The week I retired from school nursing reminded me of the week I got married; unbelievable that it was my turn to enter a new chapter of life. I’d watched many of my friends retiring like I’d watched those who married before me, observing them for how to approach that new venture, going to them for advice. But ultimately, it felt a bit surreal and like I’d set the whole process in motion and couldn’t stop it now. It was awkward, like I wasn’t sure where I was stepping and while people told me about their experiences of retirement, I knew it was different for each person. I had to go it alone. While most of me was tired and ready for my new life, part of me was scared, afraid of the next chapter.
I was used to my routine as a school nurse, working the ten months of the academic year with two months off in summer; the daily rhythm of a middle school and the way time is measured there; the certainty of knowing where I would be for eight hours each weekday with little free time to fret about. I think that as much as I fight routine, there is a feeling of safety when things stay the same. It gives me a sense of control, of knowing where to place my feet instead of feeling like I’m off kilter.
Today, I’m reminded of this because the students headed back to school this week. Last August, my first year of not being at my school after fifteen years of that beginning-of-the-school-year-windup at McDougle, I’d written in my morning devotional book, “First day of school and I’m not there. Feels empty.”
I was in a waiting period, writing a lot, planning a trip, and hoping to hear back from a part-time job as a research nurse. I wrestled with how to spend my day without the familiar tasks of school nursing, feeling a bit uneasy for no apparent reason.
I remembered that we’d learned about helping clients with transitions in my Life Coaching program. Pulling out our textbook, I reviewed one model we’d studied that used a Map for Change by Bill Bridges. According to Linda Bark, the author of our text and creator of our program, Bridges model for change breaks the process into three phases: endings, the gap, and new beginnings.
My school job had ended March 31, 2017. It was a wonderful and exhausting process with emotional goodbyes with coworkers who’d become family, cleaning out accumlated files from my twenty years in school nursing, meetings and paperwork with our HR department. I experienced the range of emotions described in my text: grief, sadness, relief, anxiety, and excitement.
But because I was so busy getting ready for retirement, with the fanfare of farewells and paperwork, the Endings phase had not hit me that hard. All the scheduled deadlines with the state retirement system, goodbye parties, meetings to pass on my responsibilities kept me preoccupied and there was little time for all those emotions to really sink in.
Until I was in the Gap.
That’s when Bridges says that “the old is gone but the new beginning is not yet formed.”
I’d thought I would establish a coaching business and a writing business during that intial period after leaving the school. I was so tired and at a loss for what to do next. Looking at those two goals, it came to me, “It’s not realistic to start two businesses simultaneously.” My coaching class had emphasized Underpromising when it came to weekly goals (described in post “Underpromising: Is that Settling” June 30, ’18). I’d never started a business and didn’t know all the steps involved.
The Gap phase can be muddy, trying to make your way in foreign waters without that old familiar course you followed on autopilot. It’s a time when you “sit with things” instead of rushing on to fix the uncertainty about the new chapter you’re entering.
I return to what I’d written in my devotional book, “First day of school and I’m not there. Feels empty.” and see the rest of my entry;
“but also feels like I’ve moved on and I’m full of wonder with how God is going to move in my life.”
I will leave you with this until my next post. We’ll let ourselves Sit in the Gap, allowing that anxiety that comes with uncertainty, finding a resting spot in that trough between Endings and New Beginnings.
Like my wedding day, now forty years ago, we will trust the process as we approach a new chapter, that is both scary and exciting, with plot twists that we couldn’t anticipate.
How about You?
Are you in a time of transition in your life?
How are you experiencing the Endings of that chapter? Have you moved into the Gap? If so, how is it for you?