Sometimes you do everything right—dot every “i,” cross every “t,” hit 1,000 consecutive foul shots, invest in tech stocks just before the new one is offered—and you still lose. That’s life. Losing can be a valuable part of the human condition. You know the old saying “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you do about it”? Losing builds character, but boy does it sting. Here’s what I’ve lost recently, and how I’m coping with the change.
It’s easy to reverse-engineer the occurrences that add up to a loss. “The other guy cheated.” “My crew didn’t tighten the nuts.”
Things I’ve lost:
• Car keys
• Golf rounds (frequently)
• My father (and other family members)
• Close friends
• Partial eyesight in one eye
• Games of all kinds
• My breath
• A half marathon
• My cellphone
…and most recently, re-election to a board I’ve sat on for the past three years, which prompts me to pen this article.
Each loss has something in common: it forces an immediate transition in my view of the world. None of the above has been terminal, however.
The phases of dealing with loss
Consider how William Bridges defines transition (in The Way of Transition): “Transition is not just a nice way to say change. It is the inner process through which people come to terms with a change, as they let go of the way things used to be and reorient themselves to the way that things are now.”
Bridges describes three distinct phases of coming to terms with change (no matter how petty or disastrous):
1. Ending, losing, and letting go, where one can experience fear, denial, anger, sadness, disorientation, frustration, uncertainty, or a sense of loss. A lot of Knower/Judger responses.
2. The Neutral Zone, where people may experience resentment toward the change thrust upon them, anxiety about their role, status, or identity, or skepticism about the change or loss.
3. The New Beginning, where many experience unusually high energy, a Learner/Researcher willingness to learn new things, and a renewed commitment to their core values and self-worth.
When I lose my keys, these three stages go by in a flash. At some point, I let go of the frustration and anger at myself for being stupid enough to lose them again. I may not even recognize time in the Neutral Zone. I tend to put together a “work-around” as quickly as possible to move on (and usually the keys find me later). Sound familiar?
But when it comes to the death of my father 10 years ago, I’m not sure I’m through the trio yet. I experience the Neutral Zone and the New Beginning frequently. I know this, because I will find myself asking, “What would Dad do in this situation?” (Not that he was always the perfect role model for all situations!)
Losing games and bets, zippo…right through. Pets…a little longer. Friends…depends on the circumstances.
My recent loss
Which brings me to the election for the seat on the board. I did everything right. I worked hard. Had a great re-election committee. Felt totally secure going into the final phases of the process. (I’m reminded of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s paraphrased philosophy: “We are most at risk when we feel the safest.”) None of this was enough to secure my seat for another three years. I’m suddenly and unexpectedly out of the influence business.
Writing this, I realize I’m already through the first phase. I’ve let go. After all, this has happened to hundreds of men and women in my position before…they serve a three-year term and move on. I’m happy with my work over this term and have let go of the need to be part of the board.
I find myself firmly in the Neutral Zone. I recognize confusion concerning my role in the organization. I have no intention of leaving an organization I’ve come to love, so what am I to mean to it and it to me? Some of this is up to the new powers that be. Perhaps the door is still open to welcome what I have to offer. Perhaps another is about to open somewhere else. The New Beginning is a mystery to me.
I’ve used Bridges’s phases of transition to guide numerous clients through their own personal, employment, and business transitions, and I find the format incredibly helpful for my own transition. Putting it in an article is the perfect elixir for my own life change.