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Guide to Managing Career Transitions

A career change can come at any stage in your career. It can be gradual or sudden, planned or unplanned. Whatever the reason for the change, you will go through a period of transition.

During this period, you react and adjust emotionally to the new situation. A transition period can be very brief—a few days or weeks—or it can take a few months or years. The length of the transition depends on many things, including:

  • The type of change you’re experiencing
  • The way you feel about yourself
  • The kind of support you have
  • Whether you were expecting the change or not
  • Whether you chose the change or not

Because people manage transitions in their own way, there is no right or wrong amount of time.

Especially if the change is unexpected, such as a job loss, you may be dealing with many practical and financial concerns. But it is also important to acknowledge and process the emotional effects of the transition.

The 3 stages of transition

Though the factors and time frames will be different for each person, the process of transition is the same for most people. Transition has 3 basic stages: the Ending Stage, the Neutral Stage, and the New Beginning Stage.

Each stage involves different feelings and processes. Sometimes, you’ll deal with one stage before moving to the next. Other times, you’ll slide back and forth between stages.

The Ending Stage

Every transition starts with an ending. The first step in dealing with things that are new and different is to acknowledge that things have changed and to recognize what you will lose or miss because of it. You may need to spend some time grieving your loss before you’re ready to think about the future.

For example, a sudden injury may make it impossible for you do keep doing your current job. You may feel angry, sad, or shocked, and not want to accept your new situation. You may worry about finding other work, doubt yourself, and lose confidence.

If you’ve been in the same job for a long time, you may feel betrayed because your hard work and loyalty have not been rewarded with the job security you were expecting.

In some situations, you may also have conflicting feelings of relief or excitement. For example, if you have been laid off after a period of uncertainty, you may feel relieved to have the decision about what to do made for you. You might be glad to use the time after the layoff to research training and self-employment opportunities.

Try to express any negative emotions without taking them out on the people around you. Let your friends and family provide emotional support—and support them in return. Their lives may be affected too, and they will also need time to accept that things have changed.

You need to work through the Ending Stage before you can move on to the next stage, the Neutral Stage.

The Neutral Stage

The Neutral Stage can be very uncomfortable. You are past the first shock, but you still have no idea what your future will look like. You may feel depressed, lonely, frustrated, anxious, or helpless.

But this is also the stage where you have the greatest opportunity to learn about yourself. It offers an opportunity to reflect on your life and consider making some improvements.

Take the time to question, reflect, talk to other people, explore options, and search for answers. For example:

  • Think about what you liked and didn’t like about your old job.
  • Think about how your lifestyle and interests might affect your career choices.
  • Find out what services are available in your community.

There is plenty of free help out there. Career planning workshops can help you become aware of your strengths and start the process of exploring the future. Career and employment advisors are available to talk to you and suggest exercises to help guide you through your decision making. For more information, call Alberta Supports.

Getting things done at this stage may seem to take a lot more effort than it usually does. Creating and maintaining a regular routine will help to keep you going, especially if your routine includes lots of rest and exercise.

The New Beginning Stage

You’ll know that you have reached this stage when you start to feel more energetic and hopeful. You have done some of the thinking and exploring you needed to do and are ready to move on, try new things, or take a calculated risk.

This is the time to put your plans into action: 

At this stage, you may feel both excited and a little nervous about the future. Though you still don’t know how everything will work out, you are moving forward.

A bridge from the past to the future

Whether you have been in your job for a short time or for many years, a career transition is a significant turning point in life. Understanding the transition stages can help you know what to expect. This period is a bridge to a new phase of your career: take the time you need to accept the change, let go of the old, and set a new course for the future.

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