We focused in the last post on shame and how our culture potentially over-uses job and career as a source of value. I wanted to take a moment to look at the other point the Parrot et.al. quote touched on, which was the aspect of guilt in job loss. I would venture to say that most who have lost a job (and have a sense of responsibility and realistic view of self) can also point to areas of job performance where they had not done their best or had been slacking off in some capacity. This can lead to a sense of guilt for having contributed to the job loss—or even precipitating the event. I am not going to pretend that this is always an erroneous thought. It is possible that your actions (or non-actions) contributed to the loss. It is important to be honest in acknowledging that you were not the perfect employee (who is?), but don’t jump to writing that as the story’s end. Guilt is a double-edged sword that can equally spur us towards change or towards a morass of self-loathing. In lieu of gross misconduct, generally the job loss is situational, a reflection of a much broader situation than just your work as an employee. Many counselors believe that it is best to look at situations individuals face as being one part of a system. If you apply that to your job situation, then you, and consequently your job performance, are only one element within the job “system” There is also your boss, your co-workers, the clients, and so forth. Consequently, when the client loses money and cuts your company’s contract, your company also loses money and then has to decide how long they can continue to carry their current costs. Perhaps last month your performance was adequate, but now they can’t afford to keep paying you–performance aside. Or, when you were hired the company agreed to provide training to prepare you for your work, but then they lost that account and no longer had the ability or resources to bring you up to speed. Or, your work was fine, but so was Suzy’s and they decided to keep her around in a toss-up decision.
Guilt is fueled by the thought of “I should have done X…” You may be correct in your assessment (you could have done your job better/more faithfully/more consistently), but you also may be taking on too much responsibility for a decision that was not yours. Your employer made the decision—they could equally have made a decision to make a different budget cut/find a different way to train you/let Suzy go/whatever scenario applies to your situation. Remember that you only know the story from your perspective. Step back, take a breath, and realize that you were one piece of the broader story, not the whole.
Take-out Version: Guilt might be based on partial truth, but it shouldn’t be allowed to paralyze you. Acknowledge your mistakes, but realize they are only one part of the story!