After the Job is Gone. Who am I Now?

On April 30, 2017, I stepped away from a 30+ year career in the airlines and into the unknown.

In the preceding months, I’d gone from excitement to terror, but I was expecting that. Change is scary, right? I was looking ahead. My side-hustle – Westwriter Communications – was ready to launch for real! I’d returned to university and acquired a bachelor’s degree. I was optimistic, ready, and raring to go.

Amid balloons and streamers, and yes, donning the crown my former workmates made me wear on my last day, another feeling took me by surprise. Sadness. And I mean the hiccupping, blubbering –

weeping my heart out kind of sadness.

I couldn’t understand it. Leaving the job had been my choice entirely. As the weeks passed, the sadness persisted. I began doubting my decision to leave the company, and worst of all – I started doubting myself. I felt lost. For more than half of my life, I’d been an airport supervisor. Who was I now?

The question haunted me for nearly two years until I finally came to terms with what I was experiencing and took steps to counter it. Grief. Loss – a loss of identity.

When a person involuntarily loses their job, sadness is expected and also confusion, a sense of helplessness, and frequently hurt. These feelings should never be taken lightly; they’re often intense and sometimes disabling. The cause, however, is clear and can be quickly addressed.

With time, information, and the right kind of help, the healing can begin. Luckily, most people get through it, often looking behind and saying it was the best thing that ever happened.

The lines blur when the choice is yours, especially if you’ve been at the job for a while. Who you are suddenly becomes who I was, and with society attaching so much worth to your position at work rather than your position in life, it’s understandable that when the job goes away, so does your feeling of self. You might also feel guilt for being audacious or experience imposter syndrome, overwhelm and worry that you’ve put your family into financial peril.

These feelings are real and also *really* common. Instead of going down the rabbit hole, try putting one foot in front of the other, and congratulate yourself for having the courage to move on you so that can be the best of who you are.

Whether it was your choice to move on or not, understand that job loss isn’t a single event; it’s a process that takes place over time. While going through the transition, consider the following:

  • Allow time to grieve – acknowledge it, be open to it – feel it. Before moving forward, you need to mourn what you’ve left behind.
  • Wrap your supports around you like a warm, comforting blanket. Let your loved ones spoil you.
  • Reframe the situation, many clients impacted by Covid19 say the forced transition was the catalyst they needed to shift gears – a gift.
  • Resist the urge to move quickly or allow fear to make you play small.
  • Journal – Be the observer. Untangle jumbled thoughts by writing down the answers to:
  • What is truly important to me?
  • What were my proudest moments?
  • If there were no barriers, what would be my calling?
  • What did I bring to the job that would be helpful in the future?
  • What would I want to be different in my next job?”
  • Consider volunteering – it may lead to job prospects, upgrade your skills, plump your resume, or answer the question of, “would I want to do this full time?”
  • Take time to pause and reflect; you may never get the opportunity again.

Sometimes the sadness is more than you can handle alone; consider seeking professional help if you are experiencing several of the following warning signs:

  • Crushing sadness, hopelessness, and helpless
  • Intrusive thoughts or an inability to focus or incessant, intrusive thoughts
  • Inability to sleep, or excessive sleeping
  • Sharp decrease or increase in appetite
  • Guilt that you’ve caused others harm
  • Being hyper-alert and/or excessively tired
  • Increasing irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Impulsiveness or taking risky behaviors
  • Thoughts of suicide

It’s important to remember you are so much more than your career, job, or profession. Take a moment to focus on the other aspects of your life that make up your identity – your loved ones, your hobbies, your beliefs, and your values. Now, when I’m asked what I do, I reply with, “I write, hang out with my family, and helps others find fulfillment. Now, doesn’t that sound so much more interesting than “Airline Supervisor”?

In closing, consider this quote from author Byron Katie: Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it…it’s just easier if you do.