The Neutral Zone
The key to succeeding in these efforts is to look at the neutral zone [a period when the old is gone and the new is not yet fully operational] as a chance to do something new and interesting — and to pursue that goal with energy and courage.
~Managing Transitions, William Bridges and Susan Bridges
As a pastor, my most obvious and most regular priority is the Sunday morning worship service. I am a routine driven person, and so, I don’t put a lot of changes into the regular schedule. Certainly, things come up from time to time, though, and I have to figure out where to put them.
One of the things I try to pay attention to is transitioning from one part of worship to the next. Transitions are important. We spend a lot of time on the individual elements, but we don’t always spend a lot of time on the transitions. So, what that means is that there can be long, awkward moments of silence. I do think silence is a good thing, but there’s a difference between useful silence and awkward silence in a worship service. You get those transitions correct, and the whole thing flows.
In the same way, life is full of transitions, and how we handle those transitions is important. Maybe you’re moving from one job to another. Finish well; start well. Transitioning is a significant part of my job as United Methodist clergy. We get moved. We end up having to say good-bye and hello at the same time. (Mostly, we do get a week or two off between appointments to take care of minor things… like moving all our stuff to an new home!)
I always struggled with transitions in school. If you look at my grades through the years, you’ll notice that my worst grades tended to be in transition years — freshman year of high school, first year of college… I think I actually transitioned well into seminary, but a large part of that was the fact that I entered seminary with a degree in religion, and had to take basic classes that first semester.
I think one of the reasons I struggled is because I am so routine driven in the first place. Finding a new routine can be difficult, especially when you are trying to learn new things in new places. But once I settled in, I would excel. In retrospect, there are things I could have done to better prepare myself in these times of transition, and maybe I had learned by the time I headed to seminary and that’s another reason why it went so smoothly.
In Managing Transitions, Bridges points that that this time between the old and the new is a neutral zone. And it is during this time that significant, bold changes can be made. The new has yet to be fully defined, and these changes can be part of the revitalization. They can be the foundation upon which the new thing is built.
It takes courage — trying something new always does.
But the payoff can be huge.
So, what are you going to do with your neutral zone? Are you going to use it as a time to start something bold and courageous? Or are you just going to use it as a pause between the same old thing? How we transition in life is important, so do the best you can while you are in the neutral zone.