These days, it seems that many of us knowledge workers are dealing with, or at least considering the possibility of, job loss.
Art Markman and Michelle Jack have written a terrific article for Fast Company entitled “Why losing a job deserves its own grieving process.” The opening deck starts out boldly by saying “Unemployment is startlingly similar to the loss of a loved one, including its effect on your sense of identity.”
They recommend recognizing that losing your job triggers grief—this is an event that tears at your life’s fabric—and that you must let the grief process run its course. Remember that, as described by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, grief consists of shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression and detachment, and acceptance. Some won’t go through all five stages, and some may go through several of the stages several times. A fortunate few may not experience any of them at all.
A quick look at grief stages
With shock, comes the understanding that your future will be different from life as you now know it. Shock brings stress, which makes it difficult to think clearly. Looking back, everything will seem blurry.
Next comes anger. “Why me? I’m undeserving of this.” Markman and Jack suggest acknowledging this feeling and doing something physical to release pent-up energy in a healthy way. (I like brisk walks myself.)
After anger is bargaining. It’s normal, but—in my opinion—a waste of time. (Not that I haven’t done it.) The authors say, “Work to recognize this phase and don’t spend excessive time beating yourself up.” Try journaling; it can benefit your health long term. Many people find journaling helpful. I’ve only found that it makes me feel self-conscious.
Then depression and detachment. Argh. But to get past that helpless feeling, talk to family and friends. Go out into nature. (I love filling up the bird feeder, changing the water, washing out the bird bath, and listening to the little guys singing in the trees.) Realize that everyone you see has gone through hard times and has moved forward. Take positive actions every day, even if you have to force yourself to. I’m guessing that even getting a few small chores done will help.
Finally, finally comes acceptance. “What will it take to help you accept a situation that is out of your control and convince you to move forward?” Maybe refreshing your home office with a new picture or some snappy desk accessories.
So, now you’ve mostly gotten grief out of the way, what next?
A hobby or something you’ve always wanted to do is a good idea, though if you’re cash-strapped, this might not be the best time to whip out your credit card. In any case, this is the time to do something you never had time for. Markman and Jack remark that a hobby or scheduled activity gives you something to look forward to and can offer social interaction opportunities. You also experience the joy of learning and an emotional boost from being successful.
Ask for help. Family and friends don’t want you to suffer, so they likely are willing to offer ideas and support. “A family that manages crises together, strengthens their bond together.” Though the authors don’t say it, it may not hurt the older kids in your family to realize that all the things they’ve expected you to deliver at the snap of their fingers have required your hard work and commitment. Reach out to colleagues and business acquaintances too. You never know what might come of that.
Of course, you’ll want to give help to those who need it, too. It’s a great way to feel good about yourself as you do something good for others.
Create a routine. You need to compensate for the lack of structure your job provided. “A routine helps you stay in control of your day and remain mindful.” Let friends, family, and colleagues know that you have a schedule and what it is. The authors don’t say it, but I suspect they’d agree that the people around you need to know that your activities are purposeful, that you’re not just hanging out.
When we think of losing a job, we may think about those at the lower end of the economic spectrum, the folks who have been furloughed and sent home from businesses that may never reopen. So this post may seem to be addressing a first-world problem. And yet, no matter where we are on the social spectrum, work structures our daily routines and acts as a source of our identity. That’s why it’s so important to take action. As the authors put it, “Success in life is determined by what you do in difficult times as much as by how you manage success … Even if you feel you have no control, you have the ability to write yourself a new beginning by taking action.”