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The Friday Five

Five Ways to Manage Difficult Transitions

By Jamie Spannhake

Change is exciting … and overwhelming. When faced with change, you must manage all the transitions that flow from it. You can feel adrift, and sometimes alone, as you re-evaluate your circumstances, or decisions, or even your entire life.

Whether caused by losing a job or starting a new one, relocating to a new state, or enduring a personal change such as a divorce, all transitions are difficult in their own way. It’s especially tough when the change is not one you chose to make. But transitions also present great opportunities to reflect and redirect. Here are five ways to manage a difficult transition without losing your way (or your mind).

1. Expect to Feel Loss

Even when you know the “new” circumstance will be better than the previous one, you feel a sense of loss when something ends. To move forward to something new, you leave something behind, so it’s normal to feel sadness as you face a new chapter in your career or life. Allow yourself to feel sad or adrift, but put a time limit on it. You can wallow in the loss for a few days or weeks or months, but when you reach your appointed time, move on.

I recently went through a difficult personal transition. After about 10 days of feeling lost, I looked at the calendar and decided I would mourn the loss for another week. For that week, I didn’t need to beat myself up for being adrift and sad because I knew it wouldn’t last forever. Knowing that I was going to move on soon, I could experience the loss without too much drama. Take as long as you need to mourn, then take action.

2. Make a Plan

After you complete your mourning period, get moving forward. It is very easy to get caught up in “analysis paralysis,” especially since we, as lawyers, spend so much time analyzing and determining the best course of action for clients. But sometimes, when faced with a difficult transition, any action is better than no action. Spend some time making a plan, but even if you aren’t sure that the plan you have crafted is the best one, just start moving forward. Inertia breeds inertia. Once you start moving forward, you will be able to correct course. As Mark Twain said, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

3. Let Go of Anxiety

Anxiety comes from worrying about what might happen in the future. Twain had some apt words here, too: “I … have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Don’t waste your time wringing your hands about things that might go wrong. Prepare, control what you can (which is usually very little) and let the rest go. Don’t be so attached to the outcome. Focus on the moment and the process, putting one foot in front of the other. Remember that, no matter what happens, you will be able to handle it.

4. Meditate

When you face lots of change your mind goes into overdrive. You feel pulled in many different directions trying to manage all the new things. And you feel completely outside your comfort zone as all the “normal” things that make life easy — or at least manageable — fall by the wayside. Take time to sit quietly and meditate. It’s hard to do when your mind is so busy trying to manage your transition, but this is really when you need it the most. Meditation will create space in your brain and allow you to think more clearly, respond instead of react, calm your body and generally feel better about everything. (Related: “Five Healthy Ways to Relax.”)

5. Have Fun and Laugh!

Laughter is one of the best stress relievers. Nothing works more quickly than laughter to bring the body and mind back into balance. It releases endorphins and improves your mood, creates a sense of hopefulness, and makes you feel alert. Laughter also boosts your immune system, which can be weakened by the stressors of change.

You can manage your transitions, no matter how difficult. There is a light at the end of every tunnel.

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Categories: Attorney Work-Life Balance, Daily Dispatch, Fit Five, Friday Five, You At Work
Originally published October 20, 2017
Last updated April 13, 2018
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Jamie Spannhake Jamie Spannhake

Jamie Jackson Spannhake is a writer, coach for lawyers, and speaker. She helps busy lawyers create lives they truly want, lives with time and space to do all the things she was told she couldn’t do as a successful lawyer. Her work with clients is based upon the principles in her book, “The Lawyer, the Lion, & the Laundry.” She spent nearly 20 years practicing law in New York and Connecticut, in BigLaw, as a solo, and as a partner in a small firm. Learn more about her at, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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