Transition: a word which resonotes so well with me and many other thirty-somethings out there right now. If you are one of them, then please read on! Because, like me, you may have experienced a momentous shift in the last year or so.  Maybe you found yourself tired with the career you’d been building on since leaving college or university, or you just felt that all that you’d been working towards over the last decade didn’t seem to mean much anymore.

I know I’m not alone in this moment of transition. In fact, this year – 2012, the year which signifies for many of the world’s population ‘the Shift’ – I have come across dozens of people in exactly the same situation, having ditched their careers, their old aspirations, beliefs and assumptions, and entered the unknown. For some the reason for this has simply been a belief that there are better things out there than the current life they’re living. For others there wasn’t really a choice; they were so exhausted from what they were doing that they realised something had to change. Everything they’d put their energies into for the past decade or so of growth and self-development since leaving college or university meant nothing, because right now they had to deal with their current and unexpected feelings of fatigue and burnout.

Burnout, now there’s a word I know well. Here’s a definition, courtesy of an expert on this subject, C.L. Cooper, who lists five common elements of this phenomenon:

  1. Predominance of dysphoric symptoms e.g. mental/emotional exhaustion, fatigue and depression
  2. Emphasis more on mental and behavioural symptoms than physical ones
  3. Burnout symptoms are work-related
  4. Symptoms manifest themselves in ‘normal’ people with no history of mental health problems
  5. Decreased effectiveness and work performance occur because of negative attitudes and behaviours[1]

Sound familiar? You will read more about this on my blog. I’m still trying to work out whether ‘burnout’ is what lead me to quit my work in the humanitarian and human rights sector, which for the last ten years has taken me to Uganda, Kenya and Palestine, among other places. I was certainly one of those people who felt they had no choice but to stop what they were doing because ‘the doing’ was making me miserable.

One of the beautiful flowers to be found as you walk around the Sanctuary and along Had Thien, Koh Phangan.

I started this journey – of stopping what I was doing – in January this year, when I arrived in Thailand at the beautiful,peaceful and luxurious place called The Sanctuary on Had Thien on Koh Phangan. The transition may have started earlier, when I was in Palestine and realised I hated my job – working for a prisoner’s rights group in Ramallah – and found myself staring aimlessly at the job pages on Reliefweb and similar sites aimed at the humanitarian and development sector.

Since January, I have had to face several realities. One, that I no longer have the passion and energy for a profession which I’ve spent the last ten years fully committed to. Two, that actually, to the contrary, I find engaging in human rights and humanitarian concerns leaves me tired, emotional, unsure of myself, guilty. Three, and here’s the big one – that I can’t live like this anymore. And ‘like this’ means a whole host of at times exhilarating, at other times disappointing, life experiences which make up my history and will be referred to later in this blog.

What does this mean? For me this has meant packing my bags and saying a very emotional fairwell to all those I loved in Palestine. It has meant accepting a period of unemployment, which has so far lasted for 6 months. And that period of unemployment has meant accepting that I can’t afford to live anywhere other than back at my parents’ home. Yes, that’s right, a return to parent dependency after all these years. I know I’m not alone. And luckily my parents understand this too – that they’re not alone in seeing their thirty-something offspring return to the nest. Finding a job in this current economic climate was never going to be easy, and it’s made ten times harder by not actually being sure of what I want to do anymore. It is in fact quite frightening to be in transition without knowing what the next definitive step should be.

But this is an unusual year for many of us. I made the decision in January that it would be a year of growth and acceptance. In other words, it’s not going to be easy, and so far it hasn’t been; with days of pure despair, loneliness and fear. However, there are always glimmers of hope that shine through. This is a journey, and one which I am not alone in travelling. I know I’m not the only one experiencing a time of huge change and upheaval. How are you getting through it?

This blog is all about sharing experiences – whether it be a day of rage, a day of reflection, or a day of yoga – I want to know how we get through a time of flux and uncertainty, and why we’re there in the first place.

[1] C.L. Cooper, Theories of Organisational Stress, Oxford University Press 1998