Extra Process Step: Processing Grief, Part 2
To continue, I got that although Laurel had made a decision that was right for her at the time, she hadn’t dealt with the disappointment and loss of her dream of becoming a human resources executive for her company. Right then I asked Laurel if she needed to mourn for her dreams that hadn’t manifested. I knew I hit the nail on the head because immediately, Laurel began to cry. (Several members of the audience began to cry at this moment as well.) As we talked, Laurel stated she had never grieved for this dream that she had held so close to her heart. In fact, the concept of grieving had never entered her mind. Yet, she had so many expectations riding on receiving her Master’s degree. She truly believed that once she had this degree her career trajectory would skyrocket. And when it didn’t, she never dealt with the pain, she never let the tears flow for the fact it hadn’t materialized as she expected.
As we talked, I helped Laurel to understand that she needed to mourn for her unfulfilled dreams. She needed the opportunity to acknowledge her feelings of disappointment and loss. She needed the chance to say goodbye.
I gave Laurel some action steps that allowed her to grieve, to touch, feel and release the sadness she had been holding onto. Once she had mourned, she was able to move into forgiveness and acceptance. Laurel wasn’t able to forgive or accept anything concerning her relationship with work until she sincerely felt all of the feelings that were wrapped up within her damaged relationship with work.
This experience taught me that grieving is part and parcel of dealing with our feelings of a damaged relationship with the work. It taught me how important being complete with our experiences is. She needed to mourn, to grieve and to be complete with the fact that her dream did not manifest with her current employer.
It was this experience that led me to include grief as a part of the Work Relationship Healing Process for those that need it. Grieving leads us to look at what we have lost and what we need to say goodbye to. Maybe you had an expectation of a promotion or of career growth, or you thought your career would move along a certain trajectory. Maybe, like a Laurel, life hasn’t progressed as you thought it would or should. Quite possibly, it is gone in a completely different direction. But maybe, within you still, is the dream, the expectation that your career should look different than it does today. It is the unrequited dream, the unfulfilled expectation, the loss, that we must deal with.
Along with any career path, there are disappointments, and there are losses, sometimes, it might not even register to us that we’ve just experienced a significant loss. But if we are experiencing a damaged relationship with work, we need to sit down and take the time and look at what hasn’t been fulfilled, what hasn’t been realized, and ask ourselves “do I need to grieve for this loss?”
One last point before we get to the homework. A loss does not define you. It does not mean you are a failure, it does not mean that you are not capable of achieving your goals or any other meaning you may have attached to it. All it means is that right now in this very moment, your dreams have not manifested as you desired.
A loss does not mean that you will never have your dream. Let’s come back to Laurel. Several years after our first meeting, and after an incredible amount of soul-searching, Laurel left the company she dearly loved. While she accepted the fact she could not achieve her dream at this company, she decided that her dream was more important than the loyalty and attachment she had to her current employer. She started applying for HR exec. roles that required the Master’s degree outside of her company. Today, she is working for another company as a human resources executive. Every day, Laurel makes use of that Masters degree that she worked so hard for. Her dream, a fundamental part of who she was, was not lost forever. However, to achieve it she needed to mourn for and say goodbye to an expectation she had that did not materialize. The act of mourning, the act of saying goodbye, gave her the freedom to move beyond the original expectation that she was so attached to.
Before we conclude, I do want to mention the completely natural and understandable desire to hold onto one’s dream. It is incredibly hard to say goodbye to a dream or a desire or an expectation. Often, we are so attached to the vision of something happening in a certain way that we don’t see the other possibilities in front of us because we are clinging on so hard. One piece of advice I give to many of my clients is to let go. Give yourself the freedom to let go. You don’t know what’s going to come in and fill in that void. Time and time again I’ve seen something pretty incredible happen for my clients when they do. I think Laurel is a perfect example of how, when she was ready to let go of her dream, being a human resources executive with the company she loved, she was able to make different choices and welcome in new and more rewarding opportunities.
To be successful at this step of grieving, you need to be willing to:
- Take a rigorously honest look within to identify the loss you need to address.
- Feel all the feelings surrounding it whether it be disappointment or frustration or anger.
- Let go of any attachment to expectations.
- Be kind to yourself. Do not judge yourself and the lump your loss into the limited definitions of success or failure. Be bold in your mindset. Know that it is okay to say goodbye and open yourself to something greater.
Now let’s execute the above!
Homework – Part A:
- What dream/desire/expectation have I held onto that has not manifested?
- What is the loss that I need to grieve for?
- What do I need to say goodbye to?
Homework – Part B:
- Take the time you need to mourn for what you identified in part A. Mourning looks different for each person. It could mean sitting down and having a good cry or taking a long walk. I’ve seen people move through mourning by writing a letter to the lost dream or expectation in order to give voice to their feelings.
The key point is to ensure that in whichever way you mourn, you are expressing all of the feelings caught up around the loss. If you feel disappointed, you need to express that. If you feel let down, you need to express that. If you feel bereft, like Laurel, you need to express it. You need to get it out rather than keeping it locked inside.
- Once you’ve had a chance to mourn, ensure that you are complete with the step. Are there:
- Any outstanding feelings you haven’t dealt with?
- Any expectations you are still holding onto?
- Anything about the loss that has gone unsaid?
- Lastly, do something kind for yourself. This is a hard step to go through. It requires a ton of honesty, guts, and self-awareness. Once you’ve completed this step, do something nice for yourself. Give yourself a reward. You’ve earned it.