Life’s Transitions: How To Handle Them Well

This year I was asked present the commencement address at a middle school in the Seattle area. I was quite honored. It is a tremendous opportunity to share a little of life’s hard-gained wisdom with young people (and at a moment when they’re listening well.) Graduation is a natural time to talk about handling life’s transitions.

Transitions have always been a challenge for me. I was happy in middle school. Part of me didn’t want to move on to high school. After all, I had good friends and was well known around campus. On one level, starting over again at high school seemed wasteful. . . an unnecessary duplication of effort. I would go on to have similarly wonderful experiences in high school and in college, but was equally challenged when making those transitions.

With time, I have come to understand life is a series of transitions. You never arrive at a place of stability and permanence.

Big TuesdayGrowing up in San Diego, I would watch the endless swells coming in on the Pacific Ocean. Surfers would catch a swell as it broke near the shore, ride it in, and then swim out to catch the next wave. What a beautiful metaphor for life. Transitions come at us like waves on the ocean. It’s a perfectly natural cycle to surf a wave for the short time it exists, then move on and enjoy the next wave. I used this idea as the basis for what I shared with the graduates. Here are my ideas for handling life’s transitions well (a transcript of the commencement address):

Something amazing is about to happen.

In just a few minutes, Mr. Erickson is going to step up to this microphone and is going to dismiss you from Northshore Christian Academy (NCA) for the very last time. And it’s going to be quite a moment. How do I know? Exactly one year ago I was sitting right about there watching it happen to my daughter and last year’s eighth grade class. It was quite a moment.

As Mr. Thornton said, I’m Rob Cizek. I’m the executive pastor here at Northshore. I’m the behind-the-scenes guy who works with the school, the church, the buildings, the budget and the staff.

I’m also a Northshore dad. My son and daughter both graduated from NCA. As a matter of fact, this year has been the first where I haven’t had a student at the Academy. I know what you’ve experienced here through the eyes of my kids… from uniforms and weekly chapel… to athletics and walk-a-thons… to Mr. Erickson’s curious obsession with birds. Yeah, we all know about that, don’t we?

For many of you, leaving middle school and moving on to high school is the biggest transition of your life so far. You’re excited, nervous… and maybe a little sad about leaving behind the familiarity of this place and the friends you’ve had for a long time. Know that you are not alone. Every one of your fellow graduates feels pretty much the same way you do.
I would love to tell you that this transition will be your last, but of course I can’t do that. It won’t be. A few years from now you’ll be graduating from high school to college. Then from college to life. Then life will have plenty of transitions of its own.

Life’s a lot like a series of waves… you get past one transition, only to find there are several more on the way. So perhaps this is your greatest learning opportunity this year… to learn to transition well.

The first thing to know about life’s transitions is that they are normal. Your life may have been pretty steady these last several years at NCA. But in the future change will come more quickly. You’ll have only four years in high school, another four in college and probably fewer than that on your first couple of jobs. Adult life is a series of predictable and not-so-predictable transitions. It’s best not to fight them, but to welcome each transition as an exciting new chapter in life.

Look at transitions like a surfer looks at waves… catch a good wave when it comes by, work with it and get as much from it as you can… and then move on so you can catch the next wave.

stl 012Another way to navigate times of transition is to focus on what’s in front of you. . . out the windshield, not what’s behind you in the rear-view mirror. Did you enjoy the friends, teachers and experiences you had in middle school? Celebrate them. Get together in the coming days. Connect from time to time in the future. Let these people know how precious they are to you.

And then let them go.

Let them go.

You see life is a long journey. Very few people will be by your side the entire time. That’s okay. The precious years we have with our middle school, high school and college friends are supposed to be seasons… times to be savored. But when they’re over, they’re over. You are released to the next season of life. Celebrate what has been, stay connected in a healthy way, but don’t try to hang on too tightly to what’s in the rear-view mirror.

Here’s a thought. Right now, your high school best friend is out there and you probably don’t know them. They’re sitting at graduation, not knowing that they’re going to meet you freshman year. . . and you’re going to become best friends. Right now there are activities, experiences and life-long memories about to be made. I can’t say what exactly will happen to you in high school. But I can predict, with certainty, that if make the effort you have many wonderful experiences in front of you. . . just out your windshield.

While I made the transition to high school some time ago, there’s someone in our family who did it just this year. With some additional thoughts on how to transition well, here is my daughter and NCA 2012 graduate, Alex Cizek.

Thanks Dad. . . The first is getting involved. It’s the thing that separates the winners from the losers in high school. Find two or three things freshman year to be involved with. It can be sports, music, drama, DECA, academic clubs or leadership. For me, it was volleyball, color guard, choir, ASB and tennis. It doesn’t matter what you do, just that you do it. Your high school memories and friendships happen in the places you get involved in. It may seem scary at first, and I’m not going to lie, it can be a little intimidating but it is SO worth it. You just have to put yourself out there and get involved.

My second piece of advice is even more important. Transitions either draw us closer to God or they take us further away. High school is when you… you alone… decide whether you take Jesus seriously. Like me, most of you are going on to public school. You’re going to be outnumbered by people who don’t know God. Some will be hostile to Him and to you. Where you go with your faith in high school will have a major impact on the rest of your life. Is your faith your own… or is it just something to make your parents happy? This summer I encourage you to think about that. Commit to God… this time not as a kid, but as the young adult you are. Maintain that commitment every day. If you do, God will be there and see you through not just high school, but every transition in life.

Dad . . .

Lastly, I would like to leave you with a powerful tool. You can use this tool in any transition or anytime you want to go somewhere in life. It’s this thought:

Where I am today is a result of the decisions I made yesterday. Where I will be tomorrow depends on the decisions I make today.

Where I am today is a result of the decisions I made yesterday. Where I will be tomorrow depends on the decisions I make today.

I know this sounds pretty simple. . . but are getting the power here? You are not a victim of circumstance. If you really want to be somewhere next year, you can do things today that will get you there.

Going back to my daughter Alex’s story… She wanted to play volleyball for her high school team. She played here in middle school, but wasn’t sure she had the skills for high school. So last summer she attended volleyball camps. She practiced in the backyard. She went to summer practices at the high school.

When tryouts were over, she made the JV team… completely bypassing the freshman team. I say that not to brag on my daughter. . . but I was so proud that she took steps today that got her where she wanted to be tomorrow.

Another way to think about this… The things we do today put us on a path. More than anything else, it’s our direction determines our destination. Set your course in a good direction and your path will lead you to a good place.
NCA class of 2013 I wish you the best. I pray that I will see you transitioning well… that you’ll be looking forward through windshield, getting involved in your school, growing in faith, and making decisions today that will get you on the path to where you want to be tomorrow.

Two books helped inspire this speech and expand on the ideas presented here: The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley and Today Matters by John Maxwell. I highly recommend these books to anyone experiencing one of life’s transitions.

NEXT: Legacy Countdown – The Insidious App That Tracks Time Remaining With Your Kids


photos by: iansand & rockygirl05