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Lose Your Job – Lose Your Identity

Updated on January 19, 2011

If you’ve been to a party or other social gathering, you’ve likely met new people or become reacquainted with others you haven’t seen in a while.  Usually the first thing someone asks when meeting you for the first time, after your name, is “So, what do you do?” or “Where do you work?”  If you haven’t seen someone in a while, they’ll likely ask, “Where are you working now?”

For folks without a job, this can bring an uneasy silence, embarrassment, or any number of uncomfortable feelings.  What do you say when you have no job?

One reason losing a job is such an emotional event is that your job is so closely tied to your identity.  When you lose your job, you lose a major part of who you are.  If someone were to ask you to describe yourself, your job would likely be at the top of the list in your description.  So, when you no longer have a job, you’re at a loss as to who you are at that moment.

I remember years ago when I got laid off for the first time, I was writing a check at the grocery store (that tells you how long ago it was).  The cashier would always ask for a work number.  I remember saying very quietly, so no one around would hear, “I don’t have a job right now.”  After doing that a few times, I changed my response to, “I work from home.”  I figured that wasn’t too far from the truth, since I was working very hard to find another job.  And it was easier on my ego than admitting I didn’t have a job.

It doesn’t really matter how you felt about your job.   Whether you liked your job or not, losing it is still a shock and blow to your ego.  Being without a job, no matter how you felt about it, still wreaks havoc with your feelings of self-worth.

Understanding the issue is half the battle in solving the problem: How to retain and\or regain your identity and sense of self-worth when you’ve lost your job.  If you’ve lost part of yourself, how do you find it again?  We’ll discuss this more in the future.

Not long ago I was talking about layoffs with someone I met while out shopping.  She likened losing her job to losing her child.  Though obviously not nearly as devastating, her job loss left her with a similar empty feeling, she said, as though there was a void that couldn’t be filled. 

For me, it was a feeling that I didn’t belong anywhere, that no one expected me to be anywhere at a certain time, doing a certain thing.  No routine, no expectations.  Nothing but time to fill.

Losing a job is like losing any other thing that’s important to you.  There’s a deep sense of loss, and a period of grieving must be taken to fully process the emotions.  In a future post we’ll discuss the grieving process, how to move through it, and why it’s so important to fully grieve and not get stuck, which is very easy to do.


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