If your transition stems from a negative incident such as a breakup/divorce, lay off, or scholastic probation, all of which feel very similar, then you might start by describing “The mess I am in.” If, on the other hand, your transition is from a neutral or positive experience such as thinking though the next steps toward imminent retirement or leaving a soul-sucking job to start your dream business, then call it, “My fork in the road.”
Either way, tremendous clarity comes from writing down the situation at hand. As an example, a client, Lois, was thinking divorce. (Note on names: my militant attitude regarding strict confidentiality allows me never to use a person’s real name, opting instead for the names of famous fictional characters.) Her hubby, once a promising super hero had become passive and lazy. She tried all the standard counseling, yelling, and crying, but nothing changed. Lois lost respect for Clark, decided to leave him, and called me.
Lois! So good to hear from you. Are you at home? How’s Clark?
I’m home. Clark is useless. He’s out back, doing nothing. Again.
OK. How may I assist you?
I’ve been so depressed. Everything sucks. My marriage is over. I should’ve known this would happen.
Lois, I can understand how it would feel that way. Let’s move forward. Let me ask again, where are you?
I told you, I’m at home.
You know what I mean.
I do. Sorry. I can’t think. I guess I’m in a mess. I’m stuck in a terrible relationship, depressed because nothing is working to make it better. I’ve tried for two years, Jack. Counseling, therapy, yelling, begging, nothing works. Clark is just not the super guy I thought he was. I cannot see myself being his mommie, pushing him to do everything for the next forty years. It’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.
Let’s identify immediate positive and negative circumstances. Start with the negative.
My marriage sucks. Clark breaks his promises to get his work done; then he lies about it. And when I call him out, he says he lacks motivation. I don’t trust him or respect him anymore. I’m depressed, tired of my going-nowhere job. This town is full of [bad word], criminals, and dead-end jobs. I don’t have any real friends. I don’t have any money. My apartment lease isn’t up for 8 months. Nothing is working out and I don’t know what to do. I’m trying not to cry, which I do a lot of these days and it really [bad word] me off.
My family cares. I think my parents will help me. Clark is such a [bad word], I don’t think he will contest it. I do like my job even though it doesn’t pay very well. I don’t know, really, not much is positive. I just want to be somewhere else doing something good for a change.
I hear you saying that you have a strong will to make a better life for yourself. You’ve tried everything reasonable with Clark and he is neither communicating nor working as he promised. Your family supports your decision.
I don’t know. They’re pretty religious. But, yes, close enough.
What are five choices you have?
I can call my parents. I can just move out. I can make him move out.
May I interrupt you?
Five choices you have that you control. You cannot control what he does.
I can call my parents. I can move. I can (long pause) go back to school? I could get a better job, maybe. I can stay with some friends. Is that five?
[Bad word]. I can (very long pause) run away and join the circus. [Bad word], Jack, I don’t know. I’m stuck. If I knew what to do, I wouldn’t need you!
True. Let’s assume you do know what to do, and that the circus isn’t hiring. Of the four that remain, let’s think about the next step. In the broad sense, where do you want to be?
The reader may understand by now that where are you, and where do you want to be are important questions for people seeking something better.