Navigating Doctorate Transitions: A Deep Dive into Bruce Feiler’s “Life is in the Transitions”



Life is in the Transitions to help with doctoral studies

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Becoming a doctorate student is a life-altering experience, a transition that Bruce Feiler, in his seminal book “Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age” captures with eloquence and depth. This article is a book review and a guide for current and future doctorate students to navigate the seismic shifts that come with this significant life transition.


As a Doctorate of Strategic Leadership Candidate at Oral Roberts University, the notion of “transitions” strikes a chord deep within me. The leap from being a professional Military Officer to entering the realm of exhaustive research and academic scrutiny is daunting. Bruce Feiler’s book, “Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age,” became a great read and a handbook for handling the many transitions in a doctorate program.

Summary of “Life is in the Transitions”

In the hustle and chaos of life, Feiler reminds us that life is not a linear progression but a composition of ups and downs, pauses, and leaps.

Key Takeaways from the Book:

  1. The nonlinearity of Life: Feiler presents life as a complex web rather than a straight path, defying the traditional “life map.”
  2. Personal Disruptions: He argues that disruptions are not anomalies but constants that help us transform.
  3. Narrative Building: He asserts that constructing a narrative around our transitions helps us cope and adapt.
  4. Community and Transitions: The power of social support in affecting positive change during transitions is emphasized.

Applicability to a Doctorate Program

Transitions are the Norm, not the Exception

The realization that disruptions and transitions are constants has been empowering. In a doctorate program, you will face a host of new experiences:

  • Coursework: The initial stages can be grueling, given the high level of academic rigor. I’m in my first week of doctoral studies, and I can tell you that reading and online forum engagement are very time-consuming.
  • Research: The heart of a doctorate program often involves solitary, in-depth research. For much of my studies thus far, I am at a small desk (I do live in Germany, and everything is smaller) and have to schedule much of my research time when my kids are in bed; the importance here is that you build a study schedule and stick to it.
  • Dissertation Defense: This culminating experience can be nerve-wracking but also incredibly fulfilling.

Nonlinearity and Academic Planning

Feiler’s insight about the nonlinearity of life can be particularly useful in academic planning. Unlike undergraduate or even graduate programs, a doctorate is not straightforward. Academic hurdles, unforeseen research complications, and even life events may stall your progress. This nonlinear perspective offers solace; it’s okay if the path isn’t straightforward.

The Power of Narrative

Feiler stresses the importance of creating a narrative around our experiences. This narrative comes from one’s life story and builds our leadership development. I find this invaluable as someone journeying through a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership.

  • Contextual Understanding: Building a narrative helps contextualize academic failures and successes.
  • Motivation: A well-crafted narrative can act as a motivational tool. This can also build a shared understanding between you, your professors, and your fellow classmates.
  • Clarity: It helps clarify long-term objectives, aligning them with your academic and life goals.

Academic Adaptability

Being adaptable is crucial in any doctoral program.

Feiler’s Strategies for Adaptability:

  1. Acknowledge Change: The first step is acknowledging that a change is occurring. The many disruptors he mentions can quickly develop into “lifequakes,” which take an immense amount of time to transition out of.
  2. Seek Support: Don’t underestimate the power of academic advisors, friends, and family.
  3. Reassess and Plan: Take a step back to reassess your situation and plan accordingly.

These strategies are crucial for any doctorate student in the middle of academic uncertainty.

Resilience and Strategic Leadership

One cannot talk about a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership without mentioning resilience. Feiler’s book gives us a new lens to look at resilience—not just as an innate trait but as a learned skill.

The journey through a doctorate program equips us with the resilience required for strategic leadership. We learn to adapt, re-plan, and, most importantly, endure.


Bruce Feiler’s “Life is in the Transitions” is more than a book; it can be a lifesaver for a doctorate student. It teaches us to embrace transitions, adapt, and build resilience—all skills crucial for anyone undergoing the arduous journey of a doctoral program in Strategic Leadership or any other field.

It’s not just a recommended read; it’s essential. As someone actively navigating through these academic and life transitions, this book has been instrumental in my journey.

Transition, after all, is not just a phase but the essence of life itself.

If you’ve found this blog post helpful, consider sharing it with others at various transition points in their lives, academic or otherwise. It’s time we change the narrative around transitions to one of empowerment and growth. If you want to pick up Feiler’s book and read it yourself, please click here to get your copy!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the primary focus of Bruce Feiler’s book “Life is in the Transitions”?

The book explores the idea that life is not a linear journey but a series of transitions, offering tools and narratives to help navigate these life changes.

How is this book relevant to someone pursuing a doctorate program?

The article explores the various transitions in a doctorate program—such as the shift from coursework to research—and how the principles in Feiler’s book can be applied for a smoother experience.

I’m not in a leadership program; is this article still relevant?

While the author is pursuing a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership, the principles from Feiler’s book discussed in the article can be applied to any doctorate program or significant life transition.

Can you give an example of how to create a narrative during my doctorate journey?

Feiler suggests using narrative-building to frame your life experiences and transitions. You could start by recounting your academic journey, your challenges, and how each phase has contributed to your current goals.

What are some of Feiler’s strategies for adaptability?

Feiler outlines a three-step approach: Acknowledging the change, seeking support from your community, and reassessing your situation to make new plans.

What is the link between resilience and a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership?

Feiler’s book views resilience as an innate trait and a skill that can be learned. This blog post argues that the journey through a doctorate program inherently teaches us the resilience necessary for effective strategic leadership.

How can I apply the concept of ‘nonlinearity’ to my academic planning?

Understanding that a doctoral journey is not a linear path can help you be more forgiving of setbacks and more flexible in your approach, ultimately making you more resilient.

Is this book only relevant for academic transitions?

No, “Life is in the Transitions” applies to any significant life change, whether that’s in your personal life, career, or academic journey.

Is the book suitable for someone who is not currently experiencing a transition?

Absolutely, the wisdom in Feiler’s book can provide proactive strategies for managing future life changes, making it a valuable read at any life stage.

About the author

One response to “Navigating Doctorate Transitions: A Deep Dive into Bruce Feiler’s “Life is in the Transitions””

  1. […] Book Reviews: As part of this journey, I realize I will be engrossed in reading books and scholarly articles. I will write a review of books I have thoroughly enjoyed, but those reviews will also encompass how I’m using that information to become a better doctoral student. You can read my first book review here. […]

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