IDEA: Why life transitions can crush us

Have you ever heard of the W Curve of Adjustment? 

I hadn't either until a friend shared it with me not long ago. We were talking about how students cope with going to college at the time — and how that transition can make of break so many. He then showed me a graph that basically showed the up and down of any sort of change in life. 

It looks like this... 

Here's a breakdown. It all starts with a honeymoon highpoint. Then a low of culture shock. Then a moderate high of initial adjustment, followed by a traumatic low of mental isolation, followed by eventual acceptance. "Story of my life," I thought. (You can check out more on it here). 

It turns out everyone feels like this during major life transitions.

And as I began to dig into it more, it started to make sense of my own work (and, uh, life). I habitually am drawn to the part of mental isolation that we all experience. Why? Maybe because that's a place where I've spent a lot of my life. But also, I think, because it's where we fail the most. 

It's hard to pull ourselves out of isolation. Really hard, REALLY hard. But why? Here are a couple thoughts: 

1. We're afraid of asking for help
By the time we reach the point of isolation, we have essentially defined an image of ourselves that we present to the world. And so, depending on the mould we've made, we are fearful of deviating from that narrative to potentially contradict the image that's out there. 

2. We don't know we're isolated
We often aren't aware of just how alone we are because we live in a time where we can be "in touch" with hundreds of friends digitally without divulging anything that's really going on in our own lives. We connect with so many people so often that we are almost numb. We have lost touch of what true connection is, and because of that we can't understand what true isolation feels like. 

3. The stakes are high
As an old mentor of mine used to say about adversities in life, "There is no way out but through." And this is true of beating mental isolation and moving towards acceptance, per the W Curve. Getting out of a rut, reconnecting and thriving is scary business because it means we have to go deep. When we go deep and try to make real changes in our lives, we have to tackle old demons as a way to adopt new ideas and behaviours. That ain't for the faint of heart. 

If I think about my student program, What's Your Big Lie?, I realize that it works to tackle these three barriers directly. And when I mapped it out, it occurred to me that it can be a catalyst to break the ruts in students lives at two key parts of the year: Once the allure of back-to-school wears off and once the winter semester's pain sets in. 

And there we are. I am going to keep thinking about this. We are booking up a solid run of college and university dates in February and March of 2017 where we'll be testing this as well as understanding how we can break this cycle. 

Want to help us? Want us to come to your school? Got any ideas or comments? Send me an email

Let's do this!