Transitions are lonely. Whether you asked for the change in front of you or not, you can’t be two places at once. Leaving an old way of being often requires leaving behind the people, thoughts, places, and routines that used to keep you company there. Not only is this space inevitable, but necessary in preparation for the new. You can’t see and adapt to something coming if you’re too busy to look towards it. Small transitions may require less space, but the need remains.
However, this conventional wisdom seemed wholly insufficient as I read my writing partner’s daily writing yesterday. He, like many in the Bay Area, is exploring the move towards an intentionally nomadic life–no fixed address, limitless possibilities. The writing starts with the story of his bad day, but the last few lines speak powerfully of the loneliness that can infiltrate everything during transition. As I often do with his lean and elegant prose, I felt jolted.
Why is transition so lonely? I turned the usual answers over and over in my head today, like suspiciously perfect pebbles. After supporting people in transitions for almost twenty years, I felt like I should know this one. I’ve also managed to stay friends with myself throughout deeply difficult transitions in the course of my life. This has been no small feat of belief.
During the most recent, leaving public education, there were some astoundingly lonely moments. I have arguably had the best friends of my life in the last few years, but knowing I was supported didn’t always help. It definitely didn’t help knowing I had chosen to walk into this place of isolation. Even when focusing on the beauty this move brought to me, and continues to bring, the beginning still felt like I was stranded on an island with no fruity drinks to take the edge off.
Of all the unhelpful, true things in these times of transitional loneliness, the most unhelpful and true is this: sometimes you are supposed to be lonely because of what you learn there. Loneliness has gifted me immense healing, understanding, and love, especially when I don’t try to escape it. But the moment before these gifts arrive? I still want to know why I am sinking in the quicksand of dislocation.
I have been thinking a lot about the collective unconscious in the last week: the words, themes, and images that hide beneath the surface we present to the world. Could it be that transitions are lonely because we don’t know what the big ones are really about till years later, if ever?
On the surface, yes, my writing partner doesn’t want to keep spending more than he makes. He’s after a specific quality of life that can’t be created with those constraints. On the surface, yes, I needed to leave teaching to learn to exercise all my gifts in a more sustainable way. But almost two years later, I am more and more convinced that leaving teaching wasn’t really about leaving teaching.
So what was it about? I am at the outside edge of that answer now, packing supplies for a journey into its forest. I grasp its form in image and metaphor, and a moment later it’s gone. But because it’s hard to know the real why, it’s also hard to explain it to people, to plan for it, to talk to yourself about it, to do a thousand other things that would make it feel less lonely. You simply have to trust and keep moving forward.
Transitions aren’t going to get easier, but you and I can get more curious, more patient, more willing to close the door, draw the shades, and see what comes.