Sunday, June 29, 2014

12 Tips for Surviving Transitions

I know how to move. (Unfortunately, not the dancing kind.)

I’ve made 15 major moves in my life, 8 of those times as a kid, once to bush Alaska, twice within Indonesia. I’ve gone through other major transitions, too. I’ve had three kids in Singapore, then returned home to Indonesia two weeks later, each time having to adjust to life with a new baby. 

I’ve made two several-month visits to the States from Indonesia, traveling from Alaska to Idaho to Texas to Colorado to Missouri to Indiana. And living in Indonesia, I’ve seen a couple dozen expat families move here and leave from here.

I may not be able to tell you where I’m from, but I can tell you a thing or two about how to survive transitions. And I can tell you that though I’ve done it my whole life, it breaks my heart every time I have to say goodbye.

So today I’m going to focus on the heart stuff during a transition, and how to cope with all the change.

1.       Transitions are a process, not an event.

Sometimes it’s filled with the events—the goodbyes, the traveling, the selling and buying, the first day, etc. But the real transitions happen little by little, over time. You’re not going to plop down into a new place and love it on day one, or week one, or even month one. Sometimes it will be fun, sometimes you’ll hate it. Sometimes you’ll feel sad to what you’ve lost (and you must allow yourself to grieve) and some days, you’ll be giddy with all the new possibilities. Give yourself and your family time to adjust and know that various stages of acceptance take different people different lengths of time.

2.       Your house (and stuff) do not make a home.

When you put stuff in boxes and moving trucks and suitcases and crates, you end up with broken stuff, missing stuff, stolen stuff. And when you move overseas, especially, you might find a hard time finding stuff you like, quality stuff, stuff that creates the home you always pictured. It’s natural to want to create a haven in your house, but it’s also tempting, especially in this Pinterest, DIY world, to become obsessed with how things look. Don’t forget that the beauty of a real home  is made by the love of the people inside of it—no matter the chipping paint on the walls or the geckos in the cupboards.

3.       Treat this as an adventure.

In other words, when things aren’t easy or comfortable or expected, look for the humor, the fun, the adventure, the lessons, the growth.

4.       A life in transition looks very different than a settled life. Don’t expect too much too soon.

If you’re joining a team of people who are settled, don’t look at their homes, their productivity at work, their relationships in the community, their kids, their language ability (if you’re overseas), their knowledge, and their stress levels and try to match yours with theirs. They may have spent years getting to the point where they are. And remember, they’ve probably been where you are, too. They can be a great source of wisdom and help on how to deal with where you are now.

5.       Don’t hate the hard stuff—let it grow you.

It’s easy to want to hide from the hard stuff, run from it, be angry about it, try to change it, resent it, and complain about it. But it’s better if you let it grow you, change you, make you stronger, even make you weaker. Not only will your attitude be better, you’ll learn some amazing things about the situation you are in, and about you strong you really are.

6.       Be ready to change—it’s the real treasure of any transition.

You can’t move well, or make a transition well, if you aren’t willing to change. Places and people and cultures and jobs and houses and situations are different. If you dig in your heels about how you view the world, you’ll just get stuck.

7.       Every place has hard things and good things (even the home you just left and miss terribly).

There is tremendous loss in transition, but there is gain in that loss. It’s easy to look back at the last home or job or friendships and remember only the good things. It’s easy to look at a new situation and only see the challenges. But if you embrace the reality that you’ll always encounter a mixture of both good and bad, frustrating and encouraging, stressful and fun, you’ll be able to handle them better.

8.       There are amazing friendships to be had in your new home or situation.

I know you miss your friends. And your old neighborhood. And your favorite barista. And your mom.  I do, too. But believe me, there are people you can grow to love anywhere and everywhere. Since I’ve spent most of my life leaving friends and finding new ones, I can promise you that you won’t be lonely forever, that if you open yourself up to new people, you’ll soon find friends you never want to lose (and who you would never have known if you hadn’t made this change).

9.       Don’t let your house become your cage. Get involved.

It’s easy to hunker down in a new place or situation. But the sooner you can get out of your house, out of your comfort zone, out of your expectations, the sooner you’ll find good things in your new home. Ask the locals questions about what their life is like. Find a way to volunteer. Visit a neighbor. Join a club or a church. Try a new restaurant. Make the choice to really live where you are.

10.   Be afraid BUT be brave, too.

Transitions are really scary. You may cry a lot. You might be angry. You’ll certainly be overwhelmed…often. But don’t want until you’re no longer scared of the new situation to get out there and figure out life. While you’re afraid, be brave, too. Do the things you don’t think you can do. Introduce yourself to the people who look scary (they might just be scared, too.) And let yourself get a little lost…it’s amazing what you might find out about your new world and yourself.

11.   Expect the unexpected.

You might have spent months planning for this transition. You’ve read books and blogs and packing lists. You’ve been through training and talked with people who’ve gone through it. You’ve sold your stuff and bought new stuff. And you think you’re as ready as you can ever be. Now, take all your plans and your ideas and your expectations and pack them away in some box that you promise not to open for at least a year after you’ve made your transition. 

Those things usually hurt you more than help you. Be ready for anything—both the good and the bad. If you’ve been told you’re moving to a place where there is absolutely nothing to do for fun, you may spend the first couple of years blind to the things that ARE really nice about your new home. On the other hand, if you expect to have a certain kind of house or a certain kind of food item available, you may just end up being disappointed. Better to go in expecting the unexpected and be pleasantly surprised.

12.   Remember why you did this.

Whether it’s a new baby that’s changing your life, or a ministry you chose overseas, or a move to follow a job you or your spouse loves, remember why you made this decision. Remember your real purpose, your goals, the things you want out of this. Remember that you want to be a mom, that you want to serve those in need, you want to expand your abilities, you want to go to college, you want your spouse to enjoy his or her job. So as long as those things continue to be true, then the things you don’t want can be counted as simply the cost for the the dream.


  1. Thank you for sharing! I have shared this quite a few times now with friends after reading it. I'm an MAF wife who just arrived for language school in Portugal 2 weeks ago. We're heading to Mozambique next year. Perfect timing for reading this. Thank you!

    1. I love when people comment! Thanks! I'm also really glad you found this useful. It sounds like you have a lot of adventures ahead of you. I'm excited for you.

  2. Oh wow, how I needed to read this! My family moved less than a month ago and we are still adjusting, which I imagine may continue for some time to come. We moved 6 hours away from the place we'd called home for 8 years, and although we knew it was coming months before the actual move, we still weren't prepared. Are you ever? I remember well this adjustment period in our old town and I know it will pass and we will all make friends and feel at home here one day. I think I need to print this out and put it on my fridge as a reminder.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I hope you soon find the special things (and people) in your new home.

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  4. I like these useful tips! if you want some help in surviving while first weeks an new job, follow


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