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Navigating the Ups-and-Downs of Job Loss . . . and Job Search

Recently I was reminded about the emotional side of job loss. 
I was talking with a now happily employed person    we’ll call her Joan    who recalled what it felt like to lose her job many years ago.  Although time had passed, emotions surfaced that were still raw when she recalled the experience.  She talked about what an emotional experience it was, and mentioned the shock and feelings of disbelief:  “This can’t be happening to me!”  She recalled the financial concerns: “How will I pay the bills?’  And, other concerns: “I’ve got to have a job - What do I do now?”

Joan also recalled the ups-and-downs she experienced.  “Some days were better than others,” she recalled, “but there were always the nagging fears . . .
"What if no one will hire me?  Will I lose everything?"
!   What if I can’t find a job? 
!   What if no one will hire me?
!   What will I do? 
!   What will my family do? 
!   How do I keep my child in school? 
!   Will I have to move or relocate?” 
The list of concerns went on and on.

As I listened to Joan, it caused me to think about what emotional turmoil job loss, or any significant loss for that matter, can cause.  I realized that books, articles, workshops, webinars, and even career coaches most often go directly to the subject of “how to find a job” or “improve the one you’ve got,” with a focus on the mechanics and techniques of doing so, and rarely treat the subject of the emotions job seekers experience as they search for a new or better job.  And these emotions can stop you in your tracks!

Certainly the “how to’s” are important, in fact critical, to job search success.  No one would argue that.  It is critical to understand how to produce and use job search tools such as resumes, cover letters, and elevator speeches and perform the techniques of effective interviewing, networking, and negotiation.  But, in listening to Joan describe the painful experience of that first job loss, it occurred to me that none of these tools and techniques can be developed and performed well, if at all, if a job seeker gets stuck in the ups-and-downs of the emotions of job loss and job search, and does not understand that . . .”this too shall pass.”

The Emotional Turmoil of Job Loss          
Question: Why is the loss of a job so painful for so many? 
Why is the loss of a job opportunity, when you know “you’re perfect for the job” but don’t get the job offer, so painful for so many?
Answer:    Because a lot of our identity resides there!

Our jobs hold very emotional spots in our heads and hearts.  “What we do for a living” and “What we do with our days, weeks, and years in making that living” are critically important to us and to our self-esteem . . . not to mention to the esteem of those around us like family and friends who often derive a portion of their self-esteem from what we do professionally. 

Think for a moment about the initial conversation of most casual meetings or networking conversations:
“Hi Harry.  I’m Jane.  Nice to meet you.  So, what do you do? 

“I’m a network engineer. I’ve been with ABC Company for 5 years and moved up into my current position when the head of the department moved on to. . . .  So what do you do Jane?

“Oh, I’m in design.  Ever hear of the DEF Building.  I did all the interior design.  I have my own firm, Jane’s Interior Design, and now we’re looking at expanding into . . . ”

And, the conversation is off and running.  Business cards will be exchanged, and depending on the mutual interest, Jane and Harry may get and even stay in touch.

Notice both Jane and Harry talked about their professions, what they do with their days, weeks and years, . . . .their jobs.  Either could have answered in a 100 different ways.  They could have talked about . . .
- their status as parents,
- their hobbies,
- their civic involvement,
- their political affiliations,
- their travel,
- their pets,
- that they’re a contributing member of society,
- that they’re a good person, etc. 
But, neither did.  And, this is most commonly the case.  Why? 

Because, in American culture, and particularly in American business culture, we tend toward describing and defining ourselves in terms of our work.  Think about it.  A lot of our identify is tied up in the work we do; we spend 8 or 10 or 12 hours a day there.  And, it goes way beyond a paycheck. 

So, when a job is lost, downsized, lessened in responsibility or stature, a part of us feels lost too.  We experience a loss.  Or, when we interview for a position that’s a dream job, putting our heart and soul into it and come in second or third, we feel the loss.  To the person who says “It’s just a job.  You’ll find another one,” you respond “You just don’t understand.”  And, the truth is, they don’t.

Change = Loss
Any change equals loss. 
Whenever you make a change, you move toward something new, and away from something old, known, and familiar.  Even if the change is a good one, human beings feel the loss of leaving behind that which was a familiar facet of their lives.

We experience feelings of loss even if the change is away from something that was not so good, did not meet our needs, or was destructive or even painful.

Career transition is no exception to this phenomena of loss.
!   You may be seeking a new position for the harshest of reasons    loss of your position.
!   You may be underemployed -- your skills and knowledge are underutilized in your present position    and seeking a new position that better utilizes your abilities.
!   You may be over-employed -- in a position which requires a level of knowledge, experience, skill, or capability which you do not possess  – and seeking a position that is a better fit.
!   You may be unhappy in or bored with the field you are in or with the level at which you are employed, and want to make a career change.
In any of the cases above, as you seek and find a new position, you will experience the phenomena of loss, i.e., leaving behind that which is known and familiar, even if it was uncomfortable or unsatisfying. 

Feelings: Forewarned is Forearmed
Being aware of the emotions of loss, and knowing how to manage them, enables a job seeker to keep moving forward in their job search.  It helps you to NOT get stuck.  If stuck, it helps you get “un-stuck” when you realize that these emotions such as anger or sadness or hopelessness will pass. 

And there are a range of emotions you may experience when faced with the loss of a job, or an important job opportunity.  These could include:
- Anger toward those seen as responsible for the loss
- Frustration over feeling the loss of control over our lives
- Sadness or depression over what seems at the time as being put in a bleak, if not hopeless, position.  And, it can seem all the more depressing as you realize your search affects, and is affected by, family, friends, social activities, finances, self-esteem, and plans that were made for the future.  Hearing over and over again from family or friends:
- “Did you have any interviews today?”  or . . .
- “Did you find a job yet?”  . . . can get old fast!

So, when forced to find a new position, you may feel a keen sense of loss, and there’s a lot of it:  
!   There is the loss of the job itself (whether by choice or mandated by the employer)
!   Loss of familiar routines
!   Loss of folks we thought were friends who stop getting in touch – a particularly tough one for some folks
!   Loss of social activities you normally participated in that become unaffordable, you don’t have time for, or to which you’re not invited anymore
!   Home can become less of a refuge as family members become increasingly anxious, distraught, and impatient for you to find a new job
!   Loss of esteem too -- the loss and uncertainty we feel when we don’t know what to say when someone says: “So what do you do?

This too shall pass
Although it can feel terrible, it is very important to know two very important things: 

!   First, these feelings are normal and that    

!   Second, you will get through them.
In fact, in any given day during your job search you may realize that your emotions run the gamut
Navigating the Ups-&-Downs
from highs to lows as you experience:

  The joy and excitement over securing a networking meeting with a key individual in the field,
--And then the frustration and annoyance when it is canceled.
  The hope, happiness, and anxiety of getting an interview,
– And then sadness, dismay, and depression of coming in second.

The ups-and-downs are enough to make you want to just give up the search and quit . . . and many do.  However, that doesn’t have to be you if you better understand this range of feelings you are feeling.  In fact, this range of feelings human beings experience when dealing with a loss is the subject of the work of a renown medical doctor and psychiatrist, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.   Her work has helped many people understand and therefore deal better with losses, and the resulting grief, they are experiencing. 

Since the loss of a job, or job opportunities, equates to significant loss for many, and generates a wide range of up-and-down emotions, Dr. Kubler-Ross’ model can, and has, been used by job seekers to understand, cope with, and manage the emotions – the ups-and-downs – of job loss and job search. 

The Five Stages of Loss
A bit of background . . . Dr. Kubler-Ross was working with terminally ill patients, people who were about to experience the greatest loss of all -- that of their own life. After working with these patients for a long time, she realized that they seemed to go through a pattern of various emotions until arriving at a point of stabilization where they could deal with and accept the loss. She recognized five stages of emotions that people facing loss experience, before reaching a period of stability:  These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance:

1.   Denial -- Dr. Kubler-Ross found that a person facing loss will first (most often) experience denial. You sometimes hear a person express it in this way: "I can't believe it. Not me, not now.”     
A person losing their job may say, “This can’t be happening to me.  After 20 years with the company and all I’ve done for them.  They’ve got to come to their senses and change their minds."

2.   Anger -- Kubler-Ross said the denial or disbelief frequently turns to anger in the next stage.    
You sometimes hear a displaced person say: "Who do they think they are? How could this happen?  It’s not fair. I'd like to punch their lights out!"

3.   Bargaining -- During this stage, Kubler-Ross said people seek to postpone the inevitable and can feel a sense of false hope.       
For instance, a person facing a job loss, for example, due to a plant closure or outsourcing of their function might say, i.e., attempt to bargain, "Maybe they won't close the plant if I work harder," or "If I learn how to operate that computer program by Tuesday, I may be able to keep my position." 
Hope springs eternal, and while there is always some slight chance that things will change, typical of the bargaining phase is that the hoped-for chance is unlikely.

4.   Depression -- During this stage, people feel sadness over the loss.  This is a stage in which one may feel listless, exhausted, or de-motivated:            
"I don't have enough energy to get out of bed in the morning, yet alone look for a job.."  Or “I may as well just give up.  No one will ever hire me.” 

5.   Acceptance -- Here, some energy and hope begin to return. The future doesn’t look so bleak. Although, one may still feel a little shaky during this stage, people begin to see the situation as one that (1) CAN be dealt with and (2) as a problem to be solved.         
A job seeker who has lost their job, or experienced a significant setback, may say, “Well, this is the hand I’ve been dealt,” and “I might as well take stock and deal with it.” They begin to get back on track.
Having moved through the previous stages, in this stage, a sense of control and stability begins to return.  People begin to set goals, develop action plans, and get back in the “job search” game.  They begin to gain a perspective on the situation, analyze what needs to be done, and call upon their normal problem-solving skills to manage this new challenge!

Our take-away from Dr. Kubler-Ross’ work is that this range of emotions that she discovered applies to “loss” in general.  People going through job loss can experience this same range and pattern of feelings.  Here are some important things to know as you go through the ups-and-downs of your own job search:
1.   It’s normal.         
It is normal to feel a range of feelings, whether over the loss of a job or an important job opportunity for which you apply.  Not knowing this has led some job seekers to wonder:  “Is there something wrong with me?  Everyone else seems to be doing just fine!”

Know that it’s normal, and your job seeking colleagues are probably feeling the same things – only hiding it more skillfully!  So, feel the feelings and know that you will get through the ups-and-downs and back to stability.

Know too, that sometimes a down- or off-day occurs and you need to allow yourself to take a day or two off to recoup and recover.  That’s OK.  What’s not OK is to let 1 or 2 days become a week, month, year, or . . . years. 

2.   The emotions recur.       
It is really important to know that the five stages can occur and then recur, multiple times, although often subsequent bouts of these feelings are less and less severe.  

For instance you may have felt very angry a week after being given notice of the loss of your job or a job opportunity, but then you got past it.  Then, a week later, just when you think the ups-and-downs are behind you, you see an item on the news about the company in question and your anger surges.  

Knowing it’s normal for the emotions to recur helps.  You know you’ll occasionally have these feelings, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the stage of anger or any other emotion; it was just an emotion you felt again, and probably will from time to time.

3.   You may not feel all 5 emotions of loss.           
Some folks experience all five emotions; some don’t.  It’s OK and that’s normal too.  

A lot depends on you, your experiences of the past, and your ability to rebound from difficulties.  For some, if this is not the first job loss, that sometimes makes it easier too.  You’ve learned from an earlier experience.

4.   The emotions can occur in any order. 
You may experience the emotions in the order as described in Kubler-Ross’ model, and then again you may not.  That’s OK too; it’s normal. 

Some people when dealing with a loss go straight to anger or sadness; some move more quickly to acceptance.  Again, a lot depends on your own history for managing when the going gets tough.

Dealing with the Feelings . . .
The important thing to walk away with is an understanding that losing your job, and/or searching for a new one, and the losses you can expect to experience, is fraught with emotions for the reasons described earlier (Our identities are affected by our jobs.).  Knowing what to expect, and what is normal, can help a great deal in navigating your way through these emotions, and keeping your job search moving forward. 

Step 1.  Understand that these feelings are normal, and allow yourself to feel them:  That DOES NOT mean express them in an inappropriate way.  For more on this point, read on to Step 2.

Step 2.  Have a pre-selected confidante  – 2 at the most    with whom you can communicate your “REAL” feelings.  As you begin your job search, select a trusted colleague, friend, job search “buddy,” former mentor, or job coach whom you can call up and tell the truth about how you’re really feeling.  This person must be a confidential source. 

Why is this important?  Because you do have to have an outlet to unleash your feelings and thoughts to.  If you don’t, they’ll surface anyhow, and at the worst possible time! 

The risk in expressing these feelings at the wrong time or to the wrong person is they can do damage to your job search.  Comments like:  I’m mad as ____; that interviewer treated me so unfairly,” or “I’m so tired of getting nowhere that I might as well give up,” are comments that should be RESERVED FOR A TRUSTED CONFIDANTE’S EARS ONLY.  To express these feelings to anyone who happens to be convenient can hurt you and your search.

Example 1:  A casual statement made on the subway following a failed interview about how lousy the company is can come back to bite you.  That person you tell may be employed by the company or another one you apply to in the future; they may remember your comment and remember you . . . not in a good way!

Feelings do NOT = Behavior!

Example 2:  You decide that you were treated unfairly in an interview and decide to call up or send an e-mail to the head of HR, or the hiring manager and tell them off!  Not a good idea! . . . . . . This action may make you feel better in the short term, but it can cost you in the long term.  Why?  You lessen your future chances for employment by that firm, or by anyone who was present at your interview who may have moved on to another firm and was impressed by you and your qualifications.  People have long memories, and job seekers frequently forget that professions, such as the HR community or hiring managers in a specific technical community, are a small community.  They know each other and they talk!

Step 3.  Learn to ACT.  Acting is not reserved for Broadway only!
Feelings do not equal behavior.  The fact that you feel angry or sad or hopeless does not mean you have to act that way.  You may have an interview to go to, or a networking meeting or a job fair on the schedule that day.  Even if you’re feeling down, and not your usual upbeat self, go to your event and ACT!  Act positive.  Act optimistic.  Act competent.  Psychologists say you can act or” behave” your way out of your negative feelings and into positive ones by behaving that way.  Acting positive, upbeat, and competent can get your there.

Step 4.  Take control of your job campaign and put your managerial skills to work by (1) establishing a Daily Activity Plan and (2) working it.  You’ve heard it said:  Plan your work and work you plan.  Having a plan for your daily routine, and performing your self-assigned tasks each day goes a long way toward moving aside the negative feelings.  You won’t have time for them.  Activity goes a long way toward beating and eliminating the doldrums.

You’re in Sales!
Finally, remember, job search is a “sales activity.”  And, the most effective sales people learn to look at things from the “customer’s” point of view.  In the case of job search, your customer is the employer.  And, . . . .employers are wary of hiring people who seem in distress.

Employers are Wary of Hiring . . .
!         Employers are wary of hiring anyone displaying bitterness, negativity, or mistrust; these are not the characteristics employers want to see in prospective employees.  As one employment manager colleague of mine said many years ago: “I don’t need to hire another problem; I’ve got enough walking around here already.           

!         Employers are wary of hiring anyone displaying low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.  These are not the qualities they seek in employees who will have to tackle problems and difficult situations to get the job done.

!         Employers are wary of hiring anyone "needing a job."  Employers have the “need” that must be filled – not the other way round.  Job seekers frequently forget this important “sales” point.  

Suffice it to sway that poor attitudes shown by candidates for employment have probably done as much or more to prevent their being hired than lack of any tangible skills or qualifications for the job.

Employers Are Inclined To Hire People Who . . .
!   Display positive attitudes and an understanding of the circumstances surrounding their departure from their previous employment, such as understanding the financial necessity for the downsizing of their previous firm resulting in the layoff and loss of their job. 
"   Being able to convey a sense of understanding that the job loss was not personal, for example in the case of a layoff, goes a long way toward creating a positive impression of you on the interviewer.

!   Say positive things about previous employers.
"   After all, what will the candidate say about them?

!   Display good morale and the ability to bounce back from hardship or problems.
"   No job is ever going to be problem-free, and that includes the job you are seeking.

!   Are problem solvers.
"   In today's very tight economy, a person who can identify problems is valuable.
"   A person who can identify and offer solutions to problems is invaluable.     

!   Are contributors who
"   Can show how they contributed to the bottom line of previous employers.
"   Can suggest how they can contribute to the bottom line of their next employer!

When Life Throws You Lemons . . .
There’s an old saying that goes: “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade.”  And, when you’ve lost your job, or come in second or third in an interview for a job for “which you were perfect,” it can sure feel like lemons coming at you.  Forewarned IS forearmed, and having knowledge of what to expect and how to deal with the lemons is more than half the battle.  So, take the information I’ve shared, use it to your advantage to keep your search moving forward and make lemonade!

All the best for a successful job search and career success,

Nancy                AJC - for Your Career Path
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