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Mastering the art of the transition in a world where uncertainty is a certainty

Transitions throughout the lifespan are frequent and becoming more so. With millennials expected to have no less than 17 jobs and five careers in their lifetime, it is essential that we master the art of the transition. Part of this mastery comes from not being overly attached to any particular role or relying on our status in the community/workplace to feel complete within ourselves.Identity foreclosure is a psychological construct that refers to the tendency for some adolescents to decide prematurely what their identity will be. They rely on external cues and influences, such as their parents or early successes, to determine how they will define themselves. Once they decide, they are not willing to consider alternative identities. I believe identity foreclosure is not limited to adolescents. I think we all do it, and it impedes our ability to handle transitions well.

Whenever we over-identify with what we do as a way of defining who we are, we are potentially in a state of identity foreclosure. This means that we “become” our role and forget or neglect the multi-dimensional nature of our true selves. When things are going well and our role (whatever that may be) is serving us well, we can feel fulfilled, content and successful. However, when things are not going well in that role, our entire sense of self can be disrupted.

I have previously written about the importance of having a strong sense of self, using an egg as a metaphor (click here). In this context, having a strong sense of self means knowing your value and your worth, irrespective of the role/s you perform. This is easy to say and hard to do, especially when you have worked hard to achieve success in a role that you value. However, with high rates of burnout (click here), job dissatisfaction (click here) and overwhelm (click here), it is essential that we clarify our value independent of our role/s.

This is especially important in an increasingly volatile environment, where change is a constant and uncertainty is a certainty. The world of work is becoming increasingly ambiguous, and the speed of change is unprecedented. Mergers, closures, expansions, reconfigurations and countless other reiterations of organisational structures are inevitable. If we don’t know who we are when we aren’t at work, it is easy to lose our equilibrium in the face of these changes.

I have personally experienced, and witnessed at close range, how a major workplace overhaul (some could be forgiven for saying obliteration) can negatively impact staff in ways that closely resemble an existential crisis. Feelings of self-doubt and a total lack of confidence accompany the fear and uncertainty which arise when your career is torpedoed by factors beyond your control. It is easy to forget previous successes and demonstrations of competence, and to get caught up in questions relating to, “Who am I when I am not what I have previously been doing?” and “What value do I offer?”.

The antidote to this type of existential crisis is clarity about who we are and how we contribute, irrespective of our job title. Appreciating our worth, independent of our achievements, is vital to mastering the art of transition and adapting to the changes we don’t choose. This is not an easy task, and it requires courage to face your fears that when you look closely, you may not find what you hoped. However, it is worth the effort, as a clear sense of yourself is the most valuable asset you can hope for when faced with change and uncertainty. Having confidence that you are enough, no matter what your business card says, is the best kind of safety net in times of transition.

​If you are interested in learning more about your personal sense of meaning and purpose, I invite you to take this free quiz. 

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