Unlocking the Potential of Lifequakes

Navigating major life transitions is a concept very familiar to me. In late 2019, my family decided to move from our home in Bosnia-Herzegovina to my native California. After getting our affairs in order, we booked our flights to move in late March 2020. Only a few days prior, the COVID-19 shutdown commenced and all flights were cancelled. This launched us in to a state of “moving” that technically got resolved this past April when we finally managed to get settled into our new home.

Or did it? It seems we just shifted to a new chapter of transition, as we started to anticipate settling into new work and school rhythms and adjusting to a culture that in many ways is just as foreign to me (after 12 years of living overseas) as it is for my foreign-born spouse.

What is fascinating about making such a significant transition during a global pandemic is that there is an overwhelming sense of camaraderie. Who hasn’t felt in transition from March 2020 till now? We all have our stories about how this pandemic has impacted our plans, hopes, and dreams. We all can relate with transitioning from our pre-pandemic selves to a new self with a new understanding of our fragility as human beings. Depending on our starting point, some of us were already much more in touch with this frailty. For example, my family and friends in Bosnia-Herzegovina, having suffered through the horror of war, violence, and economic instability, had a much deeper understanding of this than myself. Still, the global impacts of this pandemic – touching everyone in one way or another – has shaken us collectively, a communal experience of transition.

The question remains, is there an end in sight? Will we move from transition to arrival? And what does that arrival even look like anymore, for us personally and for our businesses?

In the Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Someone Whose Life Has Been Upended,” writer and researcher Bruce Feiler claims that the average adult experiences some kind of disruptive life transition every 12 to 18 months. That’s a lot! These life transitions can be as ordinary as starting a new job and as traumatic as a cancer diagnosis. Feiler states that our typical coping strategies normally get us through to the other side. However, there are a few transitions, what he calls “lifequakes,” that seriously knock us off our feet and have long-lasting impacts. He classifies the pandemic as a “massive, collective lifequake.”

Out of Feiler’s suggestions on how to navigate these lifequakes, I most resonated with his simple definition of life transitions’ overarching purpose. He writes, “a life transition is fundamentally a meaning-making exercise. It is an autobiographical occasion, in which we are called on to revise and to retell our life stories, a new chapter in which we find meaning in our lifequake. The lifequake itself may have been positive or negative, but the story we tell about it has an ending that’s upbeat and forward-looking.”

Lifequakes are part of life and they will continue to be even post-pandemic. Although we often can’t do much to impact whether they happen or not, we can make the space and effort to learn from them. We can be changed by them in the best way possible and let them drive us forward to live more resilient, compassionate, and courageous lives. Similarly, as the pandemic has dramatically changed the strict divisions of work life, family life, and personal lives, business leaders and managers can support their employees that are navigating these lifequakes and cultivate more robust workplace environments. (See Feiler’s article for more practical steps on how managers can be a helpful resource to employees that are navigating these kinds of life transitions.) 

With this perspective, the goal is not to simply endure or survive a lifequake until the aftershocks subside. Rather, we are to let them shake us to the core and form what is left into more resilient and whole human beings. That is, until the next one comes along.  

About the Author

Jessica Vuk is a consultant with Morrison, working primarily in our Grants practice. To get in touch with Jessica, please find contact information for Morrison here.


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