Are You Swimming Sideways?

It seems that everywhere I look these days, people are going through big transitions. Jobs. Career changes. Relationships. Moves. Health issues. Loss.

Some of these changes were chosen ones and some just happened upon people — and either way, there’s an air of uncertainty and sometimes even confusion and fear.

There’s a definite art and process in Transitions – a way to navigate them more easily, more smoothly. And it’s helpful when you’re in the midst of one to know that the process of Transition contains 3 stages.

William Bridges, in Transitions, describes these stages in detail (he calls them Endings, Neutral Zone & Beginnings) and for anyone in transition, this is a great book to read.

I’ve renamed the stages because…well, there were other words that spoke to me throughout the years of many of my own big life transitions. I call them Letting Go, Swimming Sideways and Invitation.

As I’ve been talking to people about their own transitions these last few months, I’ve found myself repeatedly talking about the 2nd stage of the process most often: the beautiful space of Swimming Sideways. If you’ve been out in the ocean, you know that this is when you can’t come to shore because the current won’t let you. All you can do is relax, know the shore is there when it’s time to go toward it and in the meantime, swim sideways. (If you want to read how this term was born, it appeared in my very first newsletter – Swimming Sideways 2010.)

So when I hear people describing where they are and recognize them being in the Swimming Sideways stage, I can often hear and feel them wanting to skip over it. They’re sometimes in the midst of the letting go of the old stage and ready to jump right into the new stage.

However, there’s an in between stage that needs to happen — the place where uncertainty lives. The in-between place where decisions can’t yet be made and plans can’t yet be laid because it’s not time yet. Any attempt to rush past this stage will be futile because even if we do, we’ll find ourselves back here at some point because we didn’t take the time to really feel into all that was possible, all that wanted to happen.

When I tell people about this stage, I can feel their relief — “ah, it’s ok for me to be uncertain, confused and maybe even scared right now”, I sense them saying. And it’s true. Here, it’s not time to have the answers yet.

So wherever you are right now, I invite you to explore this idea of Swimming Sideways. And if you’re smack dab in the middle of any kind of transition yourself (and most are to some degree), ponder this concept. What might you be skipping over by not honoring this stage? How can you allow yourself to not have all the answers, but to trust that they will come when it’s time?

Photo by Fiona Smallwood on Unsplash 


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