By the time they have turned eighteen, most Americans will have moved at least twice. Most thirty-year-olds will have moved six times. By the end of our lives, most of us will have pushed that number up to eleven. This highly mobile way of life is mirrored in our career habits as well. The average American worker holds ten different jobs before the age of forty, and this job transience is only expected to increase in the years ahead. Add to these the slew of major life changes such as college or vocational training, marriage, and having children, and it becomes clear how many different phases our lives actually have. For all of us there is only one thing that remains the same—the fact that nothing does.
All these major decisions, though different in nature, are the same in that they determine our future trajectory. There are no neutral choices here—no loitering on the threshold of destiny. Each of these moments will either help or hurt us, depending on how we handle the transition between one space and the next. And we’re talking about when things are normal.
The coronavirus pandemic of 2019 and 2020 turned the lives of millions of people around the world upside down. At one point, the unemployment rate in the US neared 15 percent. That is higher than the peak unemployment of the Great Recession, and the largest recorded unemployment in American history since the Great Depression. Couple this with the fact that there are tens of millions more who are wondering if COVID-19 will lay waste to their own careers, and it becomes clear that this crisis could produce more hinge moments than this country has seen in generations. It is difficult to overstate just how much is changing. Companies are rethinking how they do business.
Workers are looking for new places and ways to work. Families are postponing having children. Universities are rapidly coming to terms with what it means to be an institution with no students on campus. As a result of all of this, tens of millions of people in this country are undergoing major transitions, both voluntary and otherwise.
Most of the things that happen over the course of our lives can be readily characterized as “good” or “bad.” Winning an award, getting married, or enrolling in your dream school: good. Losing a loved one or getting the virus: bad. Periods of transition are different; even the best and most welcome transitions are still the results of change, and that is universally unsettling. This is what sets transitions apart from the other barriers and blessings in life. Typically, when the good and the bad come knocking at our door, we have roots and community to laugh or
cry with us. The problem with hinge moments is that they have to be managed in the disorienting space between communities, in the time between the uprooting of the old and the planting of the new.