Giving Ourselves Grace in Life’s Transitions


Reflecting on this past year, I have noticed so much has changed with the world we had once considered to be ‘normal’. Some of these changes have been smooth and gratifying, where others have been daunting and looming. We will one day reach a point, if not already, where we become so accustomed to these changes that the past we once knew so well becomes a faint memory. These types of impactful changes, are what we proclaim as ‘Life-Transitions’. Life transitions are developmental progressions where one works towards integrating essential changes into their lifestyle. In childhood, various and swift life transitions aid us in our learning of the world around us and our place within it. One would presume by adulthood, we would be “pros” at seamlessly attuning to these changes. Unfortunately, the life transitions we experience as adults, although not as sudden and dramatic as in childhood, are still opportunities of adult learning where we work towards adapting our worldly view and readjust to find our place within it. Before moving forward, let’s review some key words and supporting research that can shed more light on how these transitions can impact us.

Life-Transition: Periods in life one reaches that are a transformation from what they previously have known, and initiates the start of a new beginning. It is a possible end to a previous period.


Examples of Life-Transitions:

  • Completing School
  • Marriage
  • Pregnancy/ Starting a family
  • Employment changes/ Loss
  • Divorce/ Separation
  • Establishing Independence
  • ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’
  • Illness
  • Death/Loss
  • Retirement


In ‘How Adult Life Transitions Foster Learning and Development. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education’, Merriam (2005) assesses how there are four different categories illustrating life transitions one can experience: Anticipated, Unanticipated, Nonevent, and Sleeper transitions.




Four Types of Life Transitions:

Anticipated  transitions are changes in adult life that one can expect; such as attending college, marriage, and autonomous career changes.

Transitions that fall within this category can still be challenging and inflict stress despite being expected. However, these transitions are met with the individual being at a prepared point in their life where they can problem solve with ease. A great deal can be learned from the discomfort experienced during this type of transition and can be viewed as a positive ‘push’.


Unanticipated  Transitions are unexpected and unplanned experiences that one had not factored in nor viewed would be in their present reality. Examples of this category are unemployment, relationship loss, death or illness, and unexpected financial stressors.

Comparing to Anticipated transitions, Unanticipated transitions inflict significantly more stress and can be painful lessons. However, these unexpected experiences can give way for self-growth and resilience.


Nonevent  Transitions, known as ‘hidden’ motivators, take the form of aspirations one has had for their life that do not come to fruition. Resulting in one grieving the future they once expected to have. This type of transition can be caused individually or secondary through a loved one or colleague. Examples of Nonevent Transitions are a relationship ending unexpectedly, job loss of a partner, being unable to bare children then conceiving unexpectedly, or having adult children move back into their parents’ due to unforeseen circumstances.

I view Nonevent life transitions as one of the most trying, and simultaneously strength building transition one could experience. It is abrupt, unexpected, and leaves no room to avoid it nor hide. It is a force that has to be reckoned with at the moment it occurs and can become an empowering moment once one perseveres. I personally had experienced a life transition as such where I was caught in a sudden world wind of change and feeling powerless in the process. At that time, I grieved a future I expected to have. Despite the hardship I faced, it gave way for me to cultivate a stronger sense of self-worth and end a phase in life that no longer served a purpose. Without knowing it at the time, I was able to learn from this experience and build an even better future I could relish in. In such moments of twists and turns, there seems to be no end, but I’ve learned that although it can be hard to see, there is always a silver lining.


And finally, Sleeper Transitions are subtle changes that take place without one’s awareness. These transitions are gradual and accumulate overtime, resulting in a transformation from a previous life phase to another. Examples of Sleeper Transitions are achieving exercise goals, growing apart in a relationship, and school/work related demotions.

Sleeper Transitions illustrate how the little changes or adaptations we make in life can give us the results we want if we continue working towards our goals and build healthy habits. However, sleeper transitions can also work against us if we carelessly neglect ourselves, our loved ones, or our surroundings by letting important practices and routines fall to the wayside.


Accepting change as a natural part of life can help soften the bluntness of life’s transitions. Acknowledging the experiences we had faced in the past, aids us in our prosperity moving forward. To those struggling with change, I always leave this one piece of advice, “When change is in front of you, you can only avoid it for so long until the universe leaves you with no other choice but to accept the change and transition.”





Merriam, S. B. (2005). How Adult Life Transitions Foster Learning and Development. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 108, 3-13.