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What do you think of when you hear the word grief?
You may think of some of the most common causes of grief: a loved one passing away, the end of a relationship, injury or illness, or even divorce. However, there are a lot of other situations that can cause us to grieve. Remember, the definition of grief is “the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” There are many things in life that can cause us to feel these conflicting feelings. You can feel grief over changes in physical health, career-related grief, or grief over changes in your habits and personal routines.
Some of the less well-known causes of grief are:
- Dismissal from work
- Changes to your financial state
- Changing to a different line of work
- Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
- Changes in responsibilities at work
- Child leaving home
- Trouble with in-laws
- Change in spouse’s work responsibilities
- Beginning or ending school
- Changes in living conditions
- Interpersonal problems at work
- Changes in working hours or conditions
- …and so on
It is not bad or wrong in any way to feel grief for something that isn’t a death or a tragedy. We all have our own feelings, and there is no judging panel who decides which people are allowed to grieve and which are not. If you feel conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior, then you feel grief.
As you can see from the list above, many of the grief causing stressors are work-related. Career-related grief or job-related grief is not a topic that is often discussed, but it’s actually fairly common.
Why do we grieve when we experience career change?
In the US, it’s traditionally pretty typical to work 40ish hours a week if you’re employed full time, so we spend a huge chunk of our lives at work. It’s natural to feel complicated feelings at the idea of a change to our work situation because it’s undoubtedly a major change in your daily life.
Change, in general, is hard to deal with. We are creatures of habit, and mixing up such a major aspect of who we are can mess with our sense of self. In the United States especially, many people draw their identity and sense of self-worth from their work. Our careers and our productivity at work is often a way we measure our success, and it can feel threatening to have the source of that success change.
Another reason career change sparks grief in some is that our careers are typically our livelihoods. If you go through a change in your work life, your ability to take care of yourself and your family may be threatened, which can create a whole new level of stress and further grief.
Read: 32 Journal Prompts for Grieving and Loss
Grief at work isn’t just felt in situations where someone loses a job though. Of course, being fired or downsized is devastating, and it can often cause intense feelings of career-related grief. However, you can also feel grief over promotions, demotions, changes in coworkers, changes in your duties, changes in your job location, resigning a job, switching to a new job, and so on.
So, if you feel career-related grief, what can you do?
- Feel your feelings. Pushing your feelings about this job change won’t stop them, it will just compound the problem. Make space in your life to process your feelings, and don’t rush yourself. Journal, talk it out, see a therapist, or do whatever works for you to let those emotions out so you can understand the context and begin to heal.
- Give yourself time to adjust. You don’t have to rush through the adjustment process. Changes at work can have ripple effects throughout our lives, so it can take a while to settle in to the new reality. If your new routine isn’t really working for you, you can always adjust until you feel a little more comfortable with how things are going.
- Reflect on the role of your career in your life. Does your career define your sense of self? Is it where you draw your confidence from? Explore, in a journal or with someone, what your work means to you. Is there anything else in your life that can fill that gap? This can also help you unlock the aspects of your job that you enjoy the most or the least, which can help you if you need to look for new work. You’ll already know what is or is not important to you in a job, so you can assess future prospects based on those values.
- Figure out what you’ll miss from before the change. Is it your hours? Your coworkers? Your responsibilities? Try to find a way that you can address whatever it is that you miss. For example, if you are grieving the loss of work relationships, you can make more of an effort to plan to see each other outside of work. Pinpoint what it is that was meaningful to you before the change so you can make a plan to incorporate that meaning into your life in a different way.
- Talk it out. Career change can have an impact on you, certainly, but also on the people in your life. If you are the breadwinner in your household, your family may be worried about security. Remember that their feelings aren’t meant to make you feel worse about the situation. Take the time to talk it out with the people in your life who depend on you. This is also a good opportunity to talk to someone outside of work and family. A trusted friend or a therapist that you can talk to can help you to work through your own feelings and help you manage the stress you feel about this career change.
While career-related grief isn’t one of the most common types of grief, job changes can have an impact on your entire life, from your living situation to your sense of self. Remember, that you are not defined by your career, and you will get through to the other side. If you need an additional source of support, our therapists at Grief Recovery Center in Houston, TX can help.
Is it “normal” to feel as if I failed at my career due to retiring under distress or burnout ?
You are not alone. You didn’t fail at your career. You are just entering a different season in your life.