Job Loss

The economy’s slowing (maybe!), the layoffs are rolling, and the alarm bell’s tolling. Amid all of it, I’m thinking about the Wilderness. 


How would you define it? Maybe you picture a wilderness resembling the Amazon, inundated with vines, thickets, rushing water, and unseen perils. Your Wilderness may be more sedate, like a remote mountainside with a view or an uninhabited island with palm trees, sandy beaches, a hammock, and warmth. It could be a quiet wooded area just behind your home or the lush park that serves as the setting for your morning jog. For me, it’s summiting 14,000+ foot Mt. Rainer or diving 100+ feet below the sea to marvel at spectacularly beautiful fishes and corals.

 Of course, some Wildernesses have no association with nature, peppering one with heartache and angst, not peace and joy, such as a debilitating illness, a bout with relationship troubles, or a drastic change at work. These Wilderness spaces burden the soul, take the breath away, and keep the mind in constant spooling. When the losses mount, imagining better days beyond all the turmoil can seem impossible.

But what if we considered loss a harbinger of reset and renewal? What if sojourns in the Wilderness eventually gave way to new beginnings, discoveries, and new insights about life, work, and self-care? What if naturalist John Muir tapped into a profound truth when he said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”


Whether you experience it in a business setting or the most intimate recesses of your personal life, loss is a part of grief, a universal pain experienced by all. In the workplace, loss may be connected to the end of a project, a change in leadership, or, far too often, the termination of a job. When the losses come, the Wilderness encroaches. You may feel disoriented, unsure of the next steps, or unable to move. Sometimes loss triggers anger, denial, and many other symptoms of the so-called “grief cycle.” Many times, the despair connected with loss is so pervasive that one experiences wave after wave of emotion, the physical manifestations of feelings about loss. Just ask the employee laid off after twenty years of doing the job she loves to do. IT HURTS. But grace is found in a loss and experienced in the Wilderness; every ending leads to a new beginning.


The University of Arizona Clinical Psychologist Mary-Frances O’Connor says that loss and grief provide learning experiences when they arrive. O’Connor notes, “What we see in science is if you have a grief experience and you have support so that you have a little bit of time to learn and confidence from the people around you, you will adapt.”

One might call this the RESET that occurs in the Wilderness. Simply put, when you come to terms with a loss, you are better positioned to do some proactive things beyond the loss. In the work context, a Reset might entail polishing the resume, taking a class or two, earning a credential, and getting out to interview. If your financial position allows for an embodied reset, take a break.

The beauty of moving into a reset is that it implies that you’re no longer stuck. Too often, we get stuck in the Wilderness. While it’s okay to be stuck for a minute, you’ve got to move on and move forward. Susan Madsen of the Huntsman School of Business notes, “Although you may need to mourn for a day or so, shifting as quickly as possible into reflecting on what you have learned can make a difference in how positively you can move forward.” As you ponder the reset, please connect with a trusted friend or two to help you on the next miles of the journey. Trusted ones can be excellent sources of encouragement, feedback, and energy.


Emerging from the Wilderness of loss can be a time of rich discovery, opportunity, and personal growth. A significant first step in the lean into renewal is to reflect on the assets you carry forward. Even bad endings do not negate the successes and joyous moments you gathered along the way. Passion, skill, vision, and the like are what builds success. You know what? You can tap into passion, talent, and vision as you explore a new job, a unique setting for life, a new relationship, and even a new level of mindfulness. Tap into a growth mindset as you focus on renewal, a posture of “I’m not done yet,” and “I will succeed moving forward.” Keep your options open too. Your past experiences are never a limiting factor for your future ones.

Final Thoughts

Loss happens daily. At work, at home, in the heart and mind. Sometimes the losses seem like a thicket of trees in an otherwise open and abundant space in life. Occasionally, the losses can feel more like the densest Wilderness that carries us far afield of the map in our hands. Regardless of the contours of the Wilderness, never lose sight of the fact that the Wilderness always gives way to new beginnings. In all its wondrous possibilities, the universe is right before you, me, and all of us.

Some resources have helped me find my way out of the Wilderness. Please check them out if you find yourself in Lost, Rest, and Renewal: 

Robin Merle’s book Involuntary Exit is a must-read for anyone tempted to make a layoff mean that you are not great at what you do.

One of my coaches, Britt Ide, recommended Finding Your Own North Star. I’ve been so busy moving on that I’ve not had time to dig in, but I will!

A friend recently recommended Clayton Christensen’s book, How Will You Measure Your Life? A sweet read and I enjoyed it very much.

Finally, through my extensive networking, I met the most fantastic Dr. Keith Dorsey, who not only filled me with inspiration, but suggested I read  Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion After 50

If you need a simple pick me up, I recommend When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, the beloved American Buddhist nun.

If it’s all too much, pick up, The Pocket Pema Chodron, a tiny book I use daily to remind me to get out of my head. I flip it open to a page and always find words that soothe.

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