This month I have moved back to the US, bought a car, been applying for jobs, going to a family wedding, and spending time with people I haven’t seen in a while. There has not been much time to think about all the transitioning that has happened. Now that I have had a chance to step back for a couple days and take notice, I’ve learned a lot about myself. In sharing this with you, I’ll be curious to see if you can identify with some of these behaviors.
As I have started making moves on my own, I am beginning to see a pattern in how I say goodbye to one place, and hello to the next. I’m definitely not the best at goodbyes and the weeks that lead up to them. But when it comes to hitting the ground running in a new place, I usually do alright. I have found that I really prosper in new situations and get a lot of joy out of the new possibilities that come along with a new place. Once routine sets in and I get ancy, and then comes the end of the assignment and I go back into transition mode.
What do I mean by transition mode? The book I have been reading, Third Culture Kids, does a great job of outlining different reactions people have to moving. As military kids we will often form self-defense mechanisms to make these transitions easier on ourselves. This is what I do. Right before a transition, I will start picking out little things that bother me about the place I’m in or the people I’m with. I do not consciously do this, but it’s like my subconscious knows I am leaving and it will be an easier transition if I am angry and less attached when I go. What makes things difficult is when there is really nothing to be upset about or ready to leave behind when you go. Other than the rainy weather; England was very hard to say goodbye to. My friends there made the transition difficult. I wasn’t angry with them when I left, and in fact, they showed me so much love and support for entering a new phase of life, that getting on the plane was; well, hard to say the least.
Now that I understand that this is what I do, it is easier for me to control my thoughts and frustrations when I’m getting ready to go. It’s not good to leave somewhere angry, you really want to have nice memories associated with wherever you go. You want to know that even if it wasn’t what you expected, you came out a stronger person because of the people you met and the challenges you faced. There is something to looking at a place through rose-tinted glasses, because when you remember all the positives of previous assignments, your excitement for the next adventure increases. You realize that no matter where you go, there will be great people and interesting things to experience. Sometimes it just takes a little more effort.
There are, of course, other ways in which people deal with transition. I have probably experienced most of them, or could at least identify. One way is called emotional flattening. You might become unable to get very excited or sad about a move because that kind of roller coaster of emotions becomes too exhausting to repeat every two years. An example of this is rather than getting very excited about the new house you will move into, or very sad about the friends you will leave behind, you maintain a constant “in-between” neither excited nor sad.
Another mechanism is by cutting out too early all together. You might know the transition is coming and so rather than sticking it out to the move-out date, you might withdraw from all activities. You realize that there is no future for you there anyway, so what is the point of going to soccer practice anymore?
Not everyone deals with change in the same way, but it might be helpful for you to identify what you do. Now that I know this about myself, I can concentrate on not allowing myself to use these negative and harmful defence mechanisms and instead enjoy each place to the last second. Yes, easier said than done. But I think you will find that your attitude about a move accounts for 90% of the outcome of the new adventure.