Why does losing a job you love feel as devastating as the end of a relationship? Valerie Loftus investigates.
You could probably name any number of rom coms in which the female lead strives to land her dream job or gets a promotion, after which she lives happily ever after (she probably finds the love of her life along the way too, the jammy bitch). But very few films really delve into the opposite scenario. What happens when you get the job of your dreams, then lose it?
STELLAR editor Vicki Notaro knows. Five years ago, she was given the chance to create a magazine supplement for a newspaper, a role she poured her heart and soul into. “It was everything I’d ever dreamed of, conceiving of and creating a magazine for people like me,” she says. “I worked tirelessly on it and when it launched, I was ecstatic. I was only 28 years old, so it felt like a real pinnacle of my career. Then 8 months later, it was scrapped.”
She was devastated, especially as it seemed to come out of the blue. “It had been doing well and people seemed to really like it but there were countless factors involved, internal politics being a huge one,” she recalls. “It ended up being the spur for me to leave that job all together and try my hand at freelancing, but I’m not exaggerating when I say it was all pretty traumatic. I felt like I had no control over my career, that everything I’d worked towards was gone, that I’d peaked too soon and that my career was crumbling before my very eyes. A lot of my identity was tied up in my work, so when that failed, I felt like I’d failed as well.”
It sounds like Vicki was experiencing career grief, and actively mourning the job she had lost. Some might scoff at the thought, but it’s a very real thing – with work such a huge part of our identities these days, a career shakeup like this can feel like one hell of a blow. According to careers coach Jane Downes of the Clearview Coaching Group (clearviewcoachgroup.com), many people feel some degree of grief after losing a beloved job. A lot of it can be linked to how things ended, whether it was through a redundancy, a decision by the company, or something you chose yourself – regardless, Jane says that the first thing you need to remember is that your skills are separate from your job. “They are transferable. You can take them on with you to other jobs,” she says.
Ideally, this separation is a chance to take all the things you’ve learned in this job, get yourself out of your comfort zone and find a role that really excites and challenges you. Of course, it’s not always that simple. You’re going to need to deal with the full spectrum of emotions losing a job can bring – from shock to anger to sadness – but there are a couple of practical things you can do as you’re coming to terms with things. While it’s totally fine to keep texting your old work mates, you might want to consider stepping back a little bit so you’re not as immersed in life at your old office. “Of course we should keep in touch with old colleagues, but ask yourself, is it helping me right now? Should I remove myself there for just a little while?”says Jane. She also recommends taking a set amount of time to get back on your feet, as opposed to leaving things open-ended.
“After that time, make a conscious decision to change your attitude and take some action,” she says. You don’t want to carry any baggage from losing your old job into interviews with potential new employers, nor do you want to aim too low or go for something ‘safe’ because you’re still feeling wounded.
There’s no point in doing anything if your attitude is still the same, and you’re still mourning this old company. That’s like in a relationship when you’re comparing your new partner with your old partner – you can’t do that. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
“We can also sensationalise how amazing our old job was, when actually, if you dig a little deeper, maybe there weren’t too many reasons to stay any longer anyway.”
Clara, 28, didn’t even realise she was grieving her old job until she started a new one, and immediately started romanticising her former workplace in her head. “I left a job I loved in a great company because I just wasn’t progressing there in the way I’d have liked to, and at first, I felt pretty positive about my decision,” she says. However, on taking up a position at a different organisation, she couldn’t stop comparing it to how things were at her old place. “I should have been delighted about this new role, but instead I had this sinking feeling that I had made the wrong choice. I wasn’t even giving this new job a chance, I was so full of regret about ever leaving the old one. Eventually, I realised I had to stop putting my former company on a pedestal and remember why I left in the first place. Now I’m at least going into work every day with my best foot forward.”
As tempting as it is to wallow and feel sorry for yourself, it’s important to put things in perspective and give yourself a bit of tough love. “A job isn’t a soulmate,” Jane reminds us.
This isn’t the breakup of a relationship here. It’s the breakup of a work relationship that may have worked very well for you, but it’s not a person, it’s an organisation or a company.
Saying that, if things start getting overwhelming, don’t be afraid to tell someone about how you’re feeling. “Sometimes we have to lose roles that we love to develop our careers and develop ourselves,” says Jane. “That’s always going to knock your confidence, but you’ve got to try and look at it as a learning experience.”
This is something Vicki has done, and though it took her a little while to get there, her experience of losing a job she adored taught her that you can never really know what’s coming around the corner. And you know what? That’s okay.
“It was only a couple of years later when I took this job editing STELLAR that I began to feel like I was healing, that I was truly good at something and that I had a purpose.
“But I also realised that it was not healthy to have so much of my self worth tied up in something that is essentially a means to an end, at the end of the day. I’ve no problem being passionate about my work now, but I know it’s not my reason for being.”
I read a quote somewhere that said ‘your job might be special and a privilege, but it’s not what makes YOU special’, and that’s so true.
“Now I know that there’s no straight course trajectory for my career, and it could literally take me anywhere,” she says. “I just have to live in the moment, try not to panic about the future and do my very best, because that’s all any of us can really ever do.”