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Book Review: Transitions - Making Sense of Life's Changes by William Bridges

Book Review: Transitions - Making Sense of Life's Changes by William Bridges

In a nutshell: All life transitions have a pattern, which if acknowledged will make tough times more comprehensible.

William Bridges started writing this book when he was going through a period of change and found there were no guides to help him. To his surprise, Transitions, published in 1980, found an immediate niche.

The beauty of the book is that it is not just a manual on ‘how to cope’, but it gets us to see that the process of disorganisation, death and renewal is fundamental to nature and a theme of mythology. This cycle is a natural state of affairs and admitting it to yourself will make the inevitable times of change in your life easier to deal with.

One of the interesting things about transition is the way it descends on us unexpectedly. Many women and couples have a hard time dealing with the loss of time and freedom that accompanies the arrival of a baby, for example, and before they can enjoy the marvel of the child, they have to deal with the ending of their old life.

One of the messages of Transition is that we can’t be the same person all our lives. When you are young you imagine that after you reach 30 life is stable. However this is rarely so, and if life seems too settled you either choose to make changes or have them forced on you.


It is universal practice in many cultures that when a human being is about to undergo an inner transition they are taken out of their normal daily life.

In our times of change we may feel this need for disengagement from our normal experience. This can be followed by a sense of ‘disidentification’, when we don’t know quite know who we are any more. The old motivations are gone. Another stage is ‘disenchantment’, the point when we realise that how we saw the world was not a very good reflection of reality. This can be the first stage of transition, but also the last, as it flattens the ground for a new beginning and a new way of seeing the world.

The neutral zone

This is the uncomfortable time after the shock of an ending. It could, however, be one of the most valuable times in your life when you discover there are other ways of being and doing.

New beginnings

Beginnings can often only be seen in retrospect—they don’t seem impressive at the time. We meet someone who ends up being our spouse at a party we didn’t want to go to or we open a book at a friend’s place that changes us forever. When we are ready to move on, opportunities will appear and it will be an exciting time. But be easy on yourself and maintain at least some form of continuity with your old life. Fresh with your insights from limbo time, don’t be too disheartened if things don’t move as quickly as you would like. Bridges recalls the Zen saying, ‘After enlightenment, the laundry.’


Bridges’ book eventually shows us that transition is not the end of everything but a cyclical process whose ultimate reward is a much clearer sense of direction.

William Bridges

Formerly a professor of English, Bridges shifted to
the field of transition management in the mid-1970s. He now works as a consultant and lecturer, developing transition strategies for large companies such as Intel, Apple, and Shell. Other books he
has written include the bestsellers Jobshift, Creating You & Co, and Managing Transitions. His most recent work, The Way of Transition, was written as a response to the death of his wife, Mondi. He lives in Mill Valley, California.

Extracted from 50 SELF-HELP CLASSICS: 50 Inspirational Books to Transform Your Life by Tom Butler-Bowdon, published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing in paperback at £12.99. To order your copy with free postage and packaging (UK only) phone 0207 239 0360 or email:

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