The Difference Between Change and Transition

Transition may seem like a fancy word for change, but the two things are different, and

understanding the difference is key to successfully navigating life’s unexpected


Change is the event that happens or situation we find ourselves in; for example, job

loss, relocation, promotion, birth, death, divorce retirement, etc., are all changes. And

change happens by choice or circumstance. Transition is psychological and is the

internal process that we all undergo to come to terms with and adapt to the change.

Most people want to be in control of their lives and they take steps to be prepared —

which is why unexpected changes can be so difficult for us to accept. Faced with

something we can’t control, we may experience feelings of surprise, confusion,

overwhelm and fear. The truth is we can’t control the change, however we can control

ourselves and our response to the change.

The word transition comes from the root word, transit: a voyage from one place to

another. In a transition, just like in a voyage, there are three phases we all under go. In

his book Managing Transitions, author William Bridges, expert on this topic, describes

these phases.

  • Departure: The point when we leave a known place by choice or circumstance that may leave us feeling sad, relived, fearful

  • Disorientation: The experience of wandering, breaking connections with what we know, which may cause us to feel lost, stuck, unsettled

    Destination: The point where we arrive at the new normal and may experience a combination of relief, excitement, fear

Being aware of these three phases can help us normalize the change, manage

ourselves better and allow us to plan as best we can. I am passionate about change

and transition because I don’t like being out of control or letting go of the outcome, and

because I went through a difficult change, by choice, that I was unprepared for.

When I left a 20-year corporate career and identity to become a stay-at-home mom, I

was not prepared mentally, physically, spiritually or emotionally. From the outside, I was

doing fine. On the inside, I felt lost.

I searched outside myself for answers. Who am I? What am I good at? How do I smooth

out this difficult transition? What is my life’s purpose? I read a lot of self-help books,

attended personal growth seminars, went to a healer, a therapist, tried meditation,

journaled … anything and everything to work through this. It was exhausting and

nothing seemed to help.

What I didn’t know then that I know now is that I have inner resources that would have

helped me manage this difficult transition. These inner resources are my personal

values and individual strengths. And like a car’s GPS system that guides us to our

destination, our values and strengths act as our inner GPS, guiding and directing us in

life and helping us manage ourselves through transition. They keep us in the driver’s

seat of our lives.

We all have values and strengths, but we’re not always aware of them or know how to

tap into them. Identifying and reaffirming your strengths and values will help you find

your way through any period of transition, whether it be personal or professional.

If you would like help identifying and leveraging your values and strengths to navigate

change, please contact me.