Your Career and Grief

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Your Career and Grief

Our local paper recently ran an article about 100s of layoffs at a large company in our area. This isn’t the first time they have made this type of announcement. Employees have lived on pins and needles for years with lay-off threats. I can’t even imagine how it has affected them. Like a cloud hanging constantly over their head. So the question is, if you lose your job or longtime career due to a lay-off, retirement or firing does it cause grief?

Grief is defined as “the conflicting feelings caused by the change in or the end of a familiar pattern of behavior”. Based on that description, the loss of a career, no matter what the cause, can definitely be a grieving experience. Take the person who has worked for the same company for 30 years only to find out they are being “forced” to retire. Or the person who finds out their company has been sold and the new owner doesn’t “need their services”. Talk about a “change in or end of a familiar pattern of behavior”.

Even if the choice to quit a job or retire is voluntary, many people still have a hard time thinking they can adjust to a new way of living. Enjoying life outside of work may not even be an option for them. Many stay glued to their jobs whether they like the work they are doing or not. They fear they will never have enough money, which drives them to work until the bitter end. My uncle, for example, worked and saved but died before he was able to spend time or travel with his family. My aunt always said the money seemed meaningless after he was gone.

Fear is often paralyzing. Here is a list of some of the fears that people have about the loss of their job/career:

Feelings of Inadequacy: We have been taught by previous generations that if you are not working you are “lazy” or a “failure”. We have been taught that working is what you are “supposed” to do. You work and work and work until you practically die at your desk. If you are not working then how does your life even have meaning? Careers give many of us a sense of purpose. It’s part of who we are. When the career is gone, we may feel like we have lost a part of ourselves.

Loss of Daily Routine: Over time we become creatures of habit. We get drawn into the repetitiveness of our daily routine. We get up at the same time every day. We get dressed, and maybe if we wear a uniform to work, we wear the same clothes. We drive to work taking the same route. We sit at the same desk. We eat our lunch, maybe at the same time. We drive home from work taking the same route. We complain to our spouse/significant other about the same work issues day-after-day. For many this is life. What would they do if things weren’t so structured? How would they fill their days?

Decreased Social Interaction: Some people live for work. It may be all they have. Their friends and social life revolves around those they work with. They spend so much time at work they really haven’t cultivated relationships or interests outside of work. When they are no longer working, then what do they do for friends? What will become of their social life?

Boredom:  Many people have no idea what they would do if they weren’t working. It can be almost like an addiction. They spend so much time at work there is no time for outside interests. They live and breathe every crisis at work. They jump into action. What happens when work is no longer there? What would they do? Boredom for sure would set in. Why risk boredom by not working, changing jobs, going part-time or retiring? Boredom for them is not an option.

Loss of Quality of Living: Without a job, even if you have planned and saved, chances are your quality of living would also change. Sure we can live with less. Look at all the people “downsizing” to live in “tiny houses” or “off the grid”. But what happens if all of a sudden you find yourself unemployed? Sometimes it’s difficult to have a back-up plan when you are living from paycheck-to-paycheck or lose you paycheck altogether. What if you are making a great living but then your company goes under? Some of the dot coms have had this experience already. All those nice-to-haves are no longer available to you. What do you do then?

So all is not lost. There are things you can do to help get yourself emotionally through a career transition. One of the most important things is to “compete” the relationship to your current job/career. Here are some ways to do this:

Forgive:  No work environment is perfect. More often than not we have supervisors and co-workers who may have caused us stress or pain. If we were fired or laid off, we may even hold a grudge or be angry. It is important not to carry this anger with us.  It doesn’t help us emotionally, physically or spiritually to hold on to any kind of anger. Anger can manifest itself in serious physical and mental ailments. Don’t do that to yourself or more importantly to those around you. Forgive your company, supervisors and co-workers before moving on. Forgive so you can be free. If you aren’t ready to forgive, at least say to yourself, “I acknowledge the things you did or didn’t do to hurt me at this job/during my career and I am not going to let those memories hurt me anymore.” Once you do that (and believe it) you can move into being unemployed, another job, a new career or even retirement without the pain.

Apologize:  I would bet we all have things we wished we had or hadn’t done better, differently or more often at work. If we can, it’s important to make any apologies before moving on. This can be for anything we did or did not do. If you think you held up an important team deadline, apologize to the team. If you think you talked too loud and bothered the person on the other side for your cubicle wall, apologize. Don’t let your desire to be right stop you from apologizing. Let that go. It is not serving you well. Making any type of apology will help you to release any emotional baggage you may have been carrying with you.  Leave it behind so you don’t bring it with you wherever you go next. I can’t imagine being retired and never enjoying it because I am still playing victim to a job or career I don’t have anymore. If only I had taken the time to apologize, I could be really enjoying retirement! Don’t let that happen to you.

Say Goodbye: It is also important to say “good-bye” to your workplace, supervisor, co-workers, or other people who have been there for you. This could be the customer who always made you smile. The cafeteria worker who always gave you an extra scoop of potatoes on Tuesdays. The tech guy who always made sure your computer was up and running or the janitor who emptied your trash every day. It is important to say “thank you” and “goodbye” especially if you have worked for the same organization for many years. These people have become a part of your extended family. Saying thank you and goodbye allows you to “complete” the relationship(s) before you move on. It allows to have fond memories you can carry with you into your new experience. It makes leaving less painful.

Tell Your Emotional Truth: It is really okay if you are sad about leaving a job. I know I had a hard time leaving my career in Washington DC to come back to CA. It is important to be honest with yourself about how you are really feeling. It is normal and natural to know there will be both happy and sad emotions associated with making any kind of career change. Recognize, accept and appreciate all of your feelings.

No matter whether the loss of a career was voluntary or involuntary, “completing” the relationship can help you move forward in life no matter what comes next.


Sending you love, comfort and peace!



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