Grief of losing a job

Losing a job is a lot like losing a loved one. We go through stages of grief that include denial, anger, depression, and, finally, acceptance. It creates a roller coaster of emotions.

Our jobs are a big part of our identity and sense of self-worth. They define “who” we are in this world. Losing a job is more than just losing income. It also means losing a routine, the relationships we have with the people we worked with, and a sense of purpose.  Many people are left feeling, “Who am I and what is my purpose?”

Because of this connection between self-worth and work, it’s common for us to blame ourselves and wonder what we did wrong to end up unemployed. Even during a world-wide pandemic, you may feel shame for not being able to provide financial stability and protection to the people you need to support or for having to ask others for help. Understanding the different phases of grief can help you to move through the feelings and help you cope.

Many people deny their feelings. They refuse to acknowledge how they feel after losing a job. They want to appear to be brave and strong. When asked if they are okay, they will laugh it off, saying, “Why shouldn’t I be okay?” We often hear people say, “This is a blessing in disguise.” It can seem helpful to tell yourself these things, but it can also be a denial of the loss you’re feeling. Denial may be a part of the process, but it can become a problem.

It’s natural to feel angry about losing your job. You might be mad at anyone and everyone around you. It’s common to find yourself feeling angry at the employer who seemingly didn’t care about your dedication to their company; mad that you didn’t see what was coming and weren’t able to prepare; angry that “you weren’t good enough.” It’s tempting to shut people out when you’re in this stage. You may find yourself avoiding friends because you don’t want to hear them tell you, “It’s going to be okay.” You don’t want to “burden” them with your problems.  However, this is the time to reach out to others for help.

Depression is common after a job loss, and it’s a natural part of the grieving process. Take some time to process your feelings. Realize you’re mourning. Losing a job is a traumatic event. You may be feeling lost in a sea of mixed emotions. Keep in mind that this is entirely normal. There is no “right” way to react to job loss – and everyone goes through their process of working through it.

Finally, of course, there’s acceptance. You understand what happened, you’ve worked through the feelings, and you’re ready to move forward. When you are genuinely over the grief of losing a job and prepared for acceptance, you can talk about the experience with objectivity. That means that you can state the facts without adding emotional commentary. And you take ownership of your role in what led to your job loss. Hiring managers and everyone else you speak with about your job search can tell if you are still carrying the emotional baggage from your job loss.

Surround yourself with family and friends who understand your challenges. Look for community resources that can help you in your job search. The support of other people who are in the same situation can help you to process your feelings and move forward.  Establish a daily routine that will provide direction and purpose. Include exercise in your routine, as it will help to reduce stress and make you feel more productive.

To give your confidence a boost, think about every job you’ve had and ask yourself these questions:

  • What did I accomplish/achieve/get done? What am I proud of?
  • What have I learned about myself, and what new skills have I learned?
  • Who did I help and how?

Once you have a few things on your list, pick out the ones you’re most proud of, and write about them. Tell a story about it, even if it’s just a paragraph. You get to tell the story that you want about who you are and the value you offer to others.  The story that you choose will be the foundation of your job search. It will be the basis for how you present yourself to employers.

A crisis can be a challenge you need. It can provide the time and space to think about the change you want. It can drive you to find the courage to make changes. Losing your job can be painful, but it is an unexpected chance to rethink what you want and who you are and start building a path toward a career that is more satisfying than the one you lost. It is the chance to re-evaluate who you are and what you want to be in the future. By reflecting and then taking action, you can create “your story” and a springboard for your next steps.

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