When you hear the word, “graduation,” what comes to mind? You probably immediately think of an awkward looking cap and a much too spacious gown. You might even hear “Pomp and Circumstance,” the famous graduation song start to play on repeat in your head.

While these iconic images, clothes, and songs have been emblazoned in our minds, most of your graduations probably didn’t involve a cap and gown. A few of them did, but certainly not all of them.

When you were successfully potty trained, you graduated! Congratulations!

When you received your driver’s license, you could have played pomp and circumstance as you took the keys.

When you moved out of your parent’s house for the first time, you graduated. And, when you moved out of your parent’s house for the second time, that still counts too. The same could be said for getting married, having a kid, starting that first big job, or something else.

The 6 Stages of Graduation

A graduation is a celebratory moment for a big accomplishment. And so, whether you are donning the cap and gown this season, chances are you are either approaching a graduation or had one in the not too distant past. If you’re like me, you have probably experienced a variety of feelings throughout the graduation process. In fact, from the time a graduation date is set to the time after all the celebrating is done, I tend to go through a similar process. I like to call them the six stages of graduation.

Stage 1: The Excitement Stage

Ahh, the end is near. The wedding date has been set, or the graduation ceremony is on the calendar. Or, it seems like a transition is imminent – a job offer has been accepted. This is a fun time. We start to dream a lot about what could be.

Stage 2: The Frustration Stage

Not long after the high of the excitement stage, along comes a sad realization: the end is near…but not nearly soon enough. Which means, frustration! We start to lose interest in what is currently going on. Why can’t change come sooner?

Stage 3: The Panic Stage

At some pivotal moment, we move from frustration to panic. It could be six weeks before the big moment, or it could be six days (even six hours), but in an instance what seemed like an eternity away now seems just around the corner. The end is near… and there’s still a lot left to be done! Final grades are due and still a lot of assignments to turn in. The baby is coming, and the house is not nearly baby-proof enough.

Stage 4: The Relief Stage OR The Letdown Stage

The big moment is here! The music is playing, or the moving trucks are leaving, or the minister says, “I now pronounce you man and wife!” And, like any key moment, there are typically two outcomes: relief (if it matched our expectations) or letdown (if it didn’t go well or simply wasn’t as awesome or life-changing as we expected).

Stage 5: The Imbalance Stage

The music has stopped. The guests have left. The boxes are left in your house after the big move. You’re sitting at the desk of a new job. You have arrived… and, let’s face it, things are a bit awkward. You’re not exactly sure what to do now. In your more honest moments, you might even wish to go back to life as it was before the big transition.

Stage 6: The New Normal Stage

Thankfully, the imbalance stage doesn’t last forever. We evolve to our new normal – we develop rhythms and habits that fit in our changed environment. And, in a little while, we start the process again and look ahead to another “graduation” on the road ahead.

The process is much more valuable than any one moment.

If you find yourself in one of these stages right now, it can be tempting to focus only on the event, ceremony, or transitional moment itself. But, the depth of your character is not based on any degree or one moment; it is built each stage at a time where we react to excitement, frustration, panic, relief or letdown, and change. The process is much more valuable than any one moment.

A ceremony in and of itself doesn’t really change you. My marriage ceremony is where I made my vows; being married is what shaped me. Graduating college gave me a piece of paper; going to college shaped my character.

So, when the big moment arrives, celebrate big! But, keep going – there’s more graduating and developing to be done.

Whether you are donning the cap and gown this season, chances are you are either approaching a graduation or had one in the not too distant past.