Change has a cycle. At the start, it triggers shock, which brings disbelief and disorientation. For setbacks, the next stage is anger, acute, powerful and sometimes overwhelming anger, before acceptance starts to come in.
These stages of grief are being played out by many, right now, no longer in the jobs they were in as the year opened. Each of them is now grappling with fury, turned in on themselves as depression, anxiety and self-recrimination, or pointed out at the world as rage at being cheated and let down after all their building and efforts.
The rage may even be suppressed, leaking out in shouting at another driver, or arguments in the home. But for anyone recently fired, anger will be there. It’s normal, and sane, but also huge to deal with alongside unmet financial commitments, including the need to eat.
So, first off, for anyone living this journey right now, know that you are not alone. Know that nearly all of us who are a bit older have at one time or another worked for a company that went bankrupt, or through some sudden round of retrenchments. These job ups and job downs are the cycle of life and not a personal persecution, but the nature of business.
The average lifespan of any company, large or small, is just 12.5 years worldwide. As with any average, many outlive that, but barely one-in-five businesses survive beyond 20 years of age.
Even studies of the Fortune 500 and of boards of our very largest companies add up to colossal turnover between decades.
For which reason, those who manage some lifetime career trajectory from the age of 22 to 62 without any major disruption are few and far between. Almost all of us who ever have jobs, have or will lose our job, one day.
Of course, it helps little with the bills to know retrenchment is a normality, but it can help with some self-compassion. For this is not about the individual: it’s about the world we live in, and must thrive in. And for any of you whose card has come up in 2020, those of us who hit some earlier unplanned career change can tell you now: you will survive. In fact, it may well shoot you onto a different and better path.
For change can be shocking, and we don’t adapt easily or well, we humans. We can turn ourselves inside out, ground to a halt because we just don’t know what to do, or keep hankering after a past now gone.
But as the acceptance starts to come, and we realise that chapter is closed, change moves us to a new stage, of hope. Indeed, it’s a cycle so embedded in the human psyche it even has its own acronym: S.A.R.A.H, for the wheel of Shock, Anger, Resentment, Acceptance, and Hope. And we all really need to know how to manage that emotional maelstrom in our lives now: more resilience needed, as we plot our way through this global pandemic that has stopped much of life for many months.
For while private sector life has long been characterised by periodic closures and redundancies there are now far more, and they span beyond the private sector. The international institutions will suffer savage cuts ahead as government budgets strain everywhere. The same is true of aid programmes: for nations who are currently spending billions trying to head off a long-term economic depression, the aid budget will come a long way lower than the debt servicing costs.
Thus, in bereavement, there comes a moment when we all realise that we coped with the shock, we have been brave, but it just isn’t going away, and that person is really, truly gone and forever. So has our old life.
There will be more job losses ahead. We are not done yet. But we are also only beginning.
For now is the time to be more confident, not less so, and know that we will not go up in a puff of smoke, we will not suddenly become unable to contribute anything of value with our hundreds of hours a month: we only need experiment now on what comes next.