think of it as 2 different mountain trails. The first trail is horizontal, and it encircles the mountain but gains no elevation. As we walk on this trail, sure, the views are different,  but we don't climb the mountain – similar to change.


If, however, we choose the vertical trail, we shift to a higher level on the mountain – which is really what transition is – enabling us to achieve real transformative growth. From the top, we can see whole new views!


Shifts in our thinking about our self-concept or transitions are a NORMAL part of adult life, and, and are "an incredible invitation to unlock the enormous potential that is resident within each of us".1


There are 4 common types of situations which trigger transitions. I have seen these differing situations with many of my clients – and perhaps you can relate to one or more of them:


1) Unplanned events -  like a job loss or a divorce. Here, we often want to either go back to "normal" or comfort or safety of life before the event. 

2) Desire for something new -  like a new job or a new career entirely. Here we often feel stuck or frustrated because we aren't making any progress. 

3) Anticipating change – like a milestone birthday, a graduation or a retirement – where you want to understand how best to prepare for it.

4) Insecure feeling  - when something inside just feels not quite right or you have a desire to pursue more of your potential.



Do any or all of these circumstances apply to you? If so, you may be going through a transition in your life. 

When we have triggers such as these, they can both Impact on how we function, and Influence our thinking about who we are. Our experience of transition is highly individual, but the more it impacts and influences us, the more it is considered a Gateway Disruption.1


When you experience a Gateway Disruption, it can serve as an unlimited possibility to grow – or transformative growth. In fact, "Transformative growth brings us in closer proximity to our truth".

So how do we achieve transformative growth?  By first recognizing these triggers, then asking ourselves, “will changing particulars of my situation “fix everything”? If not, this should indicate to you that it's time to heed that little voice inside of you and start asking deeper questions. 

We can choose to ignore the voice inside of us, but eventually it will result in frustration, a lack of fulfillment, and unhappiness in our lives. 

It takes courage to ask ourselves tough questions about our identity, our passions, values, and our visions for ourselves. However,  if we are at the cusp of a transition - by taking the first step and then the next – we walk towards and connect closer and closer to who we really are.

So, it is important to identify: Are you going through a transition? If so, are you ready to dig deep and climb that mountain?  



  1. Dancing with Disruption: A New Approach to Navigating Life’s Biggest Changes, Linda Rossetti

  2. Catabolic energy = draining, contracting, resisting energy (cat = down, against)

  3. Anabolic energy = constructive, expanding, fueling  energy (ana = building, upward)


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