Life is a highway?

by kattiewampus

On Tuesday, we had a half-day staff retreat at work.

Part of the retreat involved an HR presentation on change & transition. It hit really close to home. Like, to the point where my co-worker leaned over and whispered, “Is he talking just to you? Do you think the rest of us should leave?”

I mean, just so we’re clear, there were PowerPoint slides in the presentation that contained the following information:

Phases of Transition:

  • Endings: loss, letting go, closure, saying good-bye
  • Neutral Zone: in-between time, chaos, the wilderness
  • New Beginnings: being “with it,” new chapter, renewal

And also this,

Loss and Endings: Make Sure That…

  • You understand what is ending and what is not
  • You feel that endings are seen and acknowledged
  • You’ve removed things that would allow people to hold onto the past
  • People around you understand that you may need to do some grieving
  • Use symbolism and ceremony to mark a break and show that today is really different

And also this,

Dealing with Neutral Zone

  • Encourage experimenting and risk taking
  • Study the situation and temporary solutions
  • Expose people to diverse perspectives
  • Encourage and reward creative techniques
  • Engage in learning
  • Explore options

And, finally, THIS,

7 Principles of Transition Management

  • You have to end before you begin
  • Between end and beginning, there is a hiatus
  • Hiatus can be creative
  • Transition is developmental
  • Transition is a source of renewal
  • People go through transitions at different speeds
  • Most individuals are running a “transition deficit”

Even now, as I think back on that presentation, I’m still wondering to myself: “Was that presentation about the changes in our workplace or about working through an unwanted break-up?”

It seriously felt like the presenter knew what had happened to me and had tailored his presentation to my specific situation.

This made the experiential activities a little bit difficult.

For example, one activity involved selecting a photograph from a pile of photos – one that we felt best described where we were at personally in the overall transition process. At first, I selected a photo of an astronaut floating in space – alone in the darkness, with the earth in the distance.

Then, another photograph caught my eye:


I think highways are fascinating. There’s a sort of industrial, concrete, city beauty to them.

I also have recurring dreams about driving on a very dangerous highway into a very dangerous place. I don’t know what it means, but I’ve definitely had that dream more than once.

So, the image resonated with me on a few different levels. It represented the chaos that I was feeling internally, the uncertainty of which direction I was heading, the fundamental need to keep moving forward, and the unanswered question of whether I would be driving alone or not. If life is a highway, as they say, it feels like I’m stuck in traffic right now and my GPS just stopped working.

Plus, I just liked the picture.

Once we had chosen our pictures, we then had to get into groups of four – with people that we don’t normally talk to (“breaking down silos” was another theme of the retreat) – and share what our photo represented to us. And I’m still wondering to myself, “Am I supposed to share about my personal life here? Or just how I feel in relation to work?” But everyone else was talking about work stuff because, you know, it’s a staff retreat. So, I told them I picked the photograph because it represented the changes and uncertainty in my office division as well as not knowing exactly what direction we were headed in, and still discovering where we fit into the overall scheme of things.

Something like that.

Similarly, the presenter had put up a big sheet of paper on the wall with the “Phases of Transition” depicted as a graph. Everyone was given an orange dot sticker to place on the graph where they estimated themselves to be in the phases. Again, I had trouble separating my workplace mentality from, well, the rest of my life. So, when I put my orange dot sticker somewhere in between the “Endings” phase and the “Neutral Zone,” it is entirely possible that this choice had nothing to do with how I felt about work.

Really, isn’t it all interconnected anyway? What is happening in my personal life will inevitably influence my perception of my work life. So maybe my feelings toward the changes in my workplace are reflective of my feelings toward the changes in  my personal life. Or maybe my lack of feelings toward my workplace are indicative that all of my emotional energy and attention is currently focused elsewhere.

It’s been a rough week and not for any particular external reason, which is frustrating. It’s easier to reach out for support when you can cite something concrete as the cause of whatever you are feeling. But when all you can honestly say is, “I just feel more sad/confused/angry/lonely/whatever today,” it’s a little bit harder to own your feelings. Especially when you’ve hit that point where Everyone Else expects you to be moving on by now because, for heaven’s sake, he broke up with you almost three months ago. Why are you still trying to figure it out?

Or at least, you’ve convinced yourself that this is what they’re thinking, even if they’re not saying it to your face.

I think there must be a phase where it gets more difficult before it gets better. When you first have to deal with a change, there is almost this automatic reactionary coping mechanism that kicks in, after the initial shock subsides. “I’m dealing with it. I’m working through it. LOOK AT ME COPING. I’M SO HEALTHY. IN FACT I’M THRIVING RIGHT NOW.” And then that eventually wears off and you’re left wondering why you’re still having a hard time with the whole thing.


And then, or so I’m told, it eventually gets better. But it takes time. But not a set amount of time. It’s different for everyone. So, in the meantime, I just keep slogging forward, a little bit on autopilot right now, trusting the people around me – like the HR presenter – who tell me, “What you’re experiencing is normal. The only way to get through it is to go through it.” Time goes by and even a day that feels tortuously long is still just another day.

Besides, I’m used to being stuck in bad traffic – it happens every day during my commute to and from work. You just have to keep breathing, keep talking yourself down, and wait it out.