When we get thrown out of the nest, it can feel really, really bad.
Losing a job, being dumped, finding out someone isn't who you thought they were, being the target of malicious gossip, being bullied, not getting that great job - these things can trigger feelings of rejection, insecurity, self-pity, and self-doubt.
We all want to be liked, to feel competent, to be valued, and to feel that we've done our very best. When we find out not only that we're flawed, but that other people see our flaws, it can be devastating.
When something like this happens, it's important to allow ourselves time to heal. Rather than jumping up immediately, dusting ourselves off, deciding that those people are jerks, shouting "Screw you!", and moving on, it's vital that we sit with these difficult feelings; to really feel what's happened. It can be very painful, but if we don't experience these feelings, we run the risk of becoming swamped in anger, resentment, and self-pity. Worse: we run the risk of not learning our lessons.
In recent years, I've experienced several very real, very painful losses. It's been about nine months, and here are some things I've learned from this challenging, but ultimately growth-oriented time:
It's OK to Pause
Though I was tempted to, I didn't jump straight into another position right after losing my job. After years of burnout and frustration, I knew that I didn't want to go back to "just a job" - sitting in front of a computer all day making someone else money.
I knew I had the skills and the experience to make something else happen. I sat with it, through the anxiety about losing my home; through the anger, resentment, and shock of being fired; through the feelings of self-loathing, insecurity, rejection and incompetence; through the anxiety and worry about starting my own business; through the days where I didn't know what to do with myself; through the sometimes very deep and dark periods of depression where I wondered why I should even go on living.
And what eventually floating to the surface was a surprising, comforting, and passionate belief in myself and my worth.
Whoah. I did not expect that.
Changing Course Is not the Same as Failing
This was a hard one for me. I'd been working since I was legally old enough to do so. To have a workplace tell me my services were no longer needed was traumatic and extraordinarily disheartening. I felt I had failed not only my employer, but myself. I felt embarrassed; ashamed.
It's healthy to understand that a course correction is in order. And it doesn't mean you've failed, or that you're not a worthy human with skills and talents. It simply means that this particular road is no longer viable, and that it's time to change direction. This is even true when the other party is the one who chose to move on.
Think about it like a road trip: You drive, you enjoy the sights, you navigate the obstacles, and then maybe, at some point, the road's surface becomes untenable. Gravel, dirt, potholes. It's time to take a new route. It would be madness for someone to continue driving on a road that was clearly not functional, right? So then why is it not OK to change course in life?
Frame Your Life
Early on, knowing what I know about words and psychology, I found myself framing my job loss in a positive light. I told people I ran my own business, rather than that I was unemployed. I said this even before it was true; and in fact, this might have been one of the first indications that I was ready to live a different sort of life. Intuitively I knew that how I framed my experience going forward was very important. I knew somehow that it was time to take control of how I experienced this transition.
Emotions are normal and natural; there is no shame in feeling them. But it's also important for us to remember that even in the flurry of emotions, we do ultimately have the capacity to steer our lives. We must listen to how we talk to ourselves and about ourselves, and we must adjust our attitudes, words, and behaviors so that we are embodying our best, most powerful selves. It's tempting to let ourselves drown in sorrow or confusion. But we need to be strong and fierce for ourselves. We are our own best advocates.
If you have a dream life, experiment with talking to yourself and others as if that dream has become true. How does that feel?
It's Time to Stop Begging
Eventually, I understood that my gifts and skills are mine to use and exploit; not for the use and exploitation of others. I will be paid what I am worth and I'll be treated with respect, or I will move along. I'm no longer a beggar.
We all have amazing capacities, and many of us don't accept these skills, talents, and gifts. We tell ourselves (or are told) that we're not good enough, not smart enough, not something enough. Not a good enough parent, partner, child, employee.
That's enough of that.
We are enough. And whatsmore, we are amazing, and to not share that amazingness with the world is a travesty.
You have talents that can enrich the world. Go out and show those talents. Whether it's paid or not paid, go out and do what you are called to do. You already know what it is that you're called to do, because you're already doing it. Now: do it more.
Life Isn't About Drudgery and Fear
For real. It's not.
I started my career life with a lot of hope and energy. And eventually, I got burned out. I didn't take care of myself. I didn't understand that constant fear of not doing enough of what my employers wanted was slowly and inexorably chipping away at my basic ability to function. I became depressed and addicted. I sought comfort in unhealthy relationships. I started to struggle to keep up at work. And then, they fired me.
In the aftermath, eventually, with awareness, patience, and many 4 am panic-stricken wakings, I realized: there's more to life than just nose-to-the-grindstone, obsequious, pandering fear.
We're worth so much more than that. If we sell our hours, our intellectual or physical gifts, or our ideas, there's no shame in that. But we can realize that we are offering our gifts, that these are our gifts. Our gifts! These people are lucky to have us. We are contributing to the web of connection and experience.
And it's OK to change how we decide to contribute. It's OK to quit: a job, a relationship, any situation that isn't helping us be our best selves. Really. We get to take up that space.
How have you weathered a major, scary transition?