It is almost a cliché to talk about being in transition, particularly when one is a coach. Coaching people "in transition" is something that almost every new coach will mention as a prospective niche, and quite rightly, since transition is a time when it is particularly important to have an objective and encouraging sounding board as one casts off from one aspect of life and seeks to enter a safe port in another aspect of that life.

In reality, if we are growing and not stagnating we are always in a state of transition of some kind. What people usually mean when speaking of being "in transition" is that there is, or is about to be, or has just been, a major change in the externals of their life. Looking for a new job? You are in transition. Moving? You are in transition. Starting or ending a relationship? You are in transition. Wondering about the meaning of your life and what needs to change in order for you to stop feeling "Is that all there is?" – then you are most certainly in transition.

With many transitions, though, it is easy to think that the transition involves just the externals. Moving? Okay, get the belongings packed and unpacked, find the new grocery store, the new doctor, get to know your neighbors, become familiar with your new job, transition over. That is possible. Quite honestly, I suspect it is unlikely.

Most transitions result in changes internally as well as externally. When we move, we learn about points of view and traditions that are different from those to which we are accustomed. When we get a new job, perhaps we are doing something similar to what we have done in the past, yet it is in a different context, we are working with different personalities and in a different political situation. In order to contend with all this we will change. We MUST change. The question is, do we change carefully and with thought, or do we allow ourselves to be changed mindlessly as we struggle to adapt to our new situation? Given that all of us are more susceptible to being influenced by people and situations around us than we like to think, this is an important point for awareness. Do not put yourself into an environment and believe that you will not be influenced by it. (I remember when I came to the US as an emigrant we firmly told ourselves that we would earn at the US level, but live at the no-frills level in which we had been raised, so as to save money fast. How long do you think THAT lasted?!)

However, there is another form of transition that results in transformation, and this is something of a major nature, such as a near death experience, the death of someone very close to you, or a powerful event (such as, for many people, 9/11) that causes us, consciously or unconsciously, to realign ourselves, internally. Sometimes the changes that result from such events are life-changing, but they are often very slow, and not apparent externally until they are complete. This reminds me of the slow metamorphosis of the caterpillar into butterfly during the time that it is hidden, and apparently static, in his cocoon. Hidden yes. Static, absolutely not!

The expression "cocooning," used about people, is not new – it was first used in the early 1980s, seemed to reach its zenith around 2003, and has since faded. However, increased awareness of the threat of terrorism and of epidemics like Ebola has discouraged many of us from exploring new horizons. Indeed, as I write this it seems that the word "cocooning," which was used to describe people's tendency to want to spend more time at home and with family, has now been extended to describe any situation in which one decides to stay put out of fear of a threatening environment. For example, three that I found on the web:

"The need to protect oneself from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world."

"Withdrawing to home."

It has even moved into the field of career advice, as in a column describing cocooning as, "Hunkering down in a job you don't like because you're paralyzed by the pink slips you see flying above your head."

However, those who use the word 'cocoon' to describe a situation where people stay at home and generally cease activity, or cease to grow, are clearly not biologists. Inside a real cocoon is occurring one of the most radical forms of change known. One day there is a caterpillar, a crawling creature whose only purpose is to eat, eat, eat and grow larger. Often considered ugly, though some are exquisitely marked, its only purpose is to hurry from leafy food source to leafy food source until the day when it starts to spin its cocoon around it. Fast forward to the time the cocoon opens, and you have a fragile butterfly that perceives leaves only as something on which to perch and to lay eggs, that eats only nectar if at all, that flies, and that is often seen as the epitome of beauty. So what happened in that static, boring looking cocoon? Radical change! It is not just a matter of adding wings and legs, but in fact the very tissues of the caterpillar have been completely reorganized.

Complete, radical, internal change!

No, this is not a biology lesson. It is the basis for an analogy. In the world of self-development and the search for personal growth it is too easy to feel that if no immediate results are seen, there must be something wrong. Growth-seekers can become immensely discouraged if they do not see themselves making progress. Coaches in training are sometimes encouraged to "fire" a client who is not moving forward. Sometimes it is true that apparent inactivity indicates a lack of motivation, a need for a change of some kind. Sometimes those of us who retreat, perhaps fearfully, to a "safe" environment need to realize that paralysis will not help us to feel better for very long. However, sometimes, as with the caterpillar's pupa, the apparent inactivity is simply a holding pattern that needs to be maintained because of the radical nature of the reorganization that is going on within. We cannot hurry the butterfly's transformation. If you try, it may end up with the transformation somehow damaged, perhaps unable to fly. Sometimes, when internal change is occurring as a result of external change, we cannot hurry that either. This is not an excuse to retire from the world for ever. It is a reason to be patient with ourselves, and with those near to use, even if we are impatient for the butterfly to emerge.

Be patient!

When one's world has suddenly changed the internal changes may not be apparent. All our attention is upon the externals that are suddenly different. Yet, eventually, perhaps after as long as a year… or more… we may open our eyes and realize that we are seeing our world from a new perspective. Where once we were content to crawl, and consume, and consume, and grow larger, now we may find that we are transformed. We can fly.

It's worth the wait!

Author's Bio: 

Diana Gardner Robinson, PhD., The Balanced Coach, has been coaching since 1997. She specializes in working with people who are looking for balance in their lives, either long- or short-term, and has worked with clients across the world.

Diana says, “If you are working on enjoying life better by balancing it more smoothly, I’d love to talk with you. Please contact me at

She welcome visitors to her website at, and can be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter (@choicecoach