Career Change: Moving Up, Moving On, Moving Out (Part 3)

Career Change.3


Our understanding of the psychology of transition was born in studies of bereavement, especially the work of Kubler-Ross[1], first published in 1969.  People going through workplace transition experience the five stages of grief.  The stages are 1-denial, 2-anger, 3-bargaining, 4-depression, 5-acceptance.  The psychology of grief was then applied to the Peace Corp to help deal with culture shock.[2]  The worksheets are still in use today.  Indeed, for people going through transition in the work place, it feels like culture shock, which is also described in stages.[3]  Within a decade the application was made to career transitions.[4]

What are the personal issues associated with moving up, moving on, and moving out?  John Fisher developed a detailed and complex curve of transition[5] that I summarized as 1) the first mountain, 2) the valley of despair, and 3) the new path.  The first mountain is an uneasy mix of fear and happiness.  Fear, because you cannot grasp a clear picture of the future.  Happiness, because something, at last, is happening.  Happiness, because your expectations are high (perhaps too high).  Fear, because you know you need to make changes and people are watching.  The great danger at this moment is to slip into denial.  It is hard to accept the affect this this change has on your inner life.  The opportunity on the first mountain is to embrace this as a defining moment[6] and engage in how the moment tests you, what the moment reveals about you, and how the moment will shape your future.[7]  The way you embrace or ignore the defining moment sets up the way you will deal with the next stage, the valley of despair.

Once over the first mountain, you enter the valley of despair.  The experience is different for everyone, but the issues are similar for everyone.  It is a shock to discover you are not who you once were, at least in your career.  This is a challenge to the way you understand yourself, your future, and your choices.  It is like a “Damascus road” experience, being knocked off your horse and struck blind, at least for a while.[8]  There may be feelings of shame and depression as you struggle to make sense out of what has happened and why.  The valley takes time to traverse.  “He who lacks time to mourn, lacks time t mend.”[9]

The dangers in the valley are slumping into disillusionment, burning up with hostility, or giving up in defeat.  Which ever danger you encounter, your perceptions of reality is distorted, your motivations are misguided, and your emotions are controlling without restraint.  Again, your hope is to participate fully, maturely, and authentically in this defining moment in your life.  Let your inner feelings teach you.  Trace back what is happening today to past events in your own story.   Set your quest to find your way through, and follow it with dignity and grace.  All the while, keep your feet on the ground; the counsel of trusted friends can help you stay in touch with reality.

At last, there is the new path – acceptance and moving forward.  One day and over the course of many days, you begin to exert more control, you make things happen in a positive way, and you begin to fell like yourself again.  You make sense of what has happened and why.  Your confidence increases.  You feel good that you are doing the right things in the right way.

Transitions are hard.  John Kenneth Galbraith, an economist, put it well, “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof.”  You cannot move through a change, a change of leadership and a change of mind, without dealing with transition.  You must get into the personal stuff.  In facing real and personal transition, avoid the King Saul pitfalls, the overriding fear, the deep-seated resentment, the long-term depression, and the ultimate defeat.  Face your moment of transition as a defining moment, a time that reveals and tests who you are and shapes who you will become.

Copyright © Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.

The book is available from Amazon at:



[1] Kuber-Ross, E. (1997 ed.) On Death and Dying. Simon and Shuster: New York.

[3] Pedersen, P. (1995) The five stages of culture shock: Critical incidents around the world. In Contributions in Psychology, no. 25. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press

[4] Nicholson, N. & West, M. (1989) “Transitions, work histories, and careers.  In Authur, M., Hall D., & Lawrence B. (eds.) Handbook of career theory. Cambridge University Press.

[5] Fisher J M, (2005), “A time for change,” In, Human Resource Development International vol. 8:2 (2005), pp 257 – 264, Taylor & Francis

[6] Badaracco, ibid.

[7] Dewey, ibid.

[8] Acts 9

[9] Sir Henry Taylor, in Philip Van Artevelde, Part i, Act i, Sc. 5


Leave a Reply