New Beginnings and Transitions

By Shay Bintliff, MD

(An excerpt from the ACEP Wellness Text)

Any transition must be seen in the context of your life's journey. So, ask why? Why is this happening? And why now?

Transition is the difficult process of letting go of an old situation, suffering the confusing nowhere of in-betweens, and launching forth again in a new situation. It is a natural process of disorientation and re-orientation that marks the turning point in the path of growth. It is part of the natural process of self-renewal that we all will face.

There are three primary stages to this process, an understanding of which can benefit the prospective retiree - 1) an ending, followed by 2) a period of confusion and distress, leading to 3) a new beginning.

Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new. Not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to the people and places that act as definitions of who we are. People will congratulate you on your new life, but you may go through a period of mourning for the loss of the old life.

This letting go can be very hard! Our self-image is defined in part by the roles and relationships we have had, and we seldom realize how much we identify with the circumstances of our lives. Think back on how you coped with other endings. Perhaps you have experienced the loss of a pet, a friend, a parent or other loved one. Recall those feelings and thoughts - they can sometimes be reactivated in this phase.

This can be a time of emptiness, more like a "neutral zone," before life resumes a pattern and new direction. It is important to anticipate and accept the sudden sense of loss of direction should it occur, understanding this phase as a prelude to renewal.

Here are some practical suggestions for discovering meaning in the “neutral zone” experience. 1) Begin a log of “neutral zone” experiences as a means of examining the process of renewal. 2) Consider taking this time to write an autobiography. Why? Sometimes it is only in seeing where you have been that you can know where you would like to be headed. 3) Most importantly, think of what would be unlived if your life ended today.

The final phase - a beginning! As stated earlier, we come to beginnings only at the end. It may help you navigate this final completion phase by recalling the important beginnings in your own past. Examples include the decision to become a physician, meeting your significant other, moving to a new home. You probably already know that new beginnings are difficult, requiring adjustments to long-established ways of thinking and relating to others. You may also recall that new beginnings are opportunities to create growth in your life, as new aspects of yourself emerge.


  1. Holmes, Tom and Robe, R. "Rating Scale", Journal of Psychosomatic Research:11, 1967. 213-218.
  2. Bolles, Richard, What Color Is Your Parachute. Ten Speed Press, 2004.
  3. Fraunselder, Frederick, MD and Gilbaugh, Jim, JR, MD: Retirement Rx, Thorndike Press, 2008.
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