4. Three Types of Test
- Letting Go (endings)
- Discovery & Mastery (beginnings)
- Dealing with Being Between Endings and Beginnings (“Inbetweenity”)
These three types of test will be encountered in every significant change. They happen when you let go of childhood to discover how to become a young adult. They happen whenever you embark on any situational journey as a teenager. They also happen as an adult, for example when you get married or start a family or retire. They happen if you get a big promotion or if you fail at something significant. They happen in every corporate or community change.
These types of test are always going on at the same time. It will take time to let go of childhood and it won’t happen in a nice neat packaged way. It will definitely take a long time to build the competencies required to be a young adult. AND—as a teenager—you will experience “inbetweenity” quite a bit.
The following examples will give you an idea of how these three tests look in action.
Example #1 – Changing relationship with parents (part of the developmental journey of being a teenager)
How the Journey Begins: You and your parents are thrown into the journey simply by your becoming a teenager
The relationship you had with your parents when you were a child will have to end and you and your parents will have to figure out what a new healthy parent-young adult relationship will be. Most parents and teenagers spend a lot of time in relationship “inbetweenity” before the new relationship is discovered and developed. That time is usually one of those emotional roller-coasters.
On the journey you will need to let go of your identity as a child, including a life with few responsibilities, a life where you are being taken care of, and a life where others make lots of decisions for you. Despite the natural desire to move away from childhood, these endings are much tougher than they seem. The gravity of childhood will pull you back at the same time that the increasing gravity of young adulthood will be pulling you forward.
Your parents will need to let go of their image of you as a child and they will have to let go of many of their parenting behaviors. One of the hardest things for them to let go of is the way that they have protected you when you were a child.
A new young adult/parent relationship develops as your identity as a young adult develops and you take on more and more responsibility. You and your parents will need to master new ways of increasingly shared decision-making as well as the ability to negotiate with each other. Your parents will need to keep looking at you with fresh eyes every six months in order to really see the development and feel more confident in who they are trusting.
The old parent/child relationship with complementary behaviors will be no more, but the new parent/young adult relationship will still be evolving for a long time. You are changing and the parent/child relationship is not going to work, but a new relationship with complementary behaviors has not yet emerged. Parents may be holding on and/or you may be resisting taking on young adult responsibilities. It’s usually a combination. And it takes time. Your parents are going to keep discovering a new you as you mature and have to change their parenting to fit. You have to keep becoming more responsible and demonstrating mature decision-making in order for your parents to let go. There will be lots of negotiating and experimenting because there is no formula for this.
Your parents are trying to parent a moving target. You’re trying to be more responsible while trying out some risky behaviors with friends and trying to fit in. It’s “inbetweenity” for you and your parents—so expect that
Example #2: Moving to a new school (a situational journey)
How the Journey Begins: You are usually thrown into this type of journey.
The author challenge is how to not be victimized by the move and become the author of your life in a new school or city/town. This can be a really tough challenge.
You will have to let go of old friends, feeling “at home” with familiar surroundings, knowing how things work—getting around, stores, how your old school worked, old jobs or volunteer assignments, neighbors, and your identity in your neighborhood/school.
You will need to develop new relationships, figure out how to get around, understand the culture and norms of your new school, and figure out where you fit in your new neighborhood and school. You will also need to figure out what your new teachers expect. You may also need to help siblings or even a parent who might be having a hard time with the move.
There is usually lots of “inbetweenity” in this kind of a move and it’s hard to tell how long it will last. You will be between relationships, although you can often maintain some of your old relationships—this time from a distance. To some degree you will naturally be disoriented, unconnected, and struggling with an emerging identity and sense of place. You will probably experience a mix of feeling anxious and excited, confident and intimidated, belonging or not yet fitting it, etc.
Example #3: Recovering from addiction (a situational journey)
How the Journey Begins: You could be heeding a call (from within yourself or from someone else). It could also be that you blundered in by getting busted by school personnel or the police.
This is a really tough journey and one that almost always requires a good support network (it can start small, but needs to grow). Part of what is so tough about this kind of journey is that the tests are physical, emotional, intellectual and social—and may be spiritual.
There are a lot of endings that happen on this kind of journey. You will have to end relationships with people you have associated with in the use of drugs or alcohol (for the most part). You will also be changing daily patterns and habits, which is hard to do because they have been built into your “dailyness.” You will have to let go of part of your identity, although certainly not all nor the most important parts. You will also be letting go of your ability to self-medicate to deal with the world.
Sometimes this part of the journey is surprisingly easy, but usually it is pretty tough because there are so many competencies and ways of being in the world that have to be developed or found again. There will be new relationships to develop and there can be a lot of these—from peers and parents to teachers, coaches, neighbors, siblings, etc. There will also be new habits to form, new daily patterns to adopt, and there will probably be new class behaviors and study habits to form.
Of particular importance will the ability to develop a support network. That includes the willingness to open up to help and reach out for help.
There will be lots of pulls in different directions. Along with the normal tension between the gravity of childhood and the gravity of young adulthood, there will be the pull back toward addiction vs. the pull toward an addiction free life. Old habits hang on before new ones are established. New relationships can be hard to form and you can be left feeling alone. School performance can be tough because of catching up and simply “being out of shape” for school. Old associates (they probably weren’t really friends) will pull you back as will dealers.
Example #4: Changing Friends or Girl/Boyfriends (both developmental and situational
How the Journey Begins: This journey can begin in a number of ways. You could be heeding a call to get out of a relationship or start one (a call from within yourself or from outside). Someone else ending a relationship with you could throw you in. You could even unintentionally blunder in by behaving in ways that screw up a relationship.
For most teenagers, there will be a lot of peer relationship endings, beginnings and “inbetweenity” as everyone is changing and experimenting and developing new social skills. Some teenagers have a few close friends throughout the teenage years, but most experience the turbulence of many changes.
This is a different level of relationship from childhood relationships—deeper, more complex and more difficult. Adding to the challenge is the number of relationships that can be changing and the difficulty of experiencing being out of relationship with others.
With teenage peer relationships there are often a lot of endings. Some teenagers have a stable set of relationships, but most do not. Even for those that do, the relationships only continue if they are changing to meet the changing needs of those involved.
Letting go of relationships that are no longer good for you can be one of the toughest tests, but one of the most important. On the other hand, losing relationships that are important can be one of the most difficult tests you will encounter.
There are a lot of social skills to master in achieving the ability to develop and maintain the more mature relationships of the teen years. Fortunately, they are the same social skills required throughout life, so once again it’s like getting thrown into the deep end of the pool to learn how to swim—but useful ever after.
A major problem for teenagers, particularly boys, is the lack of opportunities to get support in developing these skills, for example:
- Conflict resolution
- Empathy and attending to others
- Communications (speaking and listening)
- Belief in self and value in a relationship
The adult world does not do a good job in helping teenagers develop these abilities.
Experiencing “inbetweenity” in terms of relationships is one of the toughest experiences of the teen years. Just as relationships are becoming more important, they are becoming more difficult—with inadequate support for mastering them.
“Inbetweenity” will happen. There is no way around it with relationships. The key is to remember that this experience is normal and doesn’t mean you are failing as a relationship partner. Some of the normal experiences are:
- Feeling alone
- Feeling rejected
- Questioning your worth or desirability as a friend or girl/boyfriend
- Feeling on the outside or the periphery of a group
- Feeling disconnected
- Wondering if you have a place – if you belong
- Confused about what to do
- Confused about why others are acting the way they are
On the other hand, there will be some good experiences also (you never know what the balance of good and bad experiences will be or how hat balance will change):
- Discovering the joys of a deeper relationship with someone
- Discovering your value as a friend
- Finding that you can lose a relationship(s) without losing yourself
- Finding new relationships
More on Heroic Test #1—Letting Go—Dealing With Endings
With these endings there will be some degree of loss, sometimes a big loss and sometimes not so big. Sometimes the loss happens all at once and sometimes it happens slowly over time. If we use relationships as an example the differences are clear. You will probably have some relationships where you and your friend just drift apart as your lives take you different directions. On the other hand, the break-up with a close friend or a girl/boyfriend can be intense and happen from one day to the next. Your changing relationship with your parents will probably have elements of slow evolution and some elements of abrupt change. Your changing identity will have a lot of those evolutionary endings and a few more noticeable endings.
Some endings can be wrenching with a lot of struggle and can be really painful. Other endings might be just a matter of gently letting go.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. This is a person who studied how people reacted to loss, particularly in regard to death and dying. She proposed that people go through five stages in coming to accept a major loss. Her work is useful in understanding that letting go is a process and it has stages that can each have an important function. These are important stages for people to go through in adult life, corporate change or community change.
K-R Characteristics & Why Each Stage is Valuable
“Nope, not happening—no loss or ending here—no problem—no grieving necessary.” As annoying as denial can be it really has a function. It allows people to get over a shock or prepare themselves to deal with the ending. There may also be so much going on in their lives that they just need to focus elsewhere.
As people come out of denial they often get angry. Anger can be scary, but at least people are emerging from denial and are available to engage with. Anger is sometimes people’s way to exercise power in the face of a loss they are powerless to prevent. Anger is problematic when it is too extreme or goes on for too long.
This is the next stage and the teenage years are full of bargaining—with each other, with parents, with teachers. It’s particularly common with parents as the parent-child relationship ends and everyone searches for the new healthy relationship. The classic scenario is a teenager wanting freedom and independence, but also wanting their laundry done, transport on demand, money available, no chores and favorite foods available without having to ask for them—let alone go get them. The good news is that bargaining is a way for people to be connected and to figure out what they can create to follow what has ended.
Some depression can happen when it becomes clear that there really is an ending or loss and bargaining isn’t going to prevent it. This feeling can range from sadness to full depression depending on the person and the loss (or losses). It’s a natural response to endings and is only problematic when it is too intense of lasts for too long.
Acceptance can happen because something comes along to take the place of what ended or because a person has simply come to terms with the loss and is ready to move on. Acceptance can range from a tremendous sense of relief and freedom to a quieter very subtle move away from the sadness or depression. At this point a person is ready and open to something new.
Note. People don’t always follow every stage. Sometimes you jump ahead and sometimes you even repeat a stage. This model is very useful, but it can play out in very different ways. The same person will experience different endings in their life in different ways.
More on Heroic Test #2—Discovery and Mastery
Being a teenager means a lot of experimenting, discovery and eventually mastery. The problem is threefold. First, there are a lot of competencies to discover and master, ranging from self-management and social skills to a wide range of scholastic competencies. Second, the mastery process is not an easy one and requires a lot of perseverance. Third, the world most teenagers inhabit is not well designed to support mastery in many of the competency areas.
Support for self-management and social skills is rarely built into schools and it’s hard for parents to fill the gap given the changes happening in the teen-parent relationship. Schools also vary dramatically in their ability to support scholastic mastery. Community organizations, camps, online programs, volunteer placements and some other opportunities can make a major difference, but those opportunities also vary dramatically for different teens. So, this is a very tough type of test for most teenagers.
“Learning to Love the Plateau”
The biggest danger in pursuing mastery is getting discouraged. There are always times on the heroic journey when discouragement, sometimes even hopelessness, intrudes and that can sidetrack or end a journey if we aren’t ready. The keys are (1) to realize that mastery has a rhythm to it and (2) we have to “learn to love the plateau” and trust our practice.
The rhythm of mastery includes times when our competency seems to be developing rapidly and it gets exciting as we make leaps. The practice obviously pays off. The natural rhythm of mastery also includes times when improvement just doesn’t seem to be happening—even when we practice as hard as ever. That’s the plateau and that’s where it is very easy to get discouraged, cut back on the practice and maybe even give up.
Think about your experience on mastery plateaus when trying to learn a sport, dance, foreign language or math for example. You’ll know you’re being tested by a mastery plateau when you here yourself saying (or thinking): “What’s the point? It’s not worth it. I’ll never get it. I don’t know what’s wrong or what to do. I’m just not good at this, etc.”
It is on those plateaus where we basically have to trust in the process and in our practice and keep going even without the encouragement that obvious improvement provides. If we do, we almost always come to the next period of leaps in competency—and probably won’t be able to see it coming.
This plateau pattern is a natural part of the heroic journey, so expect it and don’t be discouraged by it. The key quality to bring to this challenge is perseverance. Perseverance can be defined as: “Not giving up—steadfastness or continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure or opposition.” This is a critical strength to develop as a teenager, partly because it is naturally required and you can’t rely on others to back you up or do things for you as you did when you were a child. It’s also critical because it will be a major determining factor in your success as an adult.
If you talk to adults about mastery, most will have stories about when they persevered and succeeded and stories about when they gave up on the plateaus. The perseverance stories will come with a sense of satisfaction and pride. The stories about times when they didn’t persevere will come with a sense of regret. We all have both stories.
More on Heroic Test #3 - Being Between Endings and Beginnings—“Inbetweenity”
During the teenage years, this experience of “inbetweenity” is a lurking companion. Sometimes it is a strong feeling and sometimes it is just there in the background. With all the change going on in the corporate world, this is also a frequent experience of adults. It just comes with the territory.
The “Pulled in Different Directions” section is a pretty good description of what can be called the dynamic tensions that characterize “inbetweenity.” The concept of dynamic tensions simply means that you will be pulled different directions and there won’t be a complete resolution.
For example, one characteristic of “inbetweenity” is the dynamic tension between feeling connected and feeling disconnected. Sometimes we might feel pretty connected to family and peers and organizations and our sense of identity. Other times we might feel disconnected. Or we might feel connected to peers and not family. The point is that there will always be a number of dynamic tensions experienced during “inbetweenity.”
Pulled in Different Directions—“Dynamic Tensions”
In the midst of the journey you can expect to get pulled in different directions and often feel like you’re rafting in whitewater, on an emotional rollercoaster or in a crazed game of bumper cars. You will feel connected and at times disconnected. You will sometimes feel confident and sometimes insecure. Your world will at times seem to come together and at other times seem to fall apart. Sometimes you will be ready to engage and other times want to withdraw.
This is the world of “inbetweenity.” Going through a journey of change includes learning how to deal with the forces that pull in different directions. They will be doing their pulling throughout the journey and sometimes you will get pulled one way and sometimes you will get pulled another way. Part of the challenge is there are a bunch of these dynamic tensions at work at the same time. Welcome to the journey.
Examples of Dynamic Tensions That Are Normally Experienced
Order vs. Disorder
The tension between order and disorder is part of the journey, part of change, part of the normal life process. It is also very uncomfortable. It can also feel like the tension between feeling oriented and disoriented. It’s always a challenge to make sense out of things when so much of your world is changing.
Place vs. Displacement
"I have a place" is a profoundly important statement or belief.
Not having a place—a place to be, a place to feel known or valued, leaves a person without reference, without a sense of belonging. And yet, that is exactly what must be experienced to some degree in cases of major change, in heroic journeys. Again it’s a question of degree and that will vary. Sometimes you will feel strongly that you have a place. Sometimes you will wonder and sometimes you might feel displaced.
Connection, Disconnection vs. Reconnection
Connection is about relationships. Disconnection is about the loss of relationships. Reconnection is about the mending of relationships.
The connection may be to other people or groups, to a geographic place, to ideas and values, to ways of doing things, etc.
The danger is not so much in losing forms of relationship, but in losing too much relationship for too long. There will be some loss of relationship in the journey just as there will be a loss of order, a loss of place, a loss of meaning, or a loss of orientation.
People and groups are most vulnerable when their connections are too few or too important. Too few connections means that fewer losses can be sustained and attaching too much importance to any one connection means that the loss of that one connection can be extremely threatening.
Courage vs. Lack Of Courage
Courage comes from Latin and French roots, meaning "heart". It is engaging in spite of fear, anxiety, doubt, or despair not their absence. It is in contrast to withdrawing or refusing to engage.
Heroes, however, do not leave known worlds, travel the "trail of tests", and reach completion without at times losing their courage. It just isn't human. This is one of the reasons why heroes do not go alone. Sometimes courage is recovered without help, but often it is the intervention or support or belief of others that enables an individual to rediscover his or her courage. At other times it is a matter of acting courageously even when the feelings of courage aren't present.
Hope/Belief vs. Doubt/Despair
Much of the time in periods of major change hope and belief exist together with doubt and despair.
The definitions of "doubt" are familiar to any who have experienced significant transitions or lived heroically; "a condition of uncertainty", "lack of conviction", "to waver or fluctuate in opinion or belief", "to be inclined to lack of belief.” Despair is even more troubling as it is simply a lack of hope.
In contrast "hope" is defined as "to wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment", "to have confidence, trust", "to look forward to with confidence or expectation.”
There will be times for almost everyone on the journey when doubt and despair seem to be winning. The key then is to remember that this is a dynamic tension and it will inevitably swing back the other way—particularly if you have some helpers, healers, mentors or companions to help it along.
Excitement & Anticipation vs. Fear & Anxiety
Excitement, anticipation, fear, and anxiety are all forms of energy, although the experience of them is certainly different. Excitement and anticipation often feel like forces that pull or push forward, while fear and anxiety often feel like forces that argue for stopping, going back, or changing direction.
Excitement and anticipation also tend to encourage contact and engagement while fear and anxiety reinforce the desire to withdraw or disengage. Sometimes fear and anxiety motivate engagement, but not usually with the intent of ongoing contact, more in the nature of an attack.
Although often used interchangeably, it is helpful to differentiate between fear and anxiety to help in managing them. Fear can be seen as having a more defined source or object ("I'm afraid of..."). The source(s) of anxiety is less specific and often hard to describe. It is more generalized and, therefore very often more difficult to manage.
It’s Usually a Mix of Thoughts/Feelings and it’s Always Changing
As a teenager it’s rare to feel a sense of complete order, to feel a secure sense of place, to feel widely and deeply connected, to feel courageous and to have a deep sense of hope and belief—all at the same time. It’s also unusual to feel a sense of complete disorder, to feel as if you have no “place” or connections, to be driven by anxiety or fear and to be consumed with doubts and fears—all at the same time.
Both of those extreme experiences can happen, but it’s usually a mix of those feelings and the mix can change frequently. The changeable mix is normal. It’s normal in all cases of significant change, so you will experience this “inbetweenity” as an adult as well as a teenager. It’s just part of the journey. Knowing that can make it easier to tolerate it as well as manage it.