Coming to terms with the ending of a significant part of our lives such as the ending of a career may be difficult and even painful to accept. The sense of loss will be more acute if it was imposed on us externally. It may result in us assuming the role of victim, resenting the changes to our circumstances.
This was the situation faced by a client of mine recently. She had worked for a particular organisation for nearly 30 years, expecting to eventually retire with a healthy pension when she felt the time was right. However, she became the victim of a restructuring and wasn’t successful when re-applying for the role she had carried out for six years.
Having successfully delivered results during her tenure, as she perceived it, made the redundancy from her role even more difficult to accept. Finding closure to a situation that is final becomes difficult when we do not feel in control. However, in order to move on it is necessary to let go of life as it was. Acceptance is a critical aspect of creating something new to take the place of the old.
Survival syndrome among those who stay behind is often associated with redundancies. There is a great sense of guilt having survived the axe and seeing their colleagues go. The result is that survivors often ignore those being made redundant due to emotions such as guilt, gratitude for surviving and a sense of loss of colleagues with whom they may have worked with for many years.
In order to achieve closure and move on to something new, my client and I found a way to help her take control over some aspects of the situation. Control instills a sense of empowerment paving the way for healing from a painful experience. I encouraged her to organize a leaving party with her colleagues, explicitly for the purpose of celebrating their times together and her successes within the organization over the many years.
In her case it was very successful and she embraced the idea of engaging in a celebratory closure. She was in charge and decided on the venue, the shape of the celebrations, who to invite and who not to invite. Not only did it afford her the opportunity for bringing closure and paving the way for new opportunities, but it also provided a process of mourning the loss of their colleagues by the survivors.
Similarly the decision to retire or not and when to do so also requires a conscious process of letting go and bringing closure on one aspect of our lives and embracing a new stage in life. There are many elements of the retirement process, which we are in charge of despite the fact that the organization may have a policy regarding the age of retirement.
The most important part of bringing closure on our working careers is to celebrate what was and consciously and willingly embrace a new life and new opportunities. We are in charge of what a new life might look like. We decide what to include and what to reject.
If you are struggling with letting go, find someone to help you identify what it is you are holding on to and what you can do to let go in order to embrace the new. What can you replace it with that will bring you comfort and fulfillment? It is also perfectly acceptable and a necessary part of letting to take the time to mourn the passing of a significant phase of our lives. Resisting the natural process of loss and grieving may delay the process of reaching closure.
Ritual is a powerful tool in helping us achieve closure as it taps into our creative side, bypassing the logical and intellectual mind. As with my client, find a way of celebrating the old and welcoming in the new.