One thing we don't talk about much when people lose their jobs is the pain of that loss. We are quick to point people toward action--Network! Brand yourself!--but we shy away from helping people grieve what amounts to a death in their immediate family.
I thought about this today after a call with someone who was suddenly let go from her job. Although she'd been thinking for awhile about getting away from her employer, it was still a shock to be told that her services were no longer needed.
It's a blow to the ego and to our professional identities to learn that our employers feel like they could somehow do better without us, even if we were thinking of breaking up with them ourselves. Plus, being laid off removes leaving a job from our control--never a good place to be.
Finding ways to let go of our previous job is critical, though.
Failure to grieve has powerful mental and emotional consequences that impact both our personal well-being as well as our ability to seek out new opportunities.
One thing I hear from employers all the time is that job seekers are "depressed" and "angry" when they come in for interviews. Guess what? Depressed, angry people don't get hired. Nor do they start up their own businesses or pursue the kinds of relationships and experiences that will help them recover and thrive.
So how do we grieve when we lose our jobs? What can help us with that loss?
How to Grieve Your Job Loss
There are several things I think we can do to engage in some healthy grieving. . .
1. Recognize what you're experiencing.
It starts with the recognition that you ARE going through a grieving process. This is a "death" of sorts and that means you have to give yourself some time and space to go through the experience of letting go and saying goodbye. Trying to pretend like it's "business as usual" or putting a totally bright face on things is to deny the emotional reality of what is happening.
2. Experience your feelings, without judgement.
As with any death, you are going to experience a range of emotional responses. Sometimes you will be depressed. Sometimes you will be afraid. Sometimes you will be angry. You may also feel relief (especially if you hated the job) and a sense of hope, possibility and opportunity. You may find yourself crying, snapping at people or laughing for no reason at odd moments, all of which may make you feel a little out of control.
All of these feelings are normal and natural. They will come and go, depending on the day and what else is going on in your life.
Let yourself just have these feelings. Recognize that they are a part of the grieving process. Don't rush yourself to stop having them and don't judge yourself for feeling a little crazy right now. It goes with the territory.
3. Do the Pennebaker Expressive Writing Exercise
Dr. James Pennebaker has found that writing for 3-4 days about a traumatic topic can be a powerful way to work through the emotions we're experiencing.
For our purposes, you would commit to writing for 15-20 minutes, 3-4 days in a row about your job loss. This is just for you (unless you choose to share with someone) and can be a powerful way to release some of your emotions.
I highly recommend it, especially if you're the sort of person who tends to resist these kinds of things. In my experience, you need it the most.
4. Have a funeral for your job.
One of the main reasons we have funerals is to help the living deal with death, helping them find closure and meaning. You can give yourself some of those same benefits by creating your own funeral for your job.
How you structure this ritual is up to you, but some things to consider:
- If you did the Pennebaker exercise I described above, burn the pages you wrote as a symbolic release of those emotions and a willingness to move on.
- Try writing an obituary for the job, recognizing both the great parts of the experience, as well as some of those things that were less than wonderful. This can help you get perspective and also help you identify what you are sad to leave behind and where you may feel some relief.
- If you weren't the only one caught in a layoff, have a gathering with the other people who were let go. Part of what makes funerals comforting is the opportunity to gather with people we care about and to feel that solidarity and support in our grieving. Don't isolate yourself. Reach out to the other people who are hurting too so you can support and care for each other.
5. Find ways to be kind to yourself and to support your own thriving.
When we have a death in the family, we recognize that this is a time for compassion for ourselves and for taking care of our hearts.
In some ways, supporting your own thriving becomes even more important when you are mourning the death of a job in part because as a society, we simply don't provide the structure and opportunities to make this happen. People will bring casseroles to your house if a loved one passes on, but if you lose your job, we don't tend to get this same kind of support.
Here's a list of 79 ways to nurture yourself and here's a list of 50 lists you can make that will lift your spirits. Find ways to be kind and to love yourself.
Also, find ways to laugh every day. Laughter is hugely healing.
6. Go public.
Many people I know hide the fact that they have been laid off. They feel ashamed of their job loss and go into isolation mode. This is one of the worst things you can do for yourself, both emotionally and practically. It only increases your sense of shame and sadness and it deprives people of the opportunity to help you.
Don't be afraid to tell people what you're going through. You wouldn't hide your grieving for someone who died, so don't feel like you have to hide the fact that you're grieving for your job.
7. Get support.
A huge part of grieving is knowing that you aren't alone. We tend to do better in releasing and saying goodbye if we feel connected to supportive, loving community. We thrive on connection, not on isolation, and the caring of people around us can help us get perspective and feel better about what we are experiencing.
I think it helps to connect with people who are having the same experiences we are. This is why support groups for people who have lost loved ones can be so powerful.
It's also good to connect with people who just make you feel good--people who remind you that you are more than your job and who can inspire you to find your inner strength and resilience.
8. Re-Frame the experience.
Many people I know have lost jobs they hated. If this is you, then find ways to focus on the opportunities that lie ahead now that you've been relieved of the burden of this job.
It's easy for your ego to hold on to the anger you may feel ("How DARE they lay ME off!") or the blow to your self-esteem ("Why me?!"). But the reality is, if you hated the job, then the universe has just given you the kick in the pants you needed to find something new and better. Seize that opportunity and don't let your ego hold on to what you didn't want anyway.
It's like when we wanted to get out of a relationship, but then the other person breaks up with or divorces us first. We wanted to leave ourselves, so why get hung up on them doing the leaving before we could? Just be grateful that now you can move on in good conscience.
9. Respect the process.
Many of us are quick to want to move through grieving. We'll give ourselves a day or two, but then we want to get moving again. Let's FIX things.
That's fine and I certainly support taking action sooner rather than later, but we also need to respect the fact that grief isn't always going to be on our timetable. And emotions have a pesky way of rearing their ugly heads at the most inconvenient times, especially when we don't give them their due.
10. Move on.
On the other side of the coin, some of us can have a tendency to dwell. It's months later and we are still sad or angry. This is often the case if we weren't able to find a new opportunity or our next job isn't as good as the one we had previously.
I get this. I do. But at some point we really do need to let go and move on. If you've been in a funk or have been angry and irritable for months, this is when it may be a good time to seek professional help. Grieving may have sunk into depression and you may need some guidance to find your way back out.
The tips I've shared above have largely focused on what individuals can do for themselves to mourn a job loss. But as a society, I think we also have a responsibility to help each other. How are we supporting the people in our lives who are laid off in moving through the grieving process?
We are quick to tell people what they should do to move on, but we are less able to work with them on feeling and processing their sadness, anger and fear at their sudden unemployment.
How can we more effectively be with people who are hurting in this way, helping them to acknowledge and deal with their grief? How can we help create rituals and communities that honor this process and that recognize not only the practical need for people to move forward and find new work, but also the real emotional and spiritual need they have to grieve their loss and make sense of what's happened to them?
There's much that we as individuals can do for ourselves, but we also need the help and support of our communities. How do we all help each other in this process?
UPDATE--I've published a follow-up post on interrupted grieving with a link to a great No-Nonsense Guide to Grieving that you can find here.