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riding life's rhythms

“We come to beginnings only at the end.” - William Bridges

We circled around on the lawn beneath a warm spring sun and studied the sketch of a sine wave that would help us understand: Life has a rhythm. A sine wave’s rhythm changes its speed—starting fast, slowing down, stalling and speeding up again. It’s liquid. And it’s defined by constant change.

Life’s rhythms follow the same form—all of life’s moments are marked by distinct stages: beginnings, middles, ends, and in-betweens. The late Dick Hallstein, dear friend, organizational consultant, and author, had introduced the model to us. So we asked the high school juniors and seniors, sprawled and bundled in blankets, which part of the curve most drew them in. We explained that we all have preferences, comfort zones, familiar ground on which we walk.For some, it’s the thrill of beginnings; spring, new challenges, Friday nights. For others, it’s the middle ground, where we feel steady and confident. In the middle, we know what we must do and have developed the skills to do it. Others are satisfied by endings. They’re a time to savor and reflect on what we have accomplished. Few of us admitted to relishing in-betweens, the rudderless wandering and place of uneasy waiting.

riding the wave

The goodness of beginnings appealed to nearly everyone. And it was time to remind them all where they now stood: The graduating seniors teetered on the cusp of their new adulthood; they could see that their childhoods were about to end. The juniors were about to climb to the peak of their childhoods. “I’m ready,” one 17-year-old said. “It’s been a long time coming.”Dick’s idea borrowed a lot from the famed Transition Model, created by change consultant William Bridges and published in his 1991 book Managing Transitions. “Change is something that happens to people, whether they welcome it or not,” Bridges explains. “Transition, though, is internal: It’s what happens in our minds as we live through change.” Change can happen very quickly, while transition can drag its feet.

transitions live inside us

Recognizing transitions in ourselves helps us meet the coming phase with more ease and peace.

Here’s what to expect:

In the wave of life’s rhythm, the uphill climb marks the beginning. This can bring excitement and promise. It can also feel uneasy when we’re thrust into being true “beginners” again. Children find comfort in this mindset instinctively. Adults may be rusty.

The crest of the wave is the middle, where we are busy “doing.” With practice comes competence and a sense of what we can expect from day to day. It can also become routine, and us, complacent.

The downhill slope marks the ending. The end of a full weekend, the final months of high school, the death of a loved one. It can feel like loss, so grief, sadness, anger, and fear of what’s next may follow you down. You may also choose to celebrate what was; nostalgia happens here. The lull is the uncomfortable in-between.

We can feel “blah.” Lost even. Imagine resentment, anxiety and skepticism about what’s to come. Dick said these feelings are essential, though. Anyone who’s had a breakup knows that rushing into another relationship—without time in between—often ends in the same fate. In-between is an opportunity: time to reevaluate, re-center and renew ourselves to step into the next beginning. It’s also the headwaters of innovation.

practice patience

We each move through every stage at our own pace. Whether young or old, those of us who are comfortable with change may move ahead quickly, while others will linger in the middle zones. Don’t rush. Honor where (and who) you are.And begin again. When the flush of newness arrives, for you or youth you know, take time to absorb the change and reward yourselves for riding out each wave with grace. According to Bridges, the rhythm is part of a grand plan. “Each person's life is a story that is telling itself in the living.” And changing.


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