Dealing With the Emotions That Accompany Starting Over

There are many reasons that we find ourselves at a place in life where we are starting over. Some by personal choice, others by external circumstances that may have been beyond our control. Once we come to terms with the reality that things have changed, we often find ourselves in that nether land between what was and what can be and we feel unbalanced and out of control. We may long for what was lost or even be angry and resentful that it was taken away.

One of my 42 blind dates was a man named Jim. We started the evening with the standard exchange of questions and answers: “Where do you work? What do you enjoy doing? How do you know so and so?”

Once the ice was broken, we delved a little deeper into the real reason for our getting together … after all, we both knew we would not be here unless we were starting over. I don’t recall what I asked that set him off, but he began ranting about his wife walking out on him, how she doesn’t care for the children, and only thinks of herself. Clearly he was upset and needed to let it out. Being a parent myself, my biggest concern was for these poor neglected children.

“How old are your children,” I asked. “21 and 22,” he answered. Their ages surprised me somewhat and elicited my follow-up question: “And how long has it been since your marriage ended?” His voice rang out in anger – “17 years!” It was instantly clear that this man was not starting over… he was stuck.

There is a standard progression of emotions we go through when life throws us a curve ball and we suddenly are faced with starting over.

  • The first is shock/disbelief. “This can’t be happening to me. It must be a mistake. Certainly everything will be straightened out and I can go on as before.”
  • Next comes bargaining: The reality begins to sink in, but we still hold on to the hope that we can turn things around. “Maybe if I can help him see the error of his decision, he will change his mind. Maybe if I promise to change, she will let things continue on as they were.”
  • Then anger rises to the surface. Anger at the person that forced this change on you. Anger at those who were spared the axe. And anger at yourself – “How could I be so stupid!? Why didn’t I see this coming!?”
  • Next, depression sets in. This is when you begin to really feel the loss and these feelings can be overwhelming. Maybe you can’t sleep, or you find yourself crying at the drop of a pin. The grief comes over you like a wave and you’re certain you will be consumed by the sadness.
  • Then, the waves subside and the sea is calm. Acceptance rolls in and you’re in control again. What you have lost is still gone, but you have peacefully come to terms with this and are ready to start over.

Having worked with thousands of professionals who are dealing with job loss, I have seen this cycle played out countless times. And each time, I stress these basic truths:

  1. The cycle is inevitable – it’s a natural part of letting go of “what was” so the transformation to “what will be” can begin.
  2. You can’t skip any of the stages. Sometimes I meet a person who moves through the stages so quickly that they think they skipped over them, but, for what ever reason, they reached acceptance much sooner than others.
  3. No one can set the pace for you. There are those who may be uncomfortable with your anger or concerned about your depression and feel it is time for you to move on. But, we all have our own emotional clocks that help us to know when it is time to move on. Assist those around you with understanding this so they know how to support you.
  4. And the final thing that I stress is that sometimes, like Jim, we can get stuck. If you’re starting over, or thinking about starting over, take a look at where you are in the process of letting go – and how long you have been there. If you find that you’re stuck, it may be time for some professional intervention and help.

Jim made me aware of something that is often an underlying cause for someone remaining unemployed for far too long: People that are in denial, are angry or are depressed are not very attractive. No one wants to date them – and certainly no one wants to hire them.

Acceptance is a powerful thing – it opens countless doors to new opportunities – and is the key to truly starting over!

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