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I hear people talking about “being in transition” so much, because my generation is changing careers, life partners and cities more often than any generation before them. I hear colleagues speak of “transformative change” and “transformational coaching” all the time.
I want to explain how and why a transformation is different from transition, how you can recognize either one in your life, and what you can do about it.
Transitions happen on a spectrum. Some of the transitions we go through create a huge splash in our lives. Sometimes a change in our relationships makes us leave town and find a new job. But often, it can be minimal: My need to spend more time in deep work will be reflected in my calendar looking different.
Sometimes we fail to recognize how our lived reality is drifting apart from our values. But ultimately, we’ll notice: Something is off. Transitions feel like we are releasing tension that has been building up gradually. This tension is the dissonance when your life and your values gradually diverge.
Once you do decide to change your outer reality (life circumstances) to align it to your inner reality (values and principles), you are likely in the process of transition.
A transformation is a special kind of transition. Where a transition feels iterative, gradual and we find both big and small transitions in our lives, a transformational change is monumental. It feels disorienting. It cannot be “managed” –
as Peter Senge wrote in his book The Fifth Discipline.
A transformation is a new mindset, the ability to grasp larger complexity. Transformation happens when you expand your consciousness to integrate two realities that you found previously conflicting; a move from either/or to both/and.
Transformative change is often triggered by dramatic and sudden life events or those whose impact we’ve underestimated, like the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, or moving to a new country and culture.
Transition is an evolution of your values – transformation is a complete remaking of your value system.
Imagine we undergo a transformative journey and discover the importance of work-life balance and embracing a minimalist lifestyle. We realize that our previous value system of material success and constant career advancement has led to an unfulfilling life. In the actualization phase, we prioritize work-life balance by setting work boundaries or changing jobs. We also nurture personal relationships and self-care activities. To embrace minimalism, we declutter, consume mindfully, and avoid impulsive purchases.
By actualizing these new values, we not only experience a more harmonious and balanced existence but also foster deeper connections with others and cultivate a greater sense of inner peace and well-being.
Personal change is deeply moving to all of us – after all, it describes how we move in life.
Julius Bachmann is a former investor, startup manager, and interim CFO. Today, he’s working as an executive coach for founders. Bachmann lives in Berlin.
Text: Julius Bachmann
Illustration: Valentin Berger