Here’s hoping you don’t personally know anyone who’s lost their life to COVID-19.
But you likely know more than a few people who’ve lost their livelihoods during the pandemic. Maybe you’re among the millions of Canadians who’ve been laid off, let go or had to shutter their business over the last five months.
“It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job,” President Harry Truman once said. “It’s a depression when you lose your own.”
It also qualifies as a life-disrupting, dream-shattering and confidence-puncturing lifequake. Bruce Feiler, author of Life is in the Transitions: Managing Change at Any Age, coined the term after spending three years collecting 225 life stories from everyday people.
Feiler sorted through life’s high, low and turning points to come up with a full deck of 52 disruptors. These breaches in our daily routine can be positive or negative, voluntary or dropped on us without warning.
The most disorienting and destabilizing disruptors are lifequakes. When a lifequake hits, our life story now comes with a turning point that leaves a clearly delineated before and after. Our life was headed in one direction and is now going somewhere else entirely.
“The carnage they cause can be devastating, they’re higher on the Richter scale of consequence and their aftershocks can last for years,” says Feiler about lifequakes.
First, the bad news. On average, those aftershocks last five years. We’ll work our way through a long goodbye, a messy middle and an eventual new beginning. We can expect three to five of these massive transitions during our lifetime.
But here’s the good news. While lifequakes last longer than we think, they don’t last any longer than we need. Also, reimagining and reconstructing our personal stories is vital to living a fulfilling life, says Feiler.
An existential crisis can deliver an existential solution. If we’re ignoring the expiration date that’s long passed in a job, career or relationship, a lifequake can get us unstuck and help us rediscover the plot and point of our lives. It’s in the chaos of a head-spinning and heartrending transition that we can separate signal from noise.
Try hard not to resist, balk, deny, wallow and be resentful when hit with a lifequake. “The initial jolt can be voluntary or involuntary, but the transition must be voluntary. You have to make your own meaning. The key to benefiting from them is to not turn away. Don’t shield your eyes when the scary parts start; that’s when the heroes are made.”
Based on lessons learned from the people he interviewed, Feiler’s come up with a seven-step toolkit for navigating transitions. “I expected that how people handled crises in their personal lives or work lives or spiritual lives would be quite different from one another. What I found was far more similarities – and a far more unified toolkit – than I ever would have imagined.”
Here’s Feiler’s transition toolkit:
Accept what you’re going through.
Mark the transition by ritualizing the change.
Shed it by giving up old mindsets, routines, dreams and delusions.
Create a new life by trying new things.
Share it by seeking wisdom from others and getting the feedback you most need to hear at exactly the moment you need it most.
Launch it by unveiling your new self.
Tell it by composing a fresh story about your life.
Feiler warns that we’re all haunted by the ghost of linearity. We shouldn’t count on our careers moving seamlessly onwards and upwards. Instead, we should expect even more disruptions as our careers increasingly come to resemble portfolios rather than paths.
“Primed to expect that our lives will follow a predictable path, we’re thrown when they don’t. We have linear expectations but nonlinear realities. The linear life is dead. The nonlinear life involves more life transitions. Life transitions are a skill we can, and must, master.”
Feiler shows how to use planned and unexpected transitions to revisit, revise and restart our life stories.
This review first ran in the July 24th edition of The Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.