What’s Next? When you lose your $*%t.
The “What’s Next?” series of blogs follow along with folks who just wrapped up their job the first week of November and want to make their next career move really count. Most of the advice in this series is also applicable for people who are still working at a job they think they want to leave, or people who picked up some work after their last job ended — but it’s not fulfilling work. The goal of this series is to share a process to help you through your transition, give you some homework to help you along, and share resources.
If you read last weeks post on “The Day After” and did your homework, you should have had some moments of delight last week, or at the very least, started to remind yourself of who you are and what you love beyond your work identity. Great! These steps are cumulative, and not all that linear, so you should keep doing things that delight you, and keep checking in with yourself to see “what you I to do, right now?” — go ahead and ask yourself that question right now, I’ll wait… — and then do it.
You probably also had some moments of panic, sorrow, despair, frustration, weird emotional reactions to totally unconnected things; you probably spent enough time literally or figuratively consuming ‘junk food’ that numbed your worry a bit, but made you feel kinda gross and further behind after you finished. Take a deep breath, that’s all normal. I’m not going to get mad at you. You don’t want to get trapped by ‘junk food’ though, so let’s talk about it.
If you’re experiencing all this, you’re dealing with some grief about the changes that are happening in your work life. Again, this is totally normal, and actually a good sign. It means that you’re about to do something different. It means that what you’ve been doing has some level of meaning for you — which is something a lot of people in the workforce never get.
I’ve got five main pieces of advice for you here:
Ride your waves. I’m a fan of really noticing what momentum you have going for you and seizing it throughout this process. Feeling sad? Great – really lean into it, and take advantage of it to do some good grieving. Have you ever tried to schedule grief? It doesn’t work. It took me three or four years after my dad passed away to realize that I couldn’t just write “GRIEVE” in my calendar on the anniversary of his death each year, and be done with it. Grief wandered in whenever it wanted to, and then had the nerve to avoid the party I threw for it on the anniversary. So, better to seize it when it shows up.
Likewise, if you notice that you’re getting some ideas, there is nothing more valuable you can do then to run with that momentum as it shows up. Doing things that delight you, or the kind of mundane things that let your brain wander will create the conditions that let you think more creatively.
It’s a little like being a surfer. You can’t make a wave happen, if you try and move while ignoring the waves around you, or just hang out until the wave hits, you’ll just end up exhausted, plowed under, or – best case scenario – pushed into shore one frustrating little swell at a time. However, if you conserve your energy when the waves are low, you can create some real magic by being watchful and swimming like hell when you see a good one coming.
“What you resist persists.” Have you heard this expression? The best way around this dark place is through it. You are literally grieving for something important you’re losing. You have permission to curl up in a ball in bed and cry. Or go to the gym and beat the crap out of a punching bag. Let whatever emotions show up do their thing, and be gentle on yourself.
It can be tempting to shove these feelings down and go about your business, keep busy, veg out on Facebook or playing video games, eat a bunch of ice cream, but the more energy you put into avoiding grief, the longer you’ll be dealing with it, and the more powerful it’ll get.
While this doesn’t quite capture the gentle approach I’m suggesting here, I sometimes think of it as emotional vomiting. It’s like you’re sick to your stomach and throwing up, and as much as you’d rather not do it, the best way to feel better is to keep praying to that porcelain god until you get it all out. Facing huge emotions at a time like this is a real workout, and the same way you’d let your muscles recover before going for a long run again, let yourself rest & take care of yourself, give yourself a little break after a big emotional vomiting session. It can even be the littlest taste of some vice or ‘junk food,’ just don’t over indulge.
Listen and learn. I didn’t use to be very emotional, ever, so excuse some pretty clinical language about emotion here. The emotional part of me is trying to explain things in a language that my inner Spock can understand. I learned that emotions are real things, not just weird reactions that make tears come out of your face or make you shout. Emotions are real, and they carry information with them. I’ve learned that if emotions well up or I have a surprise emotional reaction, that there is something for me to learn here. If you’re experiencing strong emotions, it’s worth listening to what they’re telling you. Have you been selling out some of your values? Sacrificing yourself? Avoiding facing an important truth? Emotions can be both the sign post and also a pathway leading you to an important understanding. Don’t miss this opportunity by trying to shove emotions down, ignore, or numb them. The other thing I learned about them that you probably already know is that they always pass. Whether it’s an emotion I enjoy or find uncomfortable, it doesn’t last forever. (If it feels like it is, ask for help).
Be gentle on yourself. Don’t judge yourself right now. The things we say to ourselves in this stage are just terrible. Things we’d never say to our worst enemy. “You suck, you’re a fraud, you’ll never get a job again — especially not a job as important as the one you just left…” In coaching, we call these voices “saboteurs.” On your better days, you know this isn’t the truth. For those of you who like to think of yourselves as “realists,” you’re right. Not every difficult thing you tell yourself right now is a lie, there may be some real important truths you need to face, and we’ll do that down the road. Trust me though, if you can’t talk to yourself in a way that you can imagine talking to a friend on public transportation without feeling embarrassed, don’t go there.
Take some action. It’s all well and good to think about all the possibilities in the world, but the truth is, that can be some scary stuff and there are bills and other realities. It can be helpful to do something practical to give yourself a foundation for thinking more openly. Could be related to your job search, like applying for a job. Or several of them. When I moved across country the week the economy crashed, I applied for three jobs a week, which helped me do something concrete to improve my situation. This can be low hanging fruit, apply to a job that is boring, or that you’re overqualified for. It doesn’t mean you have to take it. If you haven’t already, see if you qualify for unemployment. If you’ve worked, you’ve paid into it, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about applying.
The action can also be totally unrelated to your job search. When I get overwhelmed, I fold laundry or clean up. (If you’ve ever seen my house, you probably think I should be overwhelmed more often!) It’s calming to me to see that after an hour of work, something is different and better.
Get help if you need it. If you’re overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Friends, family or a therapist can help you through a rough time. If you’re so sad or anxious that it’s interfering with your ability to function, or you’re turning to drugs or alcohol to cope, it’s worth talking to a mental health professional. Guess what, half of us Americans struggle with a mental health issue in our lifetime, and there are strategies that can help you. It’s the same thing as going to a doctor when your body is hurting. No shame, friend. Thanks to some good organizing, if you have health insurance, they have to treat mental health the same as any other medical issue (can’t have different coverage or copays). There’s a lot of low cost resources too, sliding scale clinics, Medicare/aid, & therapists who take pro-bono cases, so don’t let the idea that you can’t afford it get in the way of taking care of yourself.
In this phase, some things will fall through the cracks. Just make sure they’re not the most important things.
Ok – so let’s review. 1) Do things that delight you 2) Permission to grieve 3) Listen and learn 4) Be gentle 5) Take some action 6) Get help when you need it. At some point, if you do these things, you’ll start to see the light again. By ‘light’ I mean that one day you’ll notice you’re having an enthusiastic daydream about some work you might want to do. You’ll have a little energy to put into thinking about what’s next, and you’ll start seeing your possibilities widening. It’s hard to force this to happen before you’re ready, but once you notice a little enthusiasm creeping in, seize it! Take time right then and there to write down what you’re thinking, daydream for a minute about what it would look like, and see if you can list a few other possibilities.
Now you’re ready to move on to the next episode: What’s Next? Brainstorm new possibilities.
Julie Roberts-Phung is a career and leadership coach with some really happy clients doing exciting things with their lives. If you’re curious about coaching, you can book a free, no-obligation sample session to ask questions and try it out here: booketc.youcanbook.me