How Grieving Applies To Job Loss
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“I’m not grieving!” was a shocked response from one of my clients many years ago when I mentioned that being laid-off requires a grieving process to bring closure to the experience she’d had and to find ways to move forward into what was next for her career. Grieving is a strong word, one we associate with the loss of loved ones, relationships that have broken apart or family members who have passed away. We don’t associate grieving with job loss, but like any important relationship in our lives, job loss has elements of grief accompanying it (whether we want it to or not).
There is no right or wrong way to grieve job loss, and many of us (myself included) have felt betrayed when a job we loved (or even just liked) ended before we ready for it to end. We feel the sensible thing to do next is “get on with it”, and we do, but that leads to burying our feelings (or even the fact that we are unemployed) making a part of us hidden and unseen. This is the first phase in the grieving process, denial (following the model set out by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler). It is human to want to “fast forward” past the shame and vulnerability of losing your job, but the danger here is you don’t celebrate the many things you contributed while you were there, you may not continue the friendships you made or fully recognize the experience you gained with that organization – it is like it never happened.
Anger is also a part of the grieving process and is a normal human response to a circumstance you didn’t see coming and didn’t want. It is about the senselessness of it, the lack of control or your ability to prevent it from happening in the future (take that “economic down-turn!”). Anger is scary and uncomfortable but it is a way to help us “let go” of what was and prepare for our “what’s next”. Which is usually bargaining. “I didn’t really like that job anyway, the company probably won’t be here in another 3 years!”. This is where we explore our change in employment status from a few different perspectives, trying to find one that is more palatable than the truth. Once we’ve hit rock bottom, having exhausted our anger and hearing the hollowness of our bargaining we find ourselves wondering what we could have done different or better to avoid this outcome. The truth, that there is very little (or nothing, in the case of economic layoff) you could have done to prevent being let go from work, is depressing. It can make looking for your next job feel futile (what is the point, you might just get laid off again!). This is a lonely place where there is no objectivity and no options; this is not a place where your well-being stays intact for long. From here, most of us find ourselves moving into the last aspect in grieving; acceptance. Here you decide to move on and embrace a future from where you are, looking for opportunities that provide for your career development needs and give you new challenges. You are more able to both honour, and let go of, what you experienced in your last role and are open to something new.
None of these aspects of grieving happen in a straight line, in fact you bounce around them, you can even occupy two of them at the same time (angry and depressed anyone?). What is key is recognizing that our work forms a fundamental part of who we are, it is a relationship we choose to participate in willingly, both giving and receiving value and meaning within it. When that is stripped away it impacts our well-being, and while “grieving” a job may seem self-indulgent, or senseless, it is an important part of being able to move on. Let yourself grieve, give yourself closure. Honour all of who you are, and who you were in that role, and continue from a place of “I am an abundance of potential…just watch me”.
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A skill of growing importance in today’s workplace is self-awareness. Defined as “the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals” (Wikipedia) it’s your ability to know how you are being perceived by others in a given moment in time and what lead to that perception. When we speak of our own self-awareness it is usually in the context of whether we are self-aware. Listen carefully to yourself as you express this (or as others do); many people put this forward as a question (intentionally or unintentionally). For example they may say “I’m pretty self-aware” but their voice may go up at the end of the sentence, intoning it as more of a question. Or they may say “I think I’m self-aware”, again with the infection at the end signifying they are not sure, or they are leaving it up to the listener to decide.
Beyond the dictionary definition of self-awareness is the more practical application of it. Anyone can be self-aware in a moment (excruciatingly so, especially if you have just spilled coffee down the front of your white dress shirt), we may even be able to remain self-aware consistently in a particular context, like in a performance review meeting where we are expecting to receive constructive feedback. However, consistent and resilient self-awareness that is present every day can be elusive and requires a great deal of practice (mindfulness is a great way to do this). Anyone who is self-aware would likely not call themselves that because self-awareness is like peeling an onion, there is always another layer underneath and getting there usually requires a great deal of introspection and emotional discomfort. Like peeling an onion, sometimes self-awareness brings tears as we see ourselves in objective and meaningful ways (warts and all).
It’s worth the journey because self-awareness has many gifts to offer, including self-confidence, self-acceptance, emotional well-being and the ability to pursue bigger life goals that scare you (self-actualization). There is a distinction between self-awareness and self-consciousness. Self-consciousness means we are experiencing attention from others that is unwelcome, either because we don’t like being the focus of attention, or because it is for something we’d rather it wasn’t (like a big coffee stain on our shirt). Self-consciousness and self-awareness are often confused, but with self-awareness you are accessing something useful (even when it is uncomfortable), something that can inform you, give you more options (during an interpersonal exchange with others as an example) and supports your growth and development. Ultimately there are some things about ourselves we are more willing to see then others (which is a very human way of being) and it requires us to examine feedback or exchanges where we are confused (even hurt), to see if there is something there we should be working with, using our own good and compassionate sense about ourselves to identify a constructive learning opportunity from judgement (our own and others). Self-awareness is about being open to seeing something about yourself that may contradict how you see yourself today. That is why it is so valuable, it’s about your level of openness.
Want the ultimate test to see if you are open to seeing something about yourself you may not expect? Do a personality assessment (here is a reliable assessment that is informative and free https://www.16personalities.com/). As you go through your results, see how open you are to the information that may not match how you see yourself…then sit with that uncomfortable feeling for a bit (quietly, introspectively) to determine what it was about that information that bothered you so much. If you can stay with it, discovering something new about yourself, you are building self-awareness.
How The Truth Sets You Free (At Work)
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Do you always tell the truth? Radical honesty is not welcomed in most environments (at home or at work); we all know someone who “tells it like it is” and doesn’t mince words when doing so…no one really wants to be that person. Yet, we have this misalignment with what truth really is, because it is not radical honesty.
In her book “Getting Our Bodies Back; Recovery, Healing and Transformation through Body-Centered Psychotherapy” Christine Caldwell explores truth in a compassionate and approachable way (pages 110-114). Most of us think we know what it means to tell the truth and that we will recognize the truth when it is present; even so we don’t consistently acknowledge the truth for ourselves (if we did there would be less anxiety and depression in this world). Truth, at its’ most essential point, is what you are experiencing in any given moment. It is about you rather than someone else because the only accurate reference point you have access to, particularly in an interpersonal exchange, is yourself. As an example, if someone has sharply criticized you (or your work) it is human to believe the truth of this other person is “They are a bossy know-it-all who feels insecure when others do good work!” You might even tell him or her that. The difficulty with this statement is that it is not the truth; it is your interpretation of what is happening (and masquerades as truth). The truth in this example is closer to “I am deeply upset by your remarks”; notice the use of an “I” statement rather than a “You” statement when articulating the truth. Truth is simple, it is about describing your experience in that moment (“I”) rather than interpreting someone else’s’ words or actions (“You”).
While simple, the truth can be very difficult to access in a moment of anger or emotional pain, and often the last thing we want to do with someone who has hurt us is to share with them our truth. Yet, this is what we need to acknowledge (for ourselves and others) because interpreting someone’s words or action (or a context or circumstance) is a way to take the emotional upheaval we are experiencing and label it (often via judgment), which side steps our own truth, creating further emotional pain. In essence it means we make assumptions that support how we are interpreting the moment, which prolongs the pain of what is happening. Not acknowledging the truth of what we are experiencing keeps us trapped in a cycle of hurt (ours and others). Can you see how not acknowledging the truth can make a bad situation even worse (hint it usually means judgment is present when the truth is absent)? Yet if we chose to stay in the emotional upheaval and sort out what we are experiencing, finding our truth and then letting someone know that their words have hurt us it allows both parties to move from a place of honesty. How? The truth is non-judgmental and indisputable, and when exercised will not intentionally inflame a situation, creating the opportunity for it to be examined in a new and objective light.
Try it, pay attention to how you are interpreting what is happening to you in your day and see if you can get explicitly in touch with what you are experiencing in that moment, acknowledging the truth you are feeling. Doing so will not solve the problem, but it will make you feel more aware and in control of what is going on, allowing you to be your best self.
"No legacy is so rich as honesty." ~ William Shakespeare
Laughter At Work
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“I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable.” ~ Viktor Frankl
Did you know that laughter is something we humans tend to do mostly when we are with other people? Laughter is something that fills a social need for us all, it allows us to initiate or deepen connections with others; with those we love or with new acquaintances. Its role in providing opportunities to build interpersonal relationships points to its importance in our working lives.
When was the last time you laughed at work? Ever worked someplace where laughter (from discreet chuckles to full-on belly laughs) was absent? Workplaces without laughter can be soul sucking. As it turns out laughter and a sense of humour is available to all of us in many circumstances, from a dark “gallows humour” to silly slapstick, we beautiful human beings need to laugh. There is a reason for this, medical research has proven laughter’s ability to reduce stress; after a good hearty laugh you may experience up to 45 minutes of reduced stress (not to mention the bonding that happens after a shared experience that includes laughing together). Laughter is infectious and one of the best ways to build shared meaning between people who may otherwise not have much in common. Once you’ve shared a good laugh with someone your perspective of him or her changes, often for the better (as does theirs of you).
They key here is laughing together. Laughter can be a double-edged sword, do it at the wrong time and you can hurt someone’s feelings or be the only one who is seeing the humour in a humourless situation at work. Humour also follows cultural lines, meaning that what someone finds funny may come from their upbringing. A distinct taste for the tasteless is what makes some people laugh, whereas for others that type of humour is awkward and distressing. As with all things in the workplace leaving room for differences and diversity (in this case in what people find humourous) will ensure inclusivity, but when in doubt keep the humourous comment or joke to yourself (share it with loved ones later).
We also may use humour as a defense mechanism to alleviate ineptness and stress during more intense interpersonal interactions, which can mask or divert a serious conversation that should take place. As with all things, moderation is key, see whether or not you use humour to deflect heavy or more emotionally laden conversations and how well that is serving you in your work. Know that laughter has it’s place at work, one of the things that makes starting a new job stressful is you have no base-line for what may be found funny at work, and no idea if you’ll get a laugh (or if someone will make you laugh). Often once the first good chuckle is had at a new place of employment you can relax a bit and find more enjoyment in the experience. Laughter and humour have their place, and it is important to smile, chuckle and even burst out laughing at least once or twice in your day at work fostering shared meaning and a feeling of belonging (for yourself and others).
Don’t over-look the importance of laughter as a shared experience at work, and if you are not enjoying your current place of employment, check to see when it was you last laughed. It may be you need a good chuckle to release tension, letting you to relax.