A Picture of Waiting–Rebecca Rodgers’ “Between the Academy and a Profession”

My website header refers to the unexpectedness of life and recently mine has had a few twists and turns of its own.  I’ve found myself with less energy for writing and not enough time for reading!  Consequently I’m going to cheat a little today and direct you to an article I came across via a friend’s facebook wall that beautifully encapsulates the alternating pain and hope of times of waiting.  Rebecca Rodgers (author) writes from a perspective of Christian faith about her emotional struggles on the road to finding work, but her experience applies universally to anyone who has found themselves doing everything they can and yet coming up empty.  Rodgers also discusses how her faith has sustained her through this process and comes to some encouraging realizations for other Christians.

Take a moment to read her story.  For those in a similar place, be encouraged that you are not alone.  For those who are walking alongside friends in this place, take away insight into the journey of waiting.



A story has many pieces.

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!

If I’m Not My Job, Who am I?

In the process of preparing to lead a group that focuses on the emotional impact of job loss I was recently reading sections of Les and Leslie Parrot’s “The Career Counselor.”  The book lives up to its title and addresses many topics surrounding career counseling, but a section highlighting the various stages of emotion an individual may experience at the time of the job loss particularly stood out in this reading.  I’ll refer directly to the author’s words:

 Shame occurs with the loss of a job because the disapproval is from some authority with power to judge.  When a worker has been fired, it feels as if everyone disapproves.  Guilt comes from what I do.  Shame comes from who I am.  If I am fired, I must be an  unworthy person (Parrott and Parrott, p. 177).

Now, the CBT therapist in me wants to point out that you think everyone disapproves, leading you to feel sad/ashamed/ rejected, etc.  That point aside, this cuts to the heart of why a job loss is difficult, regardless of the circumstances.  The loss demonstrates to individuals that they are no longer good enough for the thing that took up the majority of their waking hours for months and (possibly) years—the thing that they were once recruited for, promised would be long-term, sacrificed for, and struggled to hold onto—this thing now sends the message, “sorry, you’re expendable.”  As the quote points out, being fired, regardless of the circumstances, can drown out all previous positive feedback in its finality.  As noted by Parrot et. al., the reaction to this feedback is often shame.  Naturally no one likes negative feedback, but why is job loss so powerful that an individual can become deflated overnight?  Isn’t a job a merely a tool that enables you to feed your family, afford shelter, perhaps even to afford fun vacations?  Don’t we all complain about having to go to our jobs week in and week out?  Logically, we might expect the first reaction to be fear for how to provide rather than a sudden loss of confidence.  Logically we know a job can be replaced and that the loss does not negate the years of experience and successes, yet it is a struggle for individuals to hang on to that knowledge–a truth echoed by those who minister to individuals walking this path.  Sometimes I wonder if the experience of shame is heightened by our society where we are trained to compare ourselves with others by our work.  Would you know how to start a conversation with a stranger without asking about his or her career?  This is taken as normal, yet other cultures do not necessarily look to this as the first point of inquiry.  Valuing job as a marker of status may be neutral, but it is important to consider that we can define ourselves by other things.  The unemployment period can be beneficial in that it allows an individual to consider values around work, relationships, self-care, and more.  Perhaps for you this is a time to explore where your identity is grounded.  Do you look to your work, your relationships, or your accomplishments to find value?  Or do you base your value on an acknowledgement that you are a person of worth regardless of your external trappings?  For my readers of faith, do you take time to realize your value to God?  Losing a job will always be a time of uncertainty, fear, and lead to struggles with self-worth but it does not have to be a time where you become lost in these struggles.  If you are struggling with shame after job loss take a breath, reach out to a friend, and consider your value as a person apart from your work–you might be surprised what you discover!

Take-out Version:  An identity based on what you do crumbles easily.  How would it be different if you weren’t defined by your job?  How would you define yourself?