Job Loss Grief and 6 Stages to Life.

Time Inc security card before my job loss
When a job loss is more than turning in your ID card, but sometimes your identity.

Has this ever happened to you?  You’re quietly minding your own business, doing something that you like or needs to be done, and a memory comes up.  Along with that memory comes new, and probably uncomfortable, feelings – like anger or even an overall funk.  If that memory is about a job “separation” (downsized, laid off, furloughed, redundant, position eliminated, early retirement, aged out or just plain fired), it could be that you are going through one of the stages of grief that comes with a job loss. 

Did you know that having an adventure mindset helps you with big life events.  One way is that you develop resiliency – you will still have the uncomfortable feelings, but for less time.  You learn to be curious, see things in new lights, and look for the life lessons.  And sometimes, your day can start with a job loss and end with being invited to a big adventure.

Four years later

Recently, I was in yoga class trying to get my OM on.  However, instead of peace & serenity, a slow anger boiled up.  With the adventure mindset of ABC (Always Be Curious), instead of stuffing the feeling down, I let it flow through my body to see what came up.  I admit, it’s easy to let this fiery emotion spread being in a hot yoga class – no one will notice my red face!  Four years ago, that day, I had been among the 110 people downsized from one of the largest magazine/digital publishing houses.  It was very unexpected – they had recruited me away from a nine-year job at a small competitor plus had offered me a tremendous salary increase.  All in all, I had only been at that particular position for four months!

As shocking as it was, the story I tell is that I was probably the happiest person to be let go.  The stress of the position, the unnerving high expectations, and – in a sense the worst of all – the commute going through the park where 9/11 happened.  (Most mornings, I felt like I walked through ghosts.)  Additionally, I had been thinking about turning my blog into a business. With the new job, I didn’t have the energy I thought I would to keep working on my new venture on the side.  What made me happiest?  Since the date they ‘position eliminated’ me was in early August, I suddenly had more time to go on a big adventure I had dreamed about – joining friends in an RV to drive across the country and participate in Burning Man’s build week.  My formerly one week vacation turned into three incredible weeks!

Stages of Grieving for Job Loss

6 stages of grieving for job loss

What are these stages of grief that you may go through when departed from a job? Have you heard at some point about the Kübler-Ross ‘five stages of grieving’ when a loved one dies? After a long discussion with a friend, who is dealing with cancer as well as was “separated” from her high-powered advertising job, we realized that these stages apply to the loss of a job/career too!  Kübler-Ross created five, and others make it seven.  It all depends on your interpretation. 

My friend, Karen, and I decided on six based on our experiences and those we subjectively surveyed: 1) Shock/disbelief 2) Denial/Avoidance 3) Anger/Frustration/Anxiety 4) Grieving/Depression 5) Bargaining and then 6) Acceptance.

A myth is that since it’s phrased as “stages” that each person must go through each one to reach the next.  What we discovered, and confirmed with others who also came suddenly to the end of their career, is that it is not as simple as a linear progression.  It’s more like spaghetti.  Tangled, messy, ups, downs and squiggles you don’t expect. 

Going through the feelings

In a short span of time, I went through all the stages of grief except anger and grieving.  I hit the other ones – shock (of the news), denial (I was happy about being forced out), bargaining (I attempted control of the situation by arranging to still take an industry certification test as well as arranging a fun trip away), and a bit after that, acceptance. 

Acceptance did come later, during the Fall, when I knew I didn’t want to go back into the corporate world. (Being diagnosed with Chronic Stress Syndrome being a major reason not to go back.  But that’s a different adventure for another day).  A sign to follow my passion came from an unlikely source – the unemployment department!  They sent me an application for a program they offer to become self-employed.  Instead of proving I was job hunting, I had to prove I was learning how to run my own business.  I felt lucky to have skipped the hard stages.  I didn’t realize that my adventures after that marker-of-a-day in August would bring me back through ALL the stages.  (Hint: Don’t become an entrepreneur unless you are truly ready to face fears you didn’t know you had!)

Resilience

Dragonfly on lapel after job loss
Signs from the Universe? The day I was let go, this dragonfly stayed on my lapel for about a half hour during my commute on the train to the City. Dragonfly symbolizes change!

When you have an Adventure Attitude, your resilience and ability to deal with change is strong.  Karen and I were both fairly senior in our industry.  What were some of our changes we had to face?  Going from working 60-80 hours/week and frequent business trips to zero hours per week.  The ability to guide and mentor younger employees in the office.  The realization that the visions/fantasy of “free time” doesn’t exist.  We had to shift how we saw ourselves – who are we without the fancy title?  The clothes in the closet that would not need to be worn that once showcased our power.  With the loss of our corporate career also brought the loss of community – no longer could we have “water cooler chats” or drinks in the evening with work buddies. 

If we weren’t careful, stage 4 could slip into depression with the “what am I doing in life?” thoughts.  Combined with the fact that it wasn’t our choice to leave, it was not on our terms.  If you were separated from your job, did you feel frustrated to not be able to have control over the outcome?

Looking at our challenges differently, we flipped the losses into opportunities.  We could mentor through volunteer programs.  We could travel to places where we used to go for business trips, spend time to visit the cities and enjoy what they offer.  Those power clothes could be donated to up-and-coming underprivileged youth to help them up the corporate ladder.

Take Action

What I’ve learned over the years, and advice I wish I had been given the first (or second or third) time it happened, is that after any job separation you set aside time for self-reflection.  Go through the grieving process as best you can, even if you have a new job starting soon. Take that first baby step – identify there is something to grieve.  It’s up to you to create movement into acceptance, that part where you explore your options and make plans to follow your path.

Brene Brown Advice:

Brené Brown advises to acknowledge your discomfort.

  “Too many of us build up narratives about our career journeys that skip over the bumps. I lost a job and then I got a new one, and I’m not going to acknowledge the feelings of helplessness and loss in between those points. We’re much better at inflicting pain than feeling and acknowledging it.

Acknowledging uncomfortable feelings means looking into what are the actions that “emotionally hook” us and why these feelings upset us.

We can avoid these feelings, but we can’t run from them. Bodies keep score and they always win. Feelings that are pushed away will bubble up in our bodies’ physical reactions. We can lose sleep and build resentment and anxiety over feelings we repress.

This happened to me.  I built up an internal story about my last corporate position.  I didn’t face all the feelings, the discomfort from what had happened…until something in yoga unlocked where it was stored in my body!  Anger bubbled up, and I was finally able to process that stage of grief.

Fire Starter Sessions Advice

Leaning into your uncomfortable feelings is a challenge.  Your brain doesn’t like dissonance, and will keep attempting to keep you in your comfort, even if that place is filled with fear.  Facing your fears and doing it anyway is the path to growth, in your personal and professional life.  One self-help guru, Danielle LaPort, offers guidance through a program she calls “Fire Starter Sessions.”  I found her free workbook (see button below) which helped me ask the deeper questions and discover the areas I felt the most fear and resistance.

When someone at a party asks you what you do, what do you say? And how do you feel when you say it? 

Danielle LaPort, the Fire Starter Sessions

Four years after my last day working in the industry I had identified myself with for decades, I still can stumble over this question.  Having been a high-level media sales director for years, it’s taken time to shift my outlook to my new entrepreneur life plus new visions of my present and future.  There was no straight path from stage one to stage six.  Awareness that there is a grief process?  Immensely freeing.

As I reflect now about this question, I realize that most often I answer “I take myself on adventures” or “I inspire others to create their own adventure mindset.”  What I ‘do’ isn’t about how I get paid, it’s about how I see myself as me and how I serve others.  If you start to feel some funk take over as you weed out those power suits you no longer wear, remember there is a grief process.  And there is no time limit or linear stage format you must follow to allow all those feelings to be felt – and released.

Job Loss Ritual Doesn’t Exist

These days it’s likely that either you, or someone you know, has experienced this sudden job loss.  Culturally speaking, there is a stigma for not having a job.  The unspoken “there must be something wrong with you” shame.  For so many other life events, there are rituals.  Wedding ceremonies, sitting Shiva, wakes, baby showers, and when the time comes- retirement parties.  But there is not anything for when you are downsized.  Except maybe a phone call from an outplacement counselor – but that does nothing for the huge emotions you have.  As it stands right now, with the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression, having some kind of established ritual would be soothing. I wonder what a “Separation From Your Job” ceremony would look like?  Maybe call it “Your Career Died” mourning period.  What would you want?

Job Loss to Life Gained

Even something as potentially traumatic as a career-ending job loss can be seen as an adventure.  You take the risks, face your fears and feel your feelings.  By the power of being curious, open to new opportunities and being vulnerable enough to shift your self-view, it turns into a positive, life-enhancing event.

From a milestone day of a job loss, to a new-found lifestyle. For me, my life changed from being a big city corporate worker to a digital nomad exploring the country and inspiring others to find their fun.  May your journey through the six stages find you exploring all the adventures of the journey too.

Yellow Taxi art installation at Burning Man

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Your Adventure Mindset Mentor

Stacey Newman Weldon You need more fun & spontaneity in your life, and aren’t sure of next steps or the path to follow.  Let’s connect! You could choose a free 15 minute chat, various courses, or even select one-to-one coaching.

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4 Comments

  1. Tracy

    Thank you for this! Your message today REALLY struck a chord with me. My corporate job “died” 6 years ago and there are some aspects I still remain attached to, or rather, haven’t allowed myself to process. It’s time.

    The grieving process truly does apply to much more than death and job loss… allowing ourselves to experience and recognize those stages when they show up is a game changer in readying us for the next adventure.

    Reply
    • Stacey Newman Weldon

      I understand the attachment. I am grateful I shared my story & experience to help you!! Awareness is so helpful on so many levels. Thank you for your comment <3

      Reply
  2. Lisa Stimpson

    We are too wrapped up in associating our job as our identity. When you lose a job, it is like you don’t know who you are anymore. Taking adventures helps you discover yourself and disassociate the work from the being so next time you have a job loss, you won’t have the grief of losing yourself.

    Reply
    • Stacey Newman Weldon

      Isn’t it funny how our moms identified often only as the label of moms. But we grew up in a different generation – and our identities got tied up with the new trend. I agree, adventures are helpful on so many levels!

      Reply

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