Job hunting is extremely stressful for most people, even the most optimistic among us. In essence, you are constantly putting yourself out there to be judged by others, with the added layer that if no one judges you ‘worthy’, you are out paychecks with a shrinking budget and savings account. The worry about money, skills going stale, or simply feeling ‘lost’ provokes many people to start job hunting the moment they leave their old job. While you may feel driven to start the job search right away, some experts say that it may be a good time to instead, take a step back and take some time to process. So why should you try to take the time to essentially mourn your old job?
There has been a push in recent years to divorce the human from the role. In other words, I (the writer), am a writer, instructor, and Microsoft expert; however, I am also a mother, gamer, avid reader, and traveller. The last four things may help with the first three things, but the first three things should not eclipse everything else. But we humans don’t tend to think that way. When we have worked in a position for a while, we tend to call ourselves by that position: I am an instructor, I am a writer. Maybe you are an accountant or a barista or a cleaner or a lawyer. One of the first questions we ask others is what they do for a living! The more we do a job, especially a full time one with a company that we feel loyalty towards, the more those titles become intertwined with our self-image.
This is of course, not a bad thing (as long as we don’t allow ourselves to become completely subsumed by our work). Most people like to have a place they belong in and a job role allows for quick social shortcuts. For example, if you are an accountant, you are good with numbers, likely understand tax laws, and probably enjoy problem solving to some extent. If you’re a barista, you probably enjoy being around people, serving drinks, or just plain soak up the energy of a busy room. Other people who meet you and know those titles will have a bit of a handle on you right away, making the process of bonding a little quicker and easier.
This also means though that if you have to leave your job (fired, laid off, quit voluntarily, etc.), you will likely feel a bit… lost. If I got divorced, I would no longer have the label of ‘wife’ and that part of me would be gone and so it would take some adjustment to get used to the idea. The same goes for losing a job or a position: one tends to feel emotional after that. It’s important to recognize that loss and mourn it appropriately.
The Five Stages of Mourning
When we think of mourning, we tend to think of grieving for someone who has passed away. But when we lose our job, someone has passed away: a portion of ourselves. It makes sense then that the five stages of mourning carry over into dealing with the loss of a position.
1. Denial: It can’t be true, the layoffs are just a rumor, you have worked too hard and too well to be fired or laid off.
2. Anger: How dare the boss lay you off! You put years and energy into that job and now you’ve been cut loose. It’s perfectly normal to be angry.
3. Bargaining: In this case, it means bargaining with the universe to find a new job right away. A big pitfall arises here: applying for every job in sight, whether it’s suitable or not. No networking is done, resumes are generic, and desperation rules the day.
4. Depression: As time goes by and those generic resumes aren’t doing anything for you (or even the targeted ones), it’s normal to feel sad, anxious and depressed. Questioning your skills and worth is normal and it often causes the job search to collapse. At this point, you need to be kind to yourself and acknowledge that it’s time to mourn the loss of your old job. Reach out to your friends and family, think about all the good you’ve done in previous jobs, and refocus your energies. Get help from a therapist if it gets too overwhelming.
5. Acceptance: You still feel rather blah about the whole thing, but it’s time to move on. This is when you can really dig into your job search and figure out where you want to go from here and with which company.
Losing a job is considered to be on the same tier as losing a spouse to divorce or death so far as stress and anxiety is concerned. It takes out a huge chunk of who we are, so we have to give it the emotional rein it requires to get through it.
The Benefits of Taking Time
It may not feel like it, but there are benefits to giving yourself some grace and allowing yourself to mourn the loss of a job.
The most important thing is that mourning gives you time to think about everything you did and everything you want to do in the future. Without a job, you can take the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends (networking), returning to a hobby (skill sharpening) or go to school. It also gives you the chance to see yourself outside of your position and gain the bit of detachment that is required before moving on. And you should take the time to work through the anger and the pain, otherwise it will just follow you in your job search and may sabotage your efforts.
Forcing yourself to take some time away will also deescalate the desperation that causes people to fling themselves at any and all jobs, no matter how suitable they are. Applying for jobs that are a poor fit usually leads to lacklustre resumes and interviews and even if you do land the job, you are far more likely to leave it due to a poor fit, which throws you back into the cycle of feeling worthless and desperate, leading you back to making poor job search decisions. Although it may not feel like it, you’ll be a more efficient and successful job seeker if you take some time to figure yourself out before you go searching.
Now, this is all very fine and well to say, but what do you do if your bank account is slim? Make sure you reach out to services that can help you stop the gaps (tax benefits, social assistance, even food banks). Look for temporary positions or ‘gigs’ to give you a bit of work without committing you to any field while you work through your feeling. And you never know: one of those temporary or gig positions may end up leading you to something that never would have occurred to you before!
Job loss is one of the most stressful things anyone can go through, up there with death, divorce and illness. You not only lose income, but also take a hit to your self image, your mental wellbeing, and even your physical wellbeing. Losing a job puts you through the same mourning stages as losing a family member or a friend. It’s important to treat it as such: give yourself time and room to mourn, and then move forward with a new plan, ready to conquer your field (or maybe a brand new one!)