Navigating life’s transitions: How I turned my struggles into support

I’ve historically struggled with graduations and transitions—it’s why I help people with transitions now, as I’ve learned how essential it is to have support during these often isolating and destabilizing times. While transitions can be full of celebrations, gratitude, and pride, there are also times when we may experience grief, regret, loneliness, and everything in between.

Sitting with my current transition, I acknowledged many reasons why I tend to skip over the “celebration” aspect of graduations and departures. I observed that I typically dive into another endeavor to avoid facing the feels, and I get awkward when celebrated and prefer to keep the attention on others.

A few themes arose when I reflected back on several big transitions in my life to consider why these times are emotionally difficult. One top reason for me is that my default has been to go straight to assessing where I didn’t feel I met the mark. Where I could have been better. What I would have done differently if I started, today.

Focusing on my gaps, regrets, and shortcomings. Feeding my inner critic evidence of where I am not enough, unworthy, and a disappointment… Where I need to double down to make up for it, now.

Well, those beliefs certainly don’t prompt feelings of celebration – they have led me to isolate and want to hide in shame.

As those thought patterns arose last night following a dinner where I was recognized in preparation for my departure from my research lab at the conclusion of my grant funding, I sat with my inner critic and observed the plan it was creating for me to dive deeper into more work to prove to myself that I did enough, that I was enough, and that I provided enough value.

Old patterns take time to break and rewire- awareness and intention are key.

As I faced the inner critic through a new lens shaped by curiosity and non-judgment while grounding myself in a new way of being, blanketed in self-compassion, my inner best friend joined the discussion.

My inner best friend reminded me of where I was in 2021 when I joined the lab and how far I’ve come, both personally and professionally. My inner best friend sat with me as I processed the grief and considered what I may have done differently while also reminding me of what went well. My inner best friend encouraged me to allow myself to celebrate – and promised to sit with me as I experienced the discomfort that celebrating myself brings.

Being with the discomfort rather than avoiding it enabled me to bring awareness to what is underneath my pattern of avoiding and isolating myself during times when the focus turns on me—shining a spotlight on what I accomplished and, historically, a brighter one on what I didn’t.

Now, the decision. What to do with that new awareness? We get to choose.

I get to choose if I want to hang out with my inner critic or adventure with my inner best friend.

This decision sounds simple but is not easy. Taking steps away from years of feeling unworthy and not enough while distancing ourselves from the loud inner critic and providing ourselves self-compassion often feels worse before it gets better – we may question if we are doing something wrong and/or want to pull away from the discomfort as we face why we believed those painful thoughts in the first place.

It may feel easier to sit with the known pain created by the inner critic … we may believe that the critic is right … but at what cost?

During my current life and career transition, I am choosing to hang out with my inner best friend and appreciate the lessons my inner critic has provided. My inner best friend reminds me that she is there to sit with me and provide compassion—which means “to suffer with”—while helping me relieve the suffering on my path toward deeper healing.

I choose to let go of years of being led by my inner critic and shift to living this life in partnership with my inner bestie. If I want to help others do the same, I need to “live it to give it.”

Today, I choose to celebrate while also accepting that there are and always will be areas where I may improve. While I focus on the gaps, I also appreciate the gains and where I am right now.

Jillian Rigert is an oral medicine specialist and radiation oncology research fellow.


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