The Value of Suffering and Grief in your career

Even though I live in one of the greatest places in the country, if not the world, bad things happen here.  Bad things happen to all of us and when they do we suffer.  People in career transition know what suffering and grief are and any one of you who have experienced transition know what this grief and suffering can be like.

Tim Keller’s latest book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering” helps each of us to understand the value of grief and suffering.  My intent today is to talk a little about the suffering that those in transition feel, and to then help explain how that suffering can be a growth experience.

Let me share a painful experience from my past first to help set the stage.  I graduated with an undergraduate degree in 1981 and worked almost two years in a small manufacturing facility in Paris, TN.  In March of 1981 my wife and I were mulling over a move to the Nashville area.  I decided to share this intent with our HR leader and his response almost knocked me over.  After I shared my story, he told me that I would be losing my job at the end of March due to a reduction in force.  I had no idea that this was coming and it was quite a slap in the face.

I spent the next month looking for work, but I also had the opportunity to experience grief and suffering on a totally different level. Eight days after I lost my job I also lost my father.  My dad had been diagnosed with cancer only five months earlier and the prognosis was not good.  I spent the last seven days of his worldly life by his side.  Even though I was already experiencing the grief of losing my first job, I compounded that grief with the loss of my dad.  I look back now and see that God had a plan in all of this and the pain and suffering I experienced was really in preparation for later chapters of my life.  Had I not had the misfortune to lose my job, I could not have spent that time with my dad.  In the greatest sense, I was completely blessed to have that time there versus spending more days in that first job.

Here are the stages of grief that most will go through when they are suffering, especially from death or dying:  (Source:  On Death & Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)

  • Denial and Isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

I know that I went through all of these stages during the loss of my job and the coinciding loss of my father.  Just about every person who goes through job transition will do the same.  I cannot state that all of us go through each stage to the same level, but it is hard to avoid going through each of them.

Job seekers need to understand that there is value in the transition they go through in leaving one role and finding a new one.  It is not always a pleasant experience, and in many cases it can be the most stressful time of your life if you have not done so before.

One of the main strategies we encourage job seekers to employ on their journey is to form bonds of fellowship/friendship with others who can act as a support system.  When we have newcomers join our career transition support group in Brentwood at the United Methodist Church we strongly encourage them to get to know others who are also on a similar journey.  By having this support system they can help one another as each goes through the phases listed above.

Suffering and grief are givens in this life, you cannot avoid them.  This suffering and loss, is approached in the right manner, can make each of us stronger and more effective when we emerge in our next phases.  This does not mean that the next job will be better or provide a higher level of compensation.  What it can mean is that the person who experiences this journey will be better equipped to not only deal with their own trials, but will also be better able to help others around them.

None of us relish the pain and suffering we have to endure in this life and job transition is one of the more painful episodes that most of us will experience.  The positive side of this experience is that it helps form us into someone who is better equipped for the next time, the next phase as we go through the journey.  This journey also allows us to better serve those around us who are also going through the journey.

If you are in career transition, don’t make the trip on your own.  The days can be long and painful, but having someone by your side can make all of the difference.

Pain and suffering will help to form you into someone who is stronger and wiser.  Enjoy the journey as much as you can, but be realistic in knowing that each of the five stages of grief will occur.  Reach out for help when any of these stages seems to be more than you can bear.