Grieving after a job transition is real, and it’s hard—whether you quit or you were laid off
With the news of huge layoffs across the country these past couple weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the grief we feel during job transitions that we simply don’t talk about.
A year ago, I left a job I loved. And even though I made the choice to leave and focus on my mental health, I grieved the decision. Who was I without a job? Who was I if I wasn’t in this role that I’d worked so hard to get? My work identity was so central to my sense of self that when I stripped it away, I didn’t know who I was anymore.
There is grief that comes with any job transition: The sudden grief after an unexpected layoff can be gut-wrenching—you didn’t see it coming and you question your own self-worth. And, as I mentioned with my own experience, there can even be grief after voluntarily leaving a job on good terms—you second-guess yourself, and you miss the structure and routines of your old life. It is so tempting to dive into the hustle of the job hunt, to have an answer to the rapid-fire “What’s next for you?” question. All of that external pressure can make a job transition so claustrophobic that you don’t realize that you may be grieving.
Grief is a natural, human experience after any kind of a loss. But when you don’t make space for that grief, your feelings can get out of control. It’s essential for our own wellbeing that we acknowledge how we feel. Instead of asking ourselves and each other “What’s next?” after we leave a job, what if we started asking “What’s now?” How are you feeling now? How are we making the time to grieve now?
Here are some ways we can make space for the now when grieving a job transition—things I wish I’d done better for myself earlier this year:
First things, first: acknowledge that you have feelings
Losing a job when you’re not expecting it sucks—the consequences can be devastating. Leaving a job even when you’re expecting it can leave you with mixed emotions, too. Feel the sadness, feel the anger, feel the guilt, feel the jealousy, feel the uncertainty…feel it all. Acknowledging that you feel some combination of these things, which altogether make up grief, is critical. You’ve got to admit to yourself that you’re feeling them before you can move yourself forward. If you don’t decide to make space for your feelings today, they’re going to pop up at really inconvenient times tomorrow. Remember: it’s not weak to recognize that you’re feeling down— it’s actually the strongest thing you can do.
Make time to grieve
When we take the time to grieve, we are making space to process our complicated feelings so that we can show up as the best version of ourselves. Here are some ideas for how you can go about doing that in between jobs.
Talk it out: Call or sit down with a trusted loved one and tell them how you’re feeling about your job transition. They love you, and they’ll listen, even if it’s not pretty.
Write it out: Write down the story of you in your old job. What did you learn? How did you grow? What made you feel great in that job, and what made you feel not so great? Writing out your feelings can be a powerful tool to help you better understand them.
Build a community: Now is a great time to talk to your friends and peers who have also experienced job transitions. Grief can be an isolating feeling, so it’s important to create opportunities to connect with people who are experiencing the same feelings that you are—you’re not alone. Reach out to others at your company who were laid off and stay in touch with them. Find online groups on social media, or in your area. If you have one or are interested in seeking one out, a religious community could also be a helpful place to find support during this challenging time.
Turn to art: paint, draw, sing, or use other mediums to express how you feel about your job transition. And this art doesn’t have to be good by any means— just for your eyes and ears only. Creative expression, even if you’ve never done it before, can help reveal more about how you feel.
Find quiet time: Even if it’s just for a few minutes every day, find time where you can focus inward on your thoughts. Sometimes it’s hard to get in touch with your grief when the world is so loud around you, and you have so many other competing responsibilities. A 10-minute walk outside, or even 5 minutes of meditation every day can be just what you need to focus in on your feelings.
Get active: Sometimes grief can create a sinking feeling that keeps you from getting up and moving…but maybe getting active is just what you need to process your feelings. Start a new exercise class, go to the gym with a friend, or just carve out time for workouts when you can fit then in.
Go be in nature: Find time to go outside where there is greenery, water, hills, hiking paths…you name it. There’s something really special about hiking to the top of a mountain when you’re grieving—the perspective you can find at elevation can be striking. Gardening when you’re grieving, growing something new, can also help bring you joy and comfort at a time when you really need it.
Get professional support: Seek out the support of licensed mental health professional who can help you sort through your feelings in the short term and in the long run. A big transition in your life, like leaving a job, is a great time to start regular mental health care.
Losing a job sucks. Leaving a job can be really, really hard. But when you take the time to grieve this big transition in your life, you’ll show up stronger for yourself and for your loved ones. You will move through the grief.
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