When Transition Gets The Best of You

Upset angry customer, business man, boss executive


Ahh transition.  I teach this stuff.  I do seminars.  I write a blog for crying out loud.  So I hate it when it actually applies to me.  

Some of the best advice I ever got about transition (from a friend who also teaches this stuff) is that we are all like a cup with water in it (following me so far?).  If there’s a little water in your cup you can put a tennis ball in there and the water level rises but there is still plenty of room for more water (translation – you got this).  HOWEVER — If your cup is full . . . I mean to the brim full  . . . and you put a tiny little peanut in there — the whole thing overflows.



What you’re left with is a mess.


That’s a pretty accurate illustration of my day.  

I am full.  To the brim — and today the peanut left a mess.

A bit of context.  We’re moving to China (again) in a matter of weeks.  We don’t have visas yet — or a place to live.  I’ve got a boatload of stuff to do and I’m running out of time to do it.  I’m trying really hard to say healthy goodbyes and help my family do the same.  We’ve got stuff — too much stuff — stuff that we need to both get rid of and continue to use until the day we leave.  Money is tight.  Schedules are crazy.  And time is moving much too fast.

My cup is full.

Enter peanut.

Turns out when my cup overflows I revert to my four year old self.  I huff and I puff and I stomp away mad.  I say things like “Oh yeah!! Well you’re a doody head . . . you big  . . . doody head!!”  I do things so childishly embarrassing that I would never dare write them in a blog post for the whole internet to read.

So for now I’ll stick to some painful lessons learned:


Lesson #1.  Transition takes up space

If you (like me) are in the middle of a major life transition – that transition is hogging a big chunk of your cup.  Parts of you are consumed by the simple fact that everything is about to change.  You can try your hardest to move forward like today is just another day but you can’t escape the simple truth that is just around the corner (and hanging over your head).

Transition changes everything.  That’s why they call it transition.


Lesson #2:  Knowing is ONLY half the battle

GI Joe was right — “Knowing IS half the battle” which is a very sweet thought (thanks for that Joe) —  but you’ve still got the other half of the battle to fight.  Take me for example.  Seconds before I stomped off like a four year old I said, and I quote, “my cup is overflowing . . .”

I knew what was happening.  I called it out.  I watched my cup overflow . . . and yet  . . . still acted like a child.

It’s helpful to know the simple truths like “transition takes up space” but that doesn’t make you spill proof.   No one escapes the evil clutches of massive life change.


Lesson #3:  Momentary overflow does NOT define me

I had a bad day.  I acted like a child.  Truly unbecoming.

Ok.  I own it.  I take responsibility. But that’s not who I am every day.  I didn’t act like that yesterday and I won’t act like that tomorrow.

Who you are in your worst moments is not who you are.  It’s painful to discover what’s inside of you and likely to come out in the overflow.  It’s also  sobering to consider what you can be reduced to in your most vulnerable moments but those moments don’t mark you forever.

Move forward.


Lesson #4:  If you are fortunate enough to receive grace don’t take it for granted

No one is at their best when their cup is full.  That’s a given.  There is a simple and unfortunate reality though that hurting people  . . . hurt people.  If this applies to you and you are blessed enough to have people in your life who recognize that you are not acting like yourself (when you are not acting like yourself). . . you are rich beyond measure.

DON’T let that be lost on you.


Lesson #5:  Embrace the Yuck

Let’s get real.  Parts of this transition are not at all good.  In fact, they are bad.

For me it is the coming week.  It’s going to suck the life out of me.  There is no way around it.  I’m going to work my tail off, stress like crazy, stay up late, get up early and go nuts in the process.

But it will end.

It’s going to be a hard week . . . but the week after that is going to be pretty cool.

I’m gonna’ make it . . . but ignoring the hard stuff isn’t why.


Lesson #6:   If you’re cup is full –  find a way to lower it

This is where it helps to know yourself.  What refuels you?  What gives you rest and energy and resets you for the next round of transition challenge?

My best bit of brilliant advice — do that.

Take it from me — not as a blogging, trainer who’s supposed to know something about transition but as an embarrassed doody head who is rounding out a bad day — you’ve GOT to be willing to give grace . . . and receive it.  Tomorrow could be better.


Transition rarely comes without a mess but messes are rarely so horrible that they cannot be cleaned up.

I am so excited about tomorrow.


Alright — Confession time — Got some childish, overflow moments?  You are not alone.  Share them below and you might feel better — and even if you actually are the worst one ever — think of all of the people who will feel better because they’re not as bad as you.



  1. Thanks for your honesty and helpful advice…most of the time if water is transition it is relatively easy to clean up, sometimes, it’s another substance that can be messier, but from my experience, most messes can still be cleaned up. Our recent transition back to Bolivia was very complicated as our shipment of personal goods took several months to clear customs and the company we contracted with was terrible. We gave ourselves permission to be mopey and a little depressed. We were fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends which were the reason we came back to Bolivia. We are still unpacking, enjoying life to its fullest and glad it is behind us.

  2. I relate to everything you wrote! A tip I can share which I discovered accidentally was, to schedule a lunch/coffee every day during the horrible transition period. I scheduled it at the time because that’s when I thought I was free. I almost canceled every one of those meetings, because I was so overwhelmed. I never canceled, and those little breaks turned out to be exactly what I needed. They were a small breather that refueled me, and helped keep me going. Those little islands of normalcy were real life savers.

  3. I was on the phone with the embassy (unnamed Central Asian country) trying to sort out why they were saying my payment wasn’t included in the envelope with all of our passports and applications, sitting in a room full of our junk pre-garage sale, and the guy on the end was getting snippy with me about my money. (Sent, but “lost”—later to be double-charged when I sent in another payment).

    The guy on the other end said something incredibly rude about Americans, and I just threw myself into the floor (28 year old guy having a 4-year-old tantrum) and flopped onto the ground. I didn’t say anything, took the phone from my ear and began flailing madly. All my junk began crashing down around me, a shelving unit toppled onto me and I had to hand the phone to my wife to finish the conversation as I dug out from under the pile of stuff. No clue what the embassy worker heard beyond a ton of loud crashing. I walked around with a ton of bruises for the next week—having to explain to everyone how I got them.

    • Red — You are the hero of this blog post. Love it and feel your pain. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Came to comment but laughing at redferriswheel’s comments above so much can’t remember what it was I was going to say! Oh yeah, I am going through this too at the moment. Five weeks until we move out of our house, eight weeks until we “transition” to South Africa. I don’t just have a full glass, there is water all over the floor already! Just come back from a two week holiday and trying to catch up with everything, I have so much to do I end up doing none of it (coming here to social media insetad), my husband is in a remote African country with all the answers to my questions…..I really like the idea of a scheduled coffee break every day but at the moment can only really fit in one a week 🙂

  5. Ok, when I lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I was truly a mess. I got lost one day, as I often do when I am under stress, and drove the wrong way down a one way street. I honestly didn’t see the sign and when I finally did it was too late, two policemen were pulling me over. I was so overwhelmed that when they told me for the tenth time that I had to pay them a fine, I said, “That’s enough, I am done talking to you,” and I rolled up my window and drove away! Another day I mistakenly turned right on a street that had a rule that you could not turn right on it. The police stopped me there at the corner and told me to get out of the car. I got out and started to wail and cry that it was too hard to drive in Cambodia, and that I was afraid to drive there anymore. I was sort of pacing and waving my arms in distress. The police were so unsettled by my behavior that they begged me to get back in the car and go on my way!

  6. I really appreciate this, as someone probably more in touch with my “feelings” than the average guy. When you move to another culture you are forced to learn more about yourself, how you respond to stress and the overflowing thereof. Though, I found that most people, outside of the NGO, non-profit, etc. community, haven’t come close to broaching the subject. Their focus, and maybe what their company expects, is on work-related goals. For most of these people, they would need to be given permission to “feel” in a sense, before your lessons would make sense. That said, they are great lessons!

  7. Great stuff – problem is tennis balls don’t sink – they float; try a golf ball – which sadly does sink – and causes more childish overflow with many of us!

  8. I would love to use this at our debriefing seminars. May I have your permission to print it and include it in our syllabus?

    • Dave — Permission granted. Thanks for asking.

  9. I’ve just returned to the usa after working in SE Asia for 15 years. During the packing up the house phase a great friend was there to help me prioritize and organize all the stuff in my bedroom. During a hydration break I cast my eyes over the refrigerator magnets and said “The camel has to go with me.” My friend replied, “ok, give it to me.” I absolutely freaked out. “No! That’s a very special magnet and I will take it with me; it’s not too heavy and of course there’s space, it’s just a little magnet. Why should I give it to you?” To which she replied, “So I can put it in the “Going-to-America bag.” Oh – OH – deflation, shame and embarrassment. Did I feel stupid! She was, as truly good friends are, very gracious and forgiving :>) And we could soon laugh about it. Made me realized that I really was in the middle of transition stress and not doing as well as I thought.


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