Using rituals following a job loss is an effective strategy for letting go of the past and embracing the future.
Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” lyrics about the mental and emotional pain of unrequited love is applicable to anyone suffering a loss. There is no way of sugar-coating it. Losing a job stinks. It does not matter what it’s called (fired, downsized, rightsized, retrenchment), how it happened, or why it happened (poor performance, bad company management, mergers, competition, financial exigency). It happened!
There are few events in our lives more painful or distressing than the transition from working to unemployment. Work is central to our lives in ways that go far beyond providing material benefits. Work fulfills vital psychological needs. It provides us with a sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence; it allows us to feel efficacious and in control of our world; it gives us a sense of pride, ego, and identity; it improves our sense of well-being; it provides mental and emotional vitality and a sense of purpose.
You have every right to grieve and feel at a loss. Acknowledge your sadness, accept it, own it. You are not “making too much out of this” or “exaggerating your loss.” We especially abhor the old bromide: “Adversity will make you stronger.” If this were the case we would be a society of supermen and wonder women. There is no model for how people experience the aftermath of losing a job. Anger, shock, disbelief, isolation, trouble sleeping, weeping, cursing one’s fate, lack of appetite, sadness, depression are common feelings. How long one experiences these reactions varies with each individual.
Take time to adjust. Accept reality for what it is, not for what you want it to be. Do not catastrophize the future; you will not be living in a cardboard box under a bridge. Try to maintain your daily routines – exercising at the gym, having family meals together, taking walks, going to the movies — from before your loss. This is the time to reach out to others, especially good listeners. When children learn what happened, they often see the family’s future in unrealistically dire terms. Assure them that they played no role in what happened, that this is a short-lived period, and that the future is always bright.
Remain positive in your thinking and confident in your abilities. You have skills, abilities, talents, and experience that make you a valuable asset to any organization. If you think it would be helpful, make a list of all your accomplishments: completing projects successfully, closing sales, reducing costs, leading teams, solving problems, boosting morale, adding to the bottom line. Realize that your situation is temporary and is not an augur for the future. Virtually everyone in a C-suite has at some point lost his or her job.
Endings are often painful and significant. They may involve broken dreams, disappointments, grief, and unfilled goals. You are putting to rest something that was significant, something that affected your life, something that you valued.
While distressing, endings also provide a beneficial catharsis. Catharsis is a Greek word meaning “cleansing” or “purification.” It was first used by Aristotle to describe the impact of Greek dramatic tragedy. Your personal catharsis allows you to purge yourself of past negative feelings, anger at your boss, frustration with colleagues, dismay at assignments, and a general sadness about your loss. It allows one to achieve a state of renewal, rejuvenation, and new beginnings.
Creating a ritual may assist you in achieving closure to your loss. Rituals, or patterns of behavior, from “crossing your fingers” to dancing for rain, have been vital to societies and individuals from immemorial antiquity. Recent studies suggest that rituals help us break from the past, relieve grief, and increase confidence in going forward. They provide a framework for acceptance and formally declaring an end to one’s loss.
We encourage you to create your personal ritual for wishing a fond farewell to your last job. Rituals do not invariably have to be serious. Irony and humor are always in style. You may wish to burn the book of rules and regulations from your last job, or chop your old ID tag into an infinite number of pieces and scatter them to the wind. Whispering a magical incantation decrying your old boss has been known to happen. We know one woman who denounced her former workplace’s dress code, which she abhorred, by burning her pantyhose.
While rituals may provide some comic relief, they have an important function. They signal the end of a past event, the cessation of active grieving, and a time to dwell on the future. The future does not mean, as the trite expression goes, “starting a new chapter.” It means writing a new script, creating new adventures, finding new directions. You are writing a new narrative.
Endings, then, are not a time to prepare the wood for the funeral pyre or hang the black crepe. It is a time of reflection, evaluating career goals, catharsis, finding meaning in past events, putting things to rest, and adjusting to your new reality. It is a necessary precursor to a robust future, positive thinking, and reigniting your passion. All new beginnings start in an old beginning’s end.