Symptoms of Transition

symptoms of transitionSo what’s it mean to be “in transition?” And how can you as a coach learn to recognize the symptoms of transition seasons and help people engage what God is doing in them?

First, we need to be clear on what a transition (or more precisely, a transitional season) is. I would define it as ‘a season focused on inward retooling.’ The key word here is inward: when you enter a transition you are moving from a state of being fundamentally outward focused (on your work, accomplishments, family responsibilities, etc.) to one where the focus is inward. I believe life proceeds in a cycle (often a decade or so long) of longer periods of outward productivity alternating with shorter, transitional interludes of inward renovation.

So ask a group of Christians whether they are “in transition” at that moment, and probably three-fourths of them will say yes. That’s because they are thinking of the process of transition (change) as opposed to a season of transition. Culture is always changing, technology is always changing, and life moves forward at a breakneck pace; yet the human rhythm of outward to inward to outward again remains unchanged.

Symptoms of Transition

This switch from outward to inward is accompanied by a set of predictable symptoms of transition that coaches can learn to recognize. The first is usually a loss of passion or interest in what we are doing. The doing season is winding down, and our motivation to keep doing what we’re doing is waning with it. For most people this loss of drive is a confusing and scary feeling. We’ve grown attached to life as it is, and we wonder what is wrong with us that we can no longer make it happen. That’s the second symptom: we tell ourselves we need to get it together, and push ourselves to get back to the way things were.

Which leads to the third symptom: God isn’t helping! We are striving to recapture the passion, we’re praying for breakthrough, but things just seem to go from bad to worse. That’s because God is behind the transition—his plan is not to get us back to productivity but to separate our identity from our doing. Keep trying to work and push in your transition, and Jesus will help you by coming along behind and dismantling your efforts. There are few times in life where we spend as much energy praying against what God is trying to do than at the beginning of a transition! I’ve seen many people spend a year or more scrambling to make things work before they finally tune into the fact that God just wants them to sit still in their transition.

Lack of direction is another of our symptoms of transition that coaches need to be coaching-transitionsaware of. When we have a clear direction, we focus on it and try to move in that direction—we focus outward. To get us to instead focus inward, God simply stops talking about future direction. I like to say, “In the first two-thirds of your transition, you can ask for direction until you are blue in the face and God won’t tell you jack squat.” An unusual drying up of answers to directional prayers often indicates a transition season.

The character of our interactions with God change in transitions as well. Outward-focused seasons are about co-laboring with God—about getting things done together. During the inward seasons, Jesus does the work in us, and our job is to sit still and let him do it. Jesus is often speaking to the person about holding things lightly, letting go, or just being with him. Asking what God is saying to your coachee about the season is a great diagnostic tool.

So to sum up, the top indicators you are coaching a person in an transitional season are:

  • Loss of passion, energy and interest in what we are doing
  • Confusion about what our lack of energy means
  • Pushing ourselves to do what we did before
  • God is no longer supporting our efforts to accomplish
  • Lack of direction; unanswered prayers for direction
  • Hearing god saying to let go

When you see these things happening, transition is on the way!

Tony Stoltzfus has been a coach and coach trainer for nearly 20 years, is the author of10 books on coaching and leadership, and trains leaders to coach the heart throughLeadership MetaFormation.