Transitions are a fact of life.
We get married, get divorced, change careers, move to new cities, change careers again, lose loved ones, have babies, don’t have babies, make money, lose money, experience health crises, recover, develop addictions, get sober, find new callings, discover new spiritual paths, or simply get older.
During these changes it’s common to shed old social circles and establish new ones. It’s the transition itself – what I call the tunnel – that’s the bitch.
The tunnel is a kind of purgatory. It’s a period when what went before is no longer working for you but you have yet to see what will work for you moving ahead. You no longer relate to the old tribe but have yet to find a new one.
Stuck indefinitely in the dark, it’s a time when you have never felt more alone.
What can you do to find your way out? To steal a phrase from a friend of mine:
Notice what lights you up and let it lead the way.
Friendships are usually based on common values and interests, and developed through shared experiences over time.
In times of transition, we often don’t really know what our interests are, only what they aren’t. And this, believe it or not, is a gift because it leaves us free to explore which, in turn, can lead to some life-changing discoveries.
Peripheral tunnel vision
In my late 20s and early 30s, I was stuck in a tunnel for five years. Working as a stripper, a dead-end job where I had to pretend to be somebody I wasn’t to make any money, I didn’t relate to my coworkers and felt sorry for my clients.
I knew I didn’t belong there but was terrified of losing my income and being exposed in the “real world” as a fraud.
Yet, I knew if made this work and world my life, my mask would harden and, behind it, I would lose myself completely.
And so I took baby steps.
To make friends, I attended improv classes and joined a comedy troupe, something I’d done and enjoyed in high school. A life-long writer, I volunteered to produce a newsletter for a group that was lobbying for rights for exotic dancers. To find my voice outside of the industry and be around people with “normal” jobs, I joined Toastmasters.
Some of these activities led to relationships I still have today. Some led indirectly to a new career in corporate communications. And some simply helped me keep my perspective in-check while working in a world with radically different values than my own.
Follow your bliss.
If you are in a transition with no end in sight, look inside. Ask yourself:
- What would I do if I didn’t have to be where I am today?
- What did I used to enjoy that I might enjoy doing again?
- What sounds like fun (even if no one I know is doing it and/or I might be ridiculed for liking it)?
- What might be worth checking out?
- What secretly makes me smile?
Twelve years after going through that first tunnel, I recently found myself in a new one where many of my interests of the last decade, things I had based many of my friendships around, no longer interested me.
Once again, I wasn’t sure who I was. Fortunately, having been there before, I knew what to do.
In answer to the questions above I’ve been making lists of things that make me happy today and brainstorming ways to bring more of those, and the people who share my passion for them, into my life. (Line dancing anyone?)
By taking action on that list, I’ve planted the seeds for what I am certain will be some profound new relationships in my life.
The first step to making true friends is being true to yourself.
Even if you aren’t sure who that is, rest assured that inside the new you is there, just waiting to be discovered.
Take some risks, go on some adventures, try some things out without tying yourself to an outcome.
And have faith that by pursuing the things that make you happy, over time the new you will emerge… and with him/her a whole new set of friends.