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This is such a simple thought, but I had not confronted it yet.

We all go through transition at some point — good transitions, and not so good transitions. Some we seek out, others are forced upon us. But whether it’s our own choice or not — there is pain. And, if you are like me — pain is to be avoided. So, we resist change and we avoid discomfort.

A Brazilian friend who has lived 16 years in Bosnia, and now time has come to say goodbye, pack up and leave. But, this process has been very painful. Even though she has rationally gone through all the steps and understands that it is necessary and also brings new challenges which she looks forward to, she has shared about the emotional upheaval that the whole process brings — and is bravely accepting that this is a natural part of the process to lean into and grow through. But it’s not easy.

As I listened to her voice message this morning, it dawned on me how she has accepted that this is a painful process with sadness and grieving, but that is okay because it won’t last. Seeing her brave up and lean into the discomfort was a challenge to me in my own phase of phase of transition. I have been avoiding the inevitable because it means pain — and I don’t want pain. So, not my rational and emotional sides need to battle out the whole scenario and create some momentum.

Let’s put this into an intercultural context, because my Brazilian friend’s transition is also all about cultural change. As a Brazilian living in the Balkans, there has been considerable cultural adaptation. She has become accepted as part of the community and people do not want her to leave. Such a successful adaptation to her host culture has brought rich growth and a satisfying life — but that means that transition hurts even more as she has to give that up.

Her next step is huge and exciting. Although she knows what the next step is, this doesn’t mean that there is no pain in transition … it may, but her grieving for her loss is also valid and acceptable and needs to be lived out … we don’t arrive in a new place and make a clean emotional break from the past. Moving forward can also mean feeling like you are moving away from what has been precious to you for such a long time.


In your own transitions, how have you handled the pain? Avoiding, denying and ignoring it? Or accepting it, leaning in and understanding that positive growth and learning can also be a painful process? In the end it’s worth it.

Do you have a business where you are employing people who are going through transition? Especially moving from another country to work with you? Or maybe you have to send an employee on an international assignment. What support do you offer them? Is there training? Is there coaching?

A few years ago I coached a friend through his 4-month international assignment to Oman. It kept him sane. However, his company had no idea what the process was like for him, and when he came home there was no follow up or debriefing. I offered to help him through the process. But the negligence of his bosses was very painful — however, it was from ignorance, not intention. The question is — how long can you afford to remain ignorant?

Read about the stages of cultural adaptation.

If you are going through transition, or transition is coming your way — Necessary Endings, by Henry Cloud is a great book to face some of the challenges of change.