I frequently meet with clients in career counseling who are experiencing sudden career change due to job loss, illness or injury. Swift changes to employment status can have a substantial impact. Emotional, physical, interpersonal and financial well-being are all at risk, as are self-identity, sense of purpose, connection with the world and contribution to it. I am witness to clients who are confronting these sudden changes with a mix of shock, reluctant acceptance and entrenched resistance. Very often sudden change can leave us feeling as though we are no longer active, creative authors of our lives. Deeper still, these experiences bring to the forefront our individual capacity for change and the internalized meaning and value we ascribe to career stability and career success. The experience of sudden change can therefore encompass an arc of complex feelings as clients simultaneously integrate a new reality into their day to day lives. These highly personal experiences and internal narratives play an important role in the appropriate support and encouragement a client may need. They are valuable components to helping a client re-create and re-build work and career.
Our navigation of change includes a confrontation with the contrasting associations and experiences we have of it both personally and culturally. Change is of course an inherent characteristic of human life, and yet we simultaneously value and strive to create a life marked by stability, predictability and security. We equate career stability with career success and an affirmation of our skills, purpose and contributions to the world. We are also exposed to cultural messages and personal experiences of change as liberating, associated positively with advancement, progress, creativity and forward movement. In varying degrees, we internalize these contrasts and they influence the individual ways we navigate change. When we experience sudden changes to our employment status we are subject to a significant personal test: we have to confront these contrasts. And that happens precisely at a time when job loss or change leaves us feeling marginalized, questioning our identity and the value of our capacities and skills.
The process of integrating sudden change can be experienced as highly stressful or it can illuminate surprising resilience. Oftentimes it is a combination of both. Assisting a client to reflect on and speak about their experience of change and the influence of these deeper narratives provides greater perspective, as well as a respite from feeling overwhelmed or “stuck” at a terminal crossroads. These types of conversations can:
- help a client regain an active role and engaged attitude towards their lives.
- support a client in developing a positive, confident and reflective stance towards their experiences and towards the changes taking place.
- empower a client’s ability to balance and manage the natural stress and anxiety these changes bring to daily life.
- Assist a client in re-creating a career that combines: what is possible, what is personally meaningful and what is realistic.