Transition: It Gets Harder with Age!

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You would think that transitions would be easier with practice and age. After all, I was born to parents who were moving in and out of various countries and cultures even before I was born. By the time I came into this world, my parents were already well experienced in packing up all of their belongings and moving. I am wired for packing and making transitions. Some day a young scientist somewhere will discover that the brain of the TCK will light up when they look at the neurotransmitters related to packing. Since this brain mass is so highly tuned to handling transitions, you would think that transitions would be a piece of cake for this 60+ TCK.

But it isn’t.  In fact, it is more difficult as I get older. I am sure there is excellent research out there on why seniors have a hard time dealing with change. But research and I are not on speaking terms. I don’t understand numbers, as they are a foreign language to me.  I did not do well in math in school. I am fairly certain if I were to venture into reading a journal article on the research of change and seniors, I would skip to the final paragraph where they give the summary.  And it would say something like, “As seniors are going through so much change in their lives that is beyond their control, it is often difficult for seniors to deal with change.”

Where have I heard that line before? In my own book, “Belonging Everywhere & Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile” I make the statement, “A major reality for those who grow up as TCKs is that their lives are filled with chronic cycles of separation and loss.  Obviously, such cycles are part of the human experience for everyone. Non-globally mobile folks go through this as well. But for the globally mobile, the cycles are chronic and often relatively sudden or severe.  They not only lose a friend here or there, but often they lose a whole world….” pg. 60-61. Even though I did not choose the “highly global mobility” lifestyle for myself as a child, my parents made that choice and it impacted me. I would gift the highly global mobile lifestyle to myself all over again. Yet, transitions do not get any easier.

This question,” Why doesn’t transition get easier with age?” is on a continuous loop in my brain these days. Why? The loop was created because I am slowly transitioning from a lifetime of working for a living to the world of only working for personal enjoyment. This week, I retired from my role as adjunct faculty in a graduate counseling program at a local university.  I have enjoyed working with graduate students for thirteen years. Today is my first day at home wondering, “What do I do today? I am not feeling sick or anything, why am I home from work today?”

It has only been a week since I saw my students. And I already miss them and their many questions. I miss their searching for their own identity, as they would sometimes come up with new and different ways to work with a client. I even miss their laughter at the surprising things they discovered that I did not know, for example, ghosting in relationships. (The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just “get the hint” and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested.” Urban Dictionary) I am already grieving the loss of seeing my students each week. I learned so much from my students on how to be a better counselor.

Even though, transitions are STILL hard at my “old/young” age, I have picked up a few tips along the way on how to do it right this time.

  1. Remember to say goodbye. Don’t disappear into the sunset.
  2. Celebrate the transition with those who are meaningful to you.
  3. Tell those who were special to you, just how much they mean to you…. even students.
  4. Make plans to stay connected if it is possible.
  5. Acknowledge the mixed feelings of joy and grief as you are making this transition.
  6. Keep talking about your feelings to those who care about you. If you do not have that support system near by, journal, draw or sing about them. Use whatever sensory activity most comfortable for you in expressing your feelings.
  7. Do not burn your bridges behind you as some day you may want to return. I have seen individuals say such strongly negative things about their current situation, that by the time they left most hoped they would never see them again, let alone rehire them. Burning bridges can also be a coping skill in order to try to not feel as strongly the pain of leaving. Unless bridge burners change their way of doing things, they will end up very lonely in their old age.
  8. Plan your life on the other side of the transition.

I can’t wait until the day when I am completely retired from all of my jobs (yes, I am still counseling) as I have great plans for my retirement years. My plans involve speaking, writing, and consulting on counseling Third Culture Kids. I find true joy in working with others who counsel TCKs of all ages.

But right now, I am edging towards another huge transition in my life, retirement. I grieve the loss of my world of graduate counseling students. I anticipate completing my journey towards complete retirement by the end of next year.  In the meantime, I have to do my own hard work so I can retire with grace and transition into a life of many, new adventures.

Transitions are hard, even for this old, experienced soul!