The Unexpected Side Effect of Change: Loss


I’ve been having quite a lot of conversations about loss recently. Maybe it's the change in season. Maybe it's because it comes up quite a lot for career change clients, in that contemplating a new career comes with unexpected feelings of loss in relation to their current/previous career. These feelings are often read into, and interpreted as a signal that perhaps changing career isn’t the right thing for them, despite everything else suggesting that it is. However, the consequence of any type of change is loss. Any new beginning comes with an ending to what came before - feelings of loss are inevitable. I’m also mid-way through a coaching course on Existential Coaching, where the theory and philosophy behind it clearly stipulates that ‘endings’, and thus feelings of loss are in fact a ‘given’ in life; they are part and parcel of being human.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about loss recently because my Mum died this summer, and her funeral was last week. The experience has been incredibly confronting in many ways. I thought re-homing my dog was hard, then, boom, another ending and loss came along; this one even greater. I get why people use the expression 'a hole in the heart' because it really does feel like that - like something is missing. That’s the thing with change - we get so used to situations, jobs, and people being around that it hits hard when that feeling, comfort, security blanket, support system, sense of familiarity and safety suddenly disappears. Loss, lost, end of an era…they all describe the feeling rather well.

There’s something about death (the ultimate ending) that also puts things in perspective like nothing else in life. We seem to avoid talking about death in the West, so apologies if this feels uncomfortable to read about, but I do think it’s important. We tend to take things and people for granted. We think they will always be there, that there’s time to do the things we want to do, say the things we want to say, ask the questions we want answered, and there just isn’t. That phrase, “life is too short”, although problematic, is very true in a lot of cases. Yet, we stay in jobs we don’t like, relationships that aren’t meaningful anymore, we choose to stop talking to certain people for (in the grand scheme of things) often trivial and ego-driven reasons, thinking we have all the time in the world to change things, and we just don’t. I’m not saying this to scare you into action, just to perhaps remind you that, one day, sooner than you think, time will run out, one way or another. I do this exercise with clients where we imagine what people say at your 95th birthday party, and/or what you’d want people to say at your funeral. It’s a stark reminder to live a life that you’d be proud of when it flashes before your eyes towards the end. One where you're proud of the changes you made, and not regretting the ones you didn't.

At the same time, I think it’s helpful to remind ourselves that, at the end of the day, we are only one person out of approximately 8 billion others living on this tiny pale blue dot, which floats around in infinite space, surrounded by a vast number of galaxies, and who knows what else. All this will end one day, for us individually, and as planet.

With this in mind, we ask ourselves the big question - what is the meaning of life in that case? Everyone has a different opinion. For me, I don’t think there is just one meaning, other than to perhaps procreate and continue our species, but, even then, what’s the higher purpose and meaning of that beyond the continuation of existence? Therefore, all we can really do is try to figure out what would be a meaningful and worthwhile use of our particular short time on this planet. What would be meaningful and worthwhile to you? You get to choose.

You may think you’re stuck and have no choices, but you do. We all do. There is always action and steps we can take to change things. They won’t necessarily be easy choices, and, often, they will involve loss, and the end to something in order to make way for a new beginning of some sort - but we do have choices. We are not stuck. We might think we are, but we’re not. We can, of course, choose to not make a change, but we do then have to take responsibility for that decision, and the consequences that come with it.

I admit that I myself struggle with some of the above ideas and concepts to a degree. I find myself wondering what the point of all life’s struggles really are, when, one day, we just ‘poof’ and cease to exist. However, I'm learning that the flip side of this is the pure freedom and joy such an approach to life can have. We’re free to choose our futures, whatever that might look like for each person. We have the freedom and choice to bring meaning and purpose into our seemingly meaningless lives. Not one of us is special, or immune to the struggles life brings - we’re all in it together. Look to the person next to you - they’re struggling with being human, just like you. Instead of competing, we can find joy in the camaraderie and shared experience of existing in this tiny, short chapter of human existence.

So, what choices will you make today? If it's one where you decide to make the most out of the one, short life (and career) you have, give me a shout!

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.