It is very often not talked about that there is a grieving process after you lose or leave a job or career opportunity. The hope for this piece is that it opens up a dialogue within our community about this completely natural reaction and how to use that unspent energy as a force for good and exercising gratitude for the experiences we have had in our career, no matter how seasoned a professional you are.
Grief – What is the first connection your mind makes?
Ah well, that must mean a person or a pet has died, right? Well, you are not wrong but have you considered that it can be something so much bigger and you probably experience it a lot more than you realise.
Ever had an awful breakup with a partner?
Ever finished a lengthy TV series with memorable, relatable characters?
Ever finished a book you have been entirely invested in?
Ever been desperate to get that job, but didn’t quite get there?
Ever been made redundant from a job?
Ever left a job you really enjoyed?
These scenarios may all seem pretty different from each other, but one thing is universal, they all have the potential to put us into a state of grief. Of course, there is no comparing these situations to that of losing a loved one, but I am saying that grief is not exclusive to the loss of a physical being or object. It can manifest from something social, spiritual, philosophical, cognitive or cultural – There are no boundaries here. Likewise, it also sits on a spectrum as to how severely you feel it, everyone responds differently.
Here we hone in on one particular area, one that I have felt very personally especially as of late. Professional grief. Now I realise you might be thinking, you are a soon-to-be graduate and really early on in your career Kate, what could you have to grieve, professionally speaking? Well first things first, no judgements here please! Our stories are all written at a different pace, respect each other’s journey. This past year has reshaped all of our lives in so many different ways, the vast majority of which we had zero control over, which as humans we don’t handle well anyway. Well here is my story of professional grief, you never know, some of this may resonate with you.
In September 2020 I completed my placement year in industry down in London as part of my Hospitality Management degree. Now, I knew the end date was coming and there was nothing I could do about it, I had to move home, go back to university and complete the final year of my course. But that did not stop me from sobbing nearly every day for the last two weeks of my time in London. At the time I had no idea why I constantly felt this way, convinced I was just being hormonal. But I was scrolling through Instagram one day, not long after I returned home and came across a post about the various stages of grief and it got me thinking. Here I am sat at home a couple of weeks after my last contract ended with another two weeks before I start back studying. I have no obligations that get me up and dressed in the morning and I keep having moments where specific memories from my time in London flash into my mind. I had been feeling many different things over the last couple of months and then it hit me, I realised at that moment, that I had been grieving. Not in the traditional sense, I knew there was a possibility of me returning to work in that same place again and that the people I had met there were still around, and I still had the chance to see them. But I was actually mourning the loss of a piece of me.
We often say when we visit a country we love that a piece of our heart will always belong there. Well, in my case I had left a version of myself there in that place, that does not translate and will not be understood by the version of me that I am now, back in my hometown surrounded by my family, where I had grown up.
That isn’t a bad thing at all, but bear in mind this had been the first time I had lived away from home, was working a very unique and intense hospitality role that had an incredibly steep learning curve. That experience was always going to change me, I had learnt and developed so much, professionally and personally. I had the real opportunity to find out who I was, away from everything that I knew, everything that made me feel comfortable and with countless new discoveries surrounding me. I had become accustomed to that way of life and the skin I was in, I had grown into myself and although that experience had always had an expiry date my body responded in its most natural way, denial, the first stage of grief. And so, I began to realise that Instagram post sitting in front of me, the small journey of professional grief I had been on. A couple of solid weeks where I had no energy, was completely lacking in purpose and felt on the brink of tears most days – Detachment. Catching myself constantly telling stories about my time in London and talking about the people there – Dialogue and Bargaining. And eventually, feeling more myself again, looking to the future and making plans for my potential return to that place – Acceptance.
Now, not everyone will experience all the stages of the grief cycle, or in the same order for the same length of time, it is entirely individual. We must appreciate that others’ experiences are different, even if some of the circumstances appear the same. I recently found myself in the difficult position of being made redundant from my part-time hospitality job that I had dedicated the last five and a half years of my life to alongside my studies. Now, this piece is absolutely not intended as a pity party, but frankly, I was crushed. With the madness of this pandemic, it was to be expected, but you can never fully prepare yourself for news that really hurts your soul as this did. But I considered myself lucky, some of my colleagues had lived and breathed that job for the last 13, 28, some 30 years of their life and now it was ending and there was nothing any of us could do to change that. So my mini spiral of mourning began again, this time much shorter and more intense, then suddenly I felt guilty and that I had no right to feel this way, I hadn’t worked there nearly as long as some of my co-workers, how arrogant of me. But it’s not that simple.
My. Feelings. Were. Valid.
All of our feelings were valid, acceptable and entirely natural. Except for this time, I decided to take this emotion and energy and turned it around to use it as a force of good, supporting my now-former colleagues and helping them to find their new direction. We have talked through all the memories we have together, the times we shared, all the laughs and the things we learned. It does not matter at what stage you are in your career you still have the right to grief an opportunity lost. My coping mechanisms were based on gratitude and escapism. Each day I would write down a new memory that popped into my head and caption it with how it made me feel and why I was grateful for that experience. Then I’d lose myself in the pages of a good book or in the words of an entertaining podcast. We all move through it in different ways, you do you, that’s all I can recommend, don’t put any pressure on yourself to achieve anything specific.
Although this piece has mainly consisted of a bit of storytime from me, I hope you can see how very real the challenge of professional grief can be. It is a process that many of us will never fully get our heads around, I know I won’t, but I hope you now see that you don’t need to make yourself feel worse by thinking you are being silly or that no one understands what you are going through. I do, I get it. Professional grief is real. Sometimes it isn’t as plain and simple as saying ‘Oh, I really miss working there because really it was much deeper than that, you had a long-term relationship with that version of yourself, shared an understanding and, if you will, a love that is different to any other you will experience in your life. One of my favourite TV shows encapsulates my sentiment perfectly for my closing line…
“What is grief if not love persevering.” – Vision in WandaVision, Disney+
Focus Meditation (2013) The Grieving Cycle and Relationship Breakdown [Online]. [Accessed 16 March 2021]. Available at: <https://focus-mediation.co.uk/2013/12/10/the_grieving_cycle_and_relationship_break_down/>