Life is in the Transitions

Just when I thought this year couldn’t get any crazier, my wife and I spent last night checking our evacuation status. Oregon—along with much of the west coast—is burning in unprecedented ways. It was the first time we began preparing supplies to actually flee our home. Many people have already had to do just this. I even saw a notice on Amazon today that I’ve never seen before: “Extended delivery time due to weather in your area.”

Really 2020? At some point we wonder when a sense of normal will ever return. Here is some good news for you: you don’t need to wait for normal.

As I shared recently, our family is moving back to Arizona (see: Family Update). That means we are in the middle of one of the biggest unexpected life transitions we’ve yet experienced. But 2020 has reminded us that ALL OF US are in the process of transitions.

To better process all of this, I read Bruce Feiler’s book called Life is in the Transitions (see: Amazon link). Feiler spent years surveying hundreds of people in their own transitions to unpack what themes emerged. One of the biggest takeaways is that the stories we tell ourselves—especially in transition—have a disproportionate ability to shape our experience.

Life is the story you tell yourself. But how you tell that story—are you a hero, victim, lover, warrior, caretaker, believer—matters a great deal. How you adapt that story—how you revise, rethink, and rewrite your personal narrative as things change, lurch, or go wrong in your life—matters even more.

This strikes a chord with me as a storyteller. If you’ve ever heard me preach you know that I shape most of my messages in story format. I was even given the best storyteller award when I was in kindergarten (look at me now kids!). I believe that stories allow us to assign meaning to reality. But even if this isn’t how you like to communicate, it may be time to give it a try. “When in turmoil, turn to narrative. The proper response to a setback is a story.”

So… if you can see a few setbacks in your life right now (I see those hands), time to dust off your storytelling skills. It’s also time to remind ourselves that the unpleasant moments come with opportunities built inside. Feiler observes that “For many people, the worst of times in their lives turn out to be the best of times to excavate a former interest and turn it into a rejuvenating task.” Just like physically moving to a new house, we box up one season and look for opportunities with what is ahead. What will we ‘unpack’ in the next season?

We have a choice in how we tell our life story. We do not write it in permanent ink. There are no points for consistency, or even accuracy. We can change it at any time, for any reason, including one as simple as making ourselves feel better. After all, a primary function of our life story is to allow us to place experiences firmly in the past and take from them something beneficial that will allow us to thrive in the future.

Stop waiting for normal. Stop waiting for the transitions to end. Stop waiting.

Look for a theme. See opportunities in the challenges. And tell a new story.

When in turmoil, turn to narrative. The proper response to a setback is a story. @BruceFeiler Share on X

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co.