Life Is in the Transitions

🐞 🐞 🐞 🐞


Bruce Feiler

Penguin Press

July 14, 2020

368 Pages


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Secrets of Happy Families and Council of Dads, a pioneering study of the disruptions upending contemporary life and a bold guide for how to navigate life’s growing number of transitions with more meaning, balance, and joy.

Bruce Feiler has long been writing about the stories that give our lives meaning. Recently he began to notice a new pattern: our old stories, with their predictable plot points along linear paths, no longer hold true. The idea that we’ll have one job, one relationship, one source of happiness is hopelessly outdated. Yet many people feel overwhelmed by this change. We’re concerned that our lives are not what we expected; that we’re living life out of order.
Galvanized by a personal crisis and family emergency, Feiler set out on what became an epic journey to harvest American stories and see what he could learn from them. He crisscrossed the country, collecting hundreds of life stories from a breathtaking range of Americans in all 50 states. He then sifted through and coded these stories, building a massive database of patterns and takeaways that can help all of us live better.
Life Is in the Transitions introduces the fresh, pressing vision of the nonlinear life, in which personal disruptions and lifequakes are becoming more plentiful, nontraditional life shapes are becoming the norm, and each of us has the opportunity to write our own story. Drawing on an extraordinary trove of insights, Feiler offers a powerful, new transition toolkit with original strategies for coping with the difficult, painful, or unsettling times of life. 


Some key things I learned from this book…

The three key ingredients of a well-balanced life according to the author are:

  1. Agency — freedom, creativity, mastery
  2. Belonging — relationships, community that nurtures you
  3. Cause — calling, direction, purpose

There are three parts of our narrative identity: who we are as individuals, who we are as part of a group, and what ideal we serve. Most of us prioritize one part of our identity over the others.

The author also talks about lifequakes. These are defined as forceful bursts of change that lead to a period of upheaval, transition, and renewal. We may not have control over when these lifequakes occur (though sometimes we do), but we do have control over if and how we transition and experience renewal. Basically, we have to make our own meaning out of the Poop Salads of Life. The crazy thing is that most adults will go through at least, like, eight lifequakes—which means we experience big change about every five years.

There are three stages of transitions: the long goodbye, the messy middle, and the new beginning. The author gives seven tools for navigating them.

  1. Accept it. Identify your emotions.
  2. Mark it. Ritualize the change.
  3. Shed it. Give up old mindsets.
  4. Create it. Try new things.
  5. Share it. Seek wisdom from others.
  6. Launch it. Unveil your new self.
  7. Tell it. Compose a fresh story.

The last point I found really insightful has to do with the “narrators” in our lives. We (and kids especially) rely on co-narrators. These are people who reflect at us the significance of our actions and help us find meaning in events that we are often too close to to see. There are five different types of narrators, and I’m sure you can think of at least one person in your life who fits into each category.

  1. Comforters — you can do it!
  2. Nudgers — maybe you should try it
  3. Slappers — get over yourself! (but I love you)
  4. Modelers — follow my lead
  5. Naysayers — you’ll never succeed

All in all, this was a fascinating book that held my interest start to finish and taught me some important info along the way. Definitely worth a read.

Thanks to Penguin and Net Galley for the ARC!

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