Life transitions and personal resilience

Simon Jebreel

Every so often at The Shaftesbury Partnership, we step back from all the ventures we work on and realise there is a strong unifying theme, something implicit in the challenges we are trying to solve that becomes all the more powerful when we can make it explicit and tackle it head on.

Our big twin themes at the moment are those of life transitions and personal resilience. We did a lot of research on these when Big Lottery Fund Scotland asked us to look at how they can better support innovative and scalable ventures through their Life Transitions fund. The transitions we were looking at here were those from mental health and substance abuse problems into the criminal justice system and homelessness. We found that the key to breaking this transition was to build what the Centre for Welfare Reform calls an individual’s “Real Wealth”. At the core of this is personal resilience, and the four other elements are strong relationships, belonging to a community, using one’s strengths, and having control over your life.

Less extreme and acute life transitions can also be painful. Our National Retirement Service (NRS) venture seeks to build resilience in the 50+ cohort as they navigate the complex set of transitions that accompany retirement – transitions that may disrupt an individual’s relationships, attachments to particular communities, opportunities to use their strengths, and may leave them feeling a loss of control.

However, to misquote Henry Ford, opportunities are often disguised as difficulties. One interesting aspect of many life transitions is that they often open up a new set of options and possibilities. Perversely, as Barry Schwartz brilliantly describes in The Paradox of Choice, this increase in options can be hugely stressful and destabilising, and can lead to feeling a loss of control. But by building an individual’s relationships, community, and strengths, transition programmes can provide scaffolding that can make these choices empowering rather than destabilising.

My own personal experience of this came through Teach First. Though this is not usually seen as a transition programme, the impact it has on graduates (such as me in 2003) is to smooth their transition into the world of work. It does this by building their strengths and resilience as part of a strong community of participants, while giving some practical support to navigate future career choices.

The Shaftesbury Partnership successfully launched a transition programme in The Challenge Network, which is very focussed on strengths, relationships, and community, to build resilience through the post-GCSE transition. As discussed in an earlier blog, we are seeking to combine some of the same ingredients in NRS; with stronger relationships, and the opportunity to use their strengths as part of a community, we believe that people at retirement will be able to take control of the choices they have in order to live fulfilled, happy, and healthy lives in what Jane Fonda calls ‘Life’s Third Act’.

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