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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Importance of Getting Past It

Forget for the sake of this post that I have any managerial or leadership position with any company. I'm not serving as an apologist for anyone when I say to those of you seeking long-term corporate careers that getting past difficult decisions and people is an absolutely essential skill.

Now two-weeks past our staff reductions, I see and hear of a person here or there who is struggling to keep their chin up. Their best friend was let go, the person who hired them is retiring, someone they loved was laid off while someone they despise was kept. It is not at all unusual, and is actually fairly common, for personal loss to cause someone to change jobs. The idea that, "its just not the same around here anymore" can cause you to look for another job, or at least suffer a loss of commitment to the job you have. Its a form of grief not unlike the death of someone close to you.

I know this first hand. A few years back I knew I needed to leave Sumitomo Electric because I saw the handwriting on the wall. I was opening new plants in Mexico and performing compensation analysis on U.S. vs. Mexican operations, and saw that we were paying the same wages for a week in Juarez that we were paying for a day in Kentucky. I knew that one of these days my job would be in Mexico if I had one at all. I was sort of looking, sort of not... The day after New Years 2001 my best friend at work Mark Black collapsed outside the back door of our offices in Bowling Green and, despite being a healthy young man in his 30's, died in the hospital of meningitis a few weeks later. My wife and two of my co-workers later told me that they knew at his funeral mass that I was gone; three months later I was here at Thomas Nelson.

This was a good move for me, because there were other reasons to go and losing my closest personal connection at work just gave me the shove I needed. But sometimes people make bad, hasty moves out of emotion, and a poor job change can alter the trajectory of an entire career. As I've said before, emotion and business don't mix. Here are some tips for working through grief at work, whether caused by anything from a lost colleague to a bad decision.

1. Realize that you're grieving and treat it as such. If someone close to you died you wouldn't expect to be back to normal by the next Monday morning. Nothing is wrong with you, or your job, because you feel really down at the moment. Grief has stages that must run their course.

2. Reach out to your friend outside of work (and don't talk about work when you see them). Making your friendship transcend your work relationship will go a long way toward easing your grief. Or, if that relationship turns out to be only superficial and work-oriented (see my previous post), your grief will ease with this new perspective.

3. Remember that its only a job, not your whole life. You didn't expect to like everything and everybody when you applied, so get back to that perspective now. If you find that you've wrapped up too much of your personal and social life into your work, now is a good time to resolve to make friends outside of work.

When you remember that a job, even a good job with a good company, is just the career/financial component of your overall life then you begin to adjust the expectations you have for that job and that workplace. I've said this before and will repeat it as long as I have readers: if you rely on a job, any job, even a great job with a great company to provide happiness then the corporate life will be a miserable existence for you. If you treat it as an important component to a balanced life that includes family, church family, friends, recreation, personal interests, etc... then you give a good employer the chance to exceed your expectations. You'll also be in a better mood when you go home each night.

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