Navigating Grief: The Emotional Landscape of Letting Go of a Career that Defined You

Navigating Grief: The Emotional Landscape of Letting Go of a Career that Defined You

Embarking on a career on the frontline is often more than a job; it becomes a significant part of our identity, shaping how we perceive ourselves and how others view us. When the time comes to let go or transition away from a career that has defined us for a significant part of our lives, the experience can be emotionally complex.

Often in frontline roles, people refer to becoming 'institutionalised' whereby it becomes hard to think independently when having lived by the rules of an organisation for so long. After 10 years everything I knew, did, and said reflected my police experience. Life and work had become mashed into one. I didn't know how to exist without my uniform, title, duty of care, my notebook, and lingo. I had worked in a team for 10 years and now I was alone.

Police talk in code and only those in the know will understand what is being said. Even now I still write surnames in capital letters as I used to in my notebook. Working in an environment daily that was process-heavy and legislation-driven became normal. So to go into a new workplace was like traveling to a new country. Lack of urgency, organisation, and the slower pace is all very foreign.

Our careers often become intertwined with our sense of self.  The roles we play at work, the skills we develop, and the achievements we accumulate contribute to our identity. The emotional investment in a career goes beyond the tasks performed; it encompasses the relationships built, the challenges overcome, and the personal growth experienced along the way.

Grieving the loss of a career may not always be recognised immediately, as society often underestimates the emotional toll of leaving a job and we usually associate grief with death. But a loss is a loss of any kind and there can be a level of grief. There are various stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. All this can lead to a profound sense of loss of purpose and direction. 

Transitioning away from a career doesn't mean the end of personal and professional growth. It provides the potential for reinvention and navigating the process of discovering new passions, setting new goals, and finding meaning beyond previous professional roles. A huge factor in resigning from the police or other frontline roles is knowing what to do next. However, please know that the skills and experience gained on the job are invaluable to so many other roles. Take the skills and put yourself out there. Once people hear you are available job offers will come to you.

Grieving the loss of a career can be a lonely journey, don't be afraid to seek support. Connecting with friends, family, mentors, or even professional counselors to navigate the emotional challenges associated with career transitions. Building resilience is a key component of moving forward.

Embrace change, find gratitude for the experiences gained, and recognise that personal growth can continue beyond the confines of a specific profession contributing to a positive and hopeful outlook.

Letting go of a career that once defined us is a deeply personal and emotional journey. Lean into that emotion, it is ok to be sad about what was, could have been, and will no longer be, just don't stay there too long.

By acknowledging and navigating the grief associated with this transition, we can pave the way for new beginnings and personal growth. In time we can find resilience, purpose, and the strength to move forward into a future that holds new opportunities and possibilities.

It won't happen overnight but it will happen x

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