Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Getting over the transition jitters

I had been teaching since Christ was a corporal. That’s a long time. In retrospect, one of the most appealing aspects of teaching was mentoring kids according to the parameters of the animated character Buzz Lightyear: “To infinity and beyond!”

At this time of year, students are pretty doggone apprehensive about making the transition to the next level of education. Sixth graders are freaked out about junior high, eighth graders are going nuts about high school, and seniors are stressing over college. Yikes!

I often distributed laminated placards to my students who were moving up to attend a university. It was titled, “Everything I need to know in life I learned in Dr. Joe’s class.” Oh yeah, call me hubris. The placard was filled with quotes and perspectives from writers, philosophers and other notable and not-so-notable individuals.

“How do I get over the heebie-jeebies of transferring?” they’d ask. I would stick my hand into a grab bag of poems, witticisms, quotes, books, movies and thoughts and try to say something prophetic. There’s nothing better than the classics to save a wondering soul.

It’s normal to be nervous about moving on. So if you think there’s a Band-aid solution, there ain’t. What’s more important is dealing with and understanding your fears so when you get to the next level you won’t be looking over your shoulder, waiting for the hammer to fall. It never ceases to amaze me how fear of the unknown inhibits the potential within us.

Why is there so much anxiety relative to graduating and moving on? If you ask me, it boils down to fear. Apprehension causes hesitation and the culprit that leads to paralysis is the fear of failure. Fear is a reality. However fear is created within yourself. Fear evolves from our lack of control over the next step in life. It’s leaving your comfort zone.

Nietzsche tells us, “Success is found in the wilderness whereby we leave our world and venture into the unknown.” There are always dragons that we have to fight along the way. But you have to graduate and leave to do that. How we handle fear is the question. Nothing is impossible to a valiant life, but you have to overcome fear to reach your potential.

I dealt with the monster known as fear in the jungles of Southeast Asia. What helped me was an acknowledgment that this fear was mine. Once I owned it I could control it. Fear inhibits our ability to choose freely. What happens is that your body's reflexes, not the needs of your mind, choose for you. Often you choose nothing so that none of the things you fear will evolve. So your choices are not made by you, but by your fears.

Now is not the time to make hard and fast decisions relative to life. Instead, it’s time to make mistakes. But if you fear failure, you’ll take the safe road. Take the wrong class. Fall in love. Major in philosophy because there's no way to make a career out of that. Change your mind. Then change it again. Make as many mistakes as you can. Maybe you’ll understand that life is a journey and not a destination. Subsequently you won’t be so darn driven to seek success for the sake of more success. Instead, you might experience the exhilaration of learning and experience the world not for the sake of personal accomplishment.

Years ago I found a prophetic quote in a remarkable book, “Daughter of the Boldest Star,” written by Hannah Bryan. “When you go on your journey you will come to a chasm in the road. Jump!”

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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