There comes a time in each of our lives when we are faced with painful, life-changing events over which we have no control. Whether it’s a big event or a small event, it will require two things of us: time to grieve and time to heal.
The life-changing events we speak of here don’t have to be catastrophic in nature. Life-changing events can include: being passed over for a promotion, not winning an RFP, working for someone who is not the leader you had hoped for, or not getting a job that you wanted to get. Yet, these events, like catastrophic ones, such as the death of a loved one, being laid off, divorce, and significant health concerns, require grieving and healing because they, too, have altered the future as you had envisioned it.
As coaches and consultants, we often work with individuals to help them grieve, heal, envision a different future, and plan for how to move forward. They seek our help because most people don’t have experience actively grieving their losses in order to move effectively into their new future. Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t allow much time for grieving – think of it, in many organizations you get 3 days off when a close family member dies – and when we do acknowledge that one must grieve, we often assume that grief is passive, something that overcomes us – when in fact it can be quite active.
Grieving is the process that allows us to integrate new truths into our lives. One way to visualize this is to imagine your life as a tapestry of multicolored threads (representing your life experiences) woven together as a whole. When something significant happens in your life, you need to pull out those threads that are no longer true and weave in the threads that represent the new reality. As you can imagine, if we pulled out a lot of threads all at once, the tapestry would fall apart; and if we jammed in a bunch of new threads without patience and thought, the tapestry would be a mess. Grieving is the process that helps us let go of the threads that are no longer true and weave in those that are true in a constructive, measured way.
So, for example, if you have finally gotten the job of your dreams but have come to discover you are working for someone you don’t like or respect, you will need to let go of those threads that represented . . . “this will be a wonderful job,” “I will want to stay here forever,” or “I will finally get to do all that I have wanted to do” . . . and you will need to weave in the new truth . . . “I have loved this organization from afar but now that I am in it I am disappointed in their willingness to keep someone like my manager in their role,” “I will work here for a year to keep my resume looking good and then start looking,” or “I will make the best of it while I’m here.”
Grieving is about letting go of the truth you have lived (or hoped to live) and beginning to integrate the new truth into your life at a pace that doesn’t destroy you. Healing starts to happen once you have articulated and honored that there was loss and then begin to acknowledge that the future will be different than you’d hoped or expected. We know we are healing when we accept the outcome and stop railing against it – even though we still wish it had not occurred.
Take some time this week to see if there are places in your life where you have failed to grieve a loss. If you identify an un-grieved loss, we hope that you will devote some time to grieve and some time to heal so that you can create and embark on a new and meaningful future.