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Where are you in the universe of emotions?

Aug 18, 2021

Did you know that a human can experience around 34,000 emotions? With such a big number, it's not a surprise that we could easily get lost when we navigate the turbulent waters of feelings.

A transition in our career can be a clear example of a series of emotional challenges bringing about multiple blockages that could prevent us from getting to a place of fulfilment.

It's very typical to go through different emotional states, sometimes even on the same day. We could experience denial, anxiety, shock, confusion, resignation, anger, impatience, especially if we are at the very beginning of our journey.

Work fulfils two key functions for subjective well-being: it provides a social institution which fulfils basic psychological needs such as time structure, social contacts, a purpose, status and regular activity. It also provides a source of personal identity and meaning.

We are not then surprised why a career transition, particularly when it's the result of a job loss, can affect our self-worth, causing us to feel stressed and depressed. It feels like our whole world has completely shattered.

The emotional impact of a job loss can mirror the stages of grief that people experience with a major loss such as a bereavement. The psychiatrist Kubler Ross defines the stages as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These stages can replace each other or exist side by side at times.

The career transition curve can reflect these stages, which is why it's important to know that experiencing feelings of despair, anger, hostility, social isolation, loss of control, to name a few, is normal, especially if we have lost a job we loved or we have even taken a voluntary redundancy as a result of drastic changes in the organisation.

For those who are going through a transition, quite often, at the beginning, there's a "disease of meaning". When a crisis enters our lives, we start asking more questions about the role we play in the world.

When I work with clients who find themselves in this place, a technique that seems to help them is learning to use the appropriate language to specifically name those emotions. Like with everything in our lives, the more we go specific, the better we can address certain issues that otherwise stay unsolved because we haven't yet been able to articulate what lies behind that issue. This is often why we tend to direct our energy to the wrong place, ending up feeling more frustrated and confused (I personally remember when I was grumpy at my husband or getting really impatient and nervous with strangers. I wasn't just unaware of my deep emotional experience; it wasn't them, it was me).

This array of emotions is more exacerbated for those of us are yet not able to articulate what we want to do next. We might want to pursue a traditional career track, doing a similar job, career exploration or career advancement). We might be interested in an alternative career track (self-employment or active retirement for instance).

There's a huge body of research showing that naming our emotions is really a game-changing skill that reduces negative feelings like anger or frustration have over us. When we specifically name our emotions, we become more in control of the appropriate response to them (feeling anger is very different from feeling disappointment). The more specific we go about our inner experience, the better we are able to create a plan.

When we start expanding our vocabulary around emotions while going through a career transition, we move away from a passive place where "things happen to us" and walk towards a more proactive place where we own our emotions, we are aware of the message those emotions are trying to communicate to us, and we can build a more effective response strategy.

By becoming aware of where we are in the universe of emotions, we abandon the victim mindset and embrace the ownership mindset. We start controlling where we are, we can zoom in and gradually navigate to a more constructive part of the universe (more helpful emotions) thus gaining clarity and guidance towards solutions, rather than a fixation on the problems that caused the dilemma or intense feelings.

Once we take stock of where we are emotionally, we can then move ourselves along our journey with more clarity, and more importantly, with a proactive mindset which will enable us to take ownership of our career decisions.

Take a deep breath and learn to attend to your emotions. Don't rush on your job search.
Become curious and patient with your emotions.
Write down the emotions you are feeling. Where does it come from? When does it show up? How does it make you feel? What behaviours does it trigger? What actions does it not trigger?
Learn to accept having different emotions.
Change your emotions with more constructive emotions.

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