As I type this from my home office (really, it’s just a room with a computer and some rock memorabilia on the wall), it’s a beautiful, breezy night in the Chicago area. The windows are open and I’m listening to Trompe le Monde by the Pixies. And so begins my fifth week of unemployment …
After I was recently let go from my last job, a friend cautioned that the emotions and reactions tied to getting fired are very similar to those surrounding death and grief.
Specifically, he was referring to the Kübler-Ross model, or what most of us call “the five stages.” (It should be noted that Kübler-Ross is a totally awesome name, based on its incorporation of the very-metal umlaut.)
The Kübler-Ross model plays out like this:
Denial – “I don’t believe you! This can’t be happening!”
Anger – “Why me? This is bulls****!”
Bargaining – “I’ll do anything — go to church, donate money, whatever.”
Depression – “Why should I even carry on? What’s the point?”
Acceptance – “It is what it is.”
I believe that the response to losing one’s job is quite a bit different from the stages tied to death. Now that I’ve been thrice-fired in my career, I’d like to share the VanOsdol model for sociologists to consider:
THE FIVE STAGES OF UNEMPLOYMENT
1. RAGE – Because anger seems a bit too passive a reaction to such a life-changer. In the first 48 hours after losing a job, everyonein your life feels like an enemy and conspirator, and you want them all to WIPE THOSE COCKY, SMUG, KNOW-IT-ALL, SMILES FROM THEIR FAT, IGNORANT FACES. GRRR! ARRRGH! GAH! SIZZLE SIZZLE!
Sample behaviors tied to Stage 1 / Rage:
Unfriending now-former co-workers on Facebook and blocking those same people on Twitter
Drinking, and swearing loudly while doing so
Burning, shredding, and destroying all traces of your previous employer, from apparel to paystubs
2. BRAVADO – Swagger goes a long way to giving off the right impression, regardless of whether or not you actually feel what you’re selling. This is the stage where you tell people “everything happens for a reason,” and that your next opportunity is going to be amazing.
Sample behaviors tied to Stage 2 / Bravado:
Over-posting on social media, just to let people know that you’re out there, and everything’s totally cool. No worries. Onward and upward. Bigger and better things await.
Spending money like a drunk sailor on shore leave, because, really, the next opportunity is right around the corner–there’s no need to tighten the belt yet. People are checking out the LinkedIn profile–they’re totally interested. It’s going to happen.
3. ISOLATION – Friends and colleagues are always sympathetic for the first two weeks of unemployment. They’ll proactively reach out and ask you how you’re doing. They may even take you out to lunch while the wounds are fresh and your bravado is peaking. Then, once that third Monday hits, you’ll be all alone. The calls, texts, posts, and tweets will all come to a stop. This has happened to me every time I’ve been on the proverbial beach–their lives will go on while you’re left behind on your little island. Adrift. No lifeline. Holy crap.
Sample behaviors tied to Stage 3 / Isolation:
Refriending now-former co-workers on Facebook and unblocking those same people on Twitter
Drinking, and quietly sobbing while doing so
4. THE CHEAPENING OF SELF – When the dream gigs aren’t lining up as you expected, you open yourself up to performing any number of humiliating jobs for money (“How bad would it be if I wore a Statue of Liberty costume and stood outside a Liberty Tax facility?”). This is the most dangerous stage of unemployment, and how strippers are made.
5. ACCEPTANCE – This stage is the only commonality between the stages of grief/death and unemployment. After all the drama, the ups and downs, near misses, good interviews, bad interviews, and false alarms, it simply is what it is. As anyone will tell you, it’s not the incident that defines you, but rather how you recover from it.
I’m currently cruising along the Acceptance stage, though I have my weak moments where I imagine what I’d look like holding a torch on Tax Day.