The Business Owner's Coach

Job Grief: An Unspoken Dilemma in the Workplace

In today’s job market, where there is a “war for talent,” it’s a feast for a job seeker. But is it possible to still experience job grief when jobs are abundant? If you choose to leave for another opportunity, wouldn’t you be happy and just go? 

I guess it just depends on the circumstance, and in mine, when I killed off “Corporate Michelle,” an era died, and grieving was a harsh reality.

I started with WM in the spring of 1998 as a temporary helper throwing garbage into the back of a truck. I remember the day I tested for my commercial license and passed. That day was the first time in my life that I set my sights on a career. 

I started as a poor, uneducated female in the waste industry with no company connections and no idea that I could excel to the heights that lay ahead. However, I’ve received six promotions in my career since 2006 and finished as an Area Fleet Director (AFD) in a company of 50,000 strong. I am 1 of 17 AFDs. Wow, I had it made.

At the same time, I always had a narrative that went something like this “If you could do anything as a career, would this be it?” No matter what role I was in or how happy and thriving I was, when that question crossed my mind, the answer was always a quick and firm “no.” So I’ve always been able to put that thought on the backburner since I had no reason to deal with it until I did.

“Don’t be afraid to give up good to go for great” John D. Rockefeller.

Job grief can look different depending on the personal story behind it. However, if there is one message you can take from this article, let it be this: Regardless if job loss is at your will or not, it’s pretty damn personal! 

In my case, it’s a massive part of your life. I lived my values, passion and growth through my work. There are also countless benefits and experiences that my family and I had because of my career, and those are with us forever. The more informed and accepting we are of the reality that grieving a job is real, the better we can support ourselves and others through the process. There are 5 Stages to grief, looking back I can clearly see that I went through all 5.

1 – Denial and Isolation

Earlier this year, that “no” seemed to want to step out of the shadows to be seen once and for all. No matter how much I tried to logic my way into believing different, no matter how much, my brain attempted to suppress the unwanted thoughts, the force of this inner pull was relentless. 

How can I possibly give up the career I worked so damn hard to build? People with my story don’t make it. How can I trust the unknown, and how will that impact my family? And heaven forbid I talk to someone about it because then it would be real. 

No. I can’t do this, and I won’t. So shhh. Deny, move on and, in my case… book a trip.

2 – Anger

This stage was a fun time. Mysteriously every issue at work, anything that was out of place, suddenly became ultra-irritating, which was, of course, everyone else’s fault.

If only our team were more _____. If only we could _____. How can this process be so difficult? If we know it, why aren’t we changing it? I like how that department just expects this and that. Maybe they should ______.

There were times when my inner voice said, “whoa, who are you right now?” But I continued to shove any ray of reason back down into the dungeons of denial. All those thoughts were significantly out of character. It was apparent I was out of alignment. Maybe part of me thought (even hoped) leaving would be easier if I suddenly hated the company and the team. 

But there just was (and still is) no bona fide hate. 

3 – Bargaining/Desperation

“Ok, you’re not growing. That’s why you feel stuck. It’s ok to take a course, learn and apply it to your career. You’ll be better and help those around you”. What a great idea! Yeah!”

After hours of research and a few discovery calls, I signed up for the IPEC coaching program. It’s an accredited course, which in the end, meant I would have my CPC, certified professional coach designation. 

So here’s denial at its finest. I was only taking this course to “grow and be “better.” If that were true, why did I pick a program that could help me be employable as a coach in the future? Also, the goal was to facilitate growth within my role, then why did I choose to pay for it? Furthermore, why didn’t I share it with those at work until months later?

Actions really do speak louder than words, whether you are ready to face the truth or not.

4 – Depression

After signing up for the program, my focus and spirits lifted, which probably prolonged my denial even more. Nevertheless, it seemed to affirm that my strategy was on point right up until I completed my first in-class training block.

Then it hit me like a slap in the face. Being in this program wasn’t just a training strategy. It was my intuition, knowing better than my brain, that it was time for me to step into something that was in total alignment with who I am and what I am ready to express. 

I want to be a coach. I need to be a coach. I want to help liberate the extraordinary potential and gifts we hold within us. I like this for others, for me, for all.

The moment I let myself feel and think all those thoughts was the moment I realized by saying yes to this, I was saying no to that.

The reality is harsh and, for a pocket of time, crushing.

How do I leave a steady paycheck and a career of over two decades? How do I do this to my family? What if I fail and sink this ship? Why would I want to leave something that has been so amazing? And, if coaching feels so right, why is it so damn hard? 

 I needed time to waffle, cry, and make new plans to picture myself outside WM. I just needed time to be sad and say goodbye.

5 – Acceptance

The thing I found with stage 4 is that it was so crushing when I realized I couldn’t stay and needed to move on to the next era. So, I just didn’t move. I tried to distract myself by building a website, having professional photos taken, and completing school work, but really I was just keeping myself occupied with busy work while I procrastinated to face the inevitable.

I was in a self-induced purgatory, and it was time to get out.

On Tuesday, September 20th, as I spoke to my husband, I allowed myself to say aloud, “I don’t want to be the Director of Fleet anymore. All I want to do is Coach”. Later that day, I told my boss everything as I bawled my eyes out! I denied my truth for so long that I was overcome with emotion. I tried to suppress it, name it, accept but it was all too much to keep inside anymore.

September 27th, I confirmed that I was leaving at the end of Q1 2023. On September 28th, I wrote my resignation, a day I never imagined would come to be. Finally, on October 4th, I announced to my peer team and then to the Operations and Fleet Leaders that I was leaving. Every time I said it, more of the WM me died while simultaneously, I felt like I could breathe deeper.

As I was killing off my old self, something strange happened. I didn’t have to hide it anymore. And because I wasn’t hiding it, I stopped losing time and energy. My thoughts started to focus on WM work by day and Coach strategy by night. Because I allowed myself to think like a Coach, because I am a Coach, creativity began to rush through like water bursting through a dam. Finally, I could lean into it, which meant I could see it, believe it, and be it. It was like shifting from winter to spring. I have never felt so alive.

Michelle Martin