How To Move Forward When You Unexpectedly Lose or Need To Leave Your Job

When the rug is pulled out from under us there’s often fear, panic, anxiety and lost sleep. Your body can enter fight-or-flight and your days become a rollercoaster of emotions. There’s a not so subtle freak-out in the back of your mind all day shouting, “What’s going to happen next?!” and it motivates frantic fear-driven activity to “make something happen” to land your next gig.  

Out of extreme discomfort, the temptation is to try to push away our emotions and in the panic of groundlessness to reach for any next job offered to us. This may work to ease the feelings of free fall and secure a paycheck. But this strategy has some drawbacks. 

There’s a good chance you might also find yourself in a job you don’t actually want and while you may no longer feel the panic of an unknown immediate future, in pushing away your feelings, you’ll still likely be left with a lot of unresolved inner turmoil about the experience you’re going through now. Leaving a job isn’t easy and there’s a lot to process.

I’m offering an invitation and some guidance on what to try instead.

Meet what’s arising inside 

So, the future you projected for yourself is no more. If you look closely, there’s a grieving process underway. Losing your job, even voluntarily though reaching a point of needing to walk away, is loss that can trigger the same stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) as other losses in life. And in addition to the fear asking you where you will land next, there may also be painful inner commentaries about yourself. Possibly comparisons to others or thoughts of “I should have done better,” or done something differently to avoid this situation. There can be a lot of beating yourself up, feeling “not good enough,” feeling or fearing shame, or other emotions arising. 

You may be temporarily successful in getting to a different feeling state through distraction or numbing or denial, but the pain will still be there underneath. You can’t actually escape what’s going on inside and these strategies don’t truly make us feel better.

So what can we do instead? 

Welcome all that’s arising. We can acknowledge the feelings and as psychologist and mindfulness teacher Tara Brach Ph.D. instructs, allow the experience to be there, just as it is. Instead of saying No and pushing it all away, we can say Yes, and let it be. This doesn’t mean that you get lost in your emotions (if you do that’s ok though), rather it’s a pointer to, as Tara says, pause and recognize what’s going inside. There are many benefits to doing this, but a big one I experience when I try this is that it allows the energy to move through me and the intensity of the moment passes. It’s helpful to learn that you can be present with your emotions. Try to reach for this practice instead of the distraction of your phone or other moves of avoidance. 

A next step is to do some inquiry. Author Byron Katie teaches to examine your stressful thoughts and see that what they are telling you may not be true. How would you speak to a loved one or dear friend in your situation? Would you agree with their painful self-commentary? Likely not. The truth is often a lot more loving and kind than the things we tell ourselves. And there is a lot of relief in seeing more clearly.

Find what’s true about what you want 

In a panic-stricken state there is a move to grab for any next job we can get, but often there is actually some space to take a look around and be a bit more discerning than that. Yes, you want another job, but what kind of job? Doing what? This loss has created a clearing. If you were already doing something you really enjoyed then it remains clear what’s in your heart to pursue. But if not, here is an opportunity for you to make a change to a new job or career that is more aligned with you and what you will enjoy and find fulfilling. 

However, that will require you to, perhaps painfully, admit to yourself that the path you’ve been on isn’t actually what you want. And you’ll have to do the work of finding what it is you do. Not only is there a temptation to reach for any next job, but also to reach for a job that will maintain the current narrative and trajectory you’ve set out. I’ve been there myself, fighting against change by fighting for jobs I deep down didn’t even want. The truth can be very inconvenient, but there will be huge relief. And being honest with yourself will open the door to the possibility of fulfillment in what you do next. The narrative can be one of a caterpillar to a butterfly.

Learn how to be in the free fall and unknown of what’s next 

If your finances or other factors necessitate that you take a job sooner than later and you can’t wait, then of course take the job. Just be aware that’s what you’re doing. And keep your eye on the ball to transition to what you really want to be doing down the road. It’s a personal decision but to the extent that you can comfortably afford to take some time to explore the possibilities, it will give you a greater chance of landing in a job you’re going to really want and enjoy.

But it won’t be comfortable. It’s going to take learning how to live in the free fall, hang out in the unknown and maybe even say No to some potentials or offers for jobs your heart isn’t in. First, develop a practice of meeting your emotions as I described above. Then instead of frantic activity to “make something happen,” try to be more deliberate and conscious about the moves you make. Seek out the people and opportunities you’re genuinely excited about, instead of canvassing the internet. Quality over quantity.

And while your mind is wanting the drama of what’s going to happen next to end, remember that, in this moment, you are ok. The fear is about the future, stay in the present. Lastly, while this sounds like the opposite of that, also keep the big picture in mind. A year from now – or likely much sooner – this will be behind you and you’ll be glad you put in the work to reflect on what you really want and seek it out.


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