By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Content Agency
Q: I’m in my late 40s and my career (and life) are nothing like what I was hoping for. I spend a fair amount of time feeling like I got the short end of the stick. I know focusing on all my disappointments won’t help me succeed, but I can’t see an alternative. How do you advise clients when their work life falls far short of their imagined ideal?
A: I advise clients to be willing to grieve their ideal so they can thrive within the real. Our society just isn’t a fan of grieving. Even when we lose a loved one, people at work may expect us to take a few weeks and then be “over it.” If we don’t hold a funeral for who we might have been, we can end up feeling chronically deprived and bitter.
There will always be people in the world who appear to be happier, more successful, or luckier than we are. Then again, we almost never get their full stories, including any adversity and disappointments they experienced. No one escapes life unscathed by hardship.
To grieve effectively, we have to be willing to give our full attention to what we’ve lost. Rituals can also be helpful. No, you don’t need to hold a full memorial for “the career you should have had.” You can, however, write out your ideal scenario in detail on paper and ceremonially burn it, or tie it to a balloon and watch it drift away.
Human beings need rituals. When we suffer a loss but lack a formal way to mark the event, it’s never cheating to make up a ritual. Grieving rituals support us in fully experiencing the stillborn hopes for our future so we can make good things out of what remains.
Unresolved grief makes us leave important parts of us stuck in the past. These chunks of our psyche aren’t available to help us in the now. When we refuse to grieve, we put a tourniquet on critical parts of us to avoid pain. When we pull off the tourniquet, life-affirming blood rushes into these areas, and we hurt like heck.
Afterward, we can look at our present with fresh eyes. Similar to the atmosphere after a storm, we feel cleansed and invigorated, with the energy and creativity to maximize what we do have.
I’ve always thought “That Which Remains” would make a great book title. So much of the quality of our work and personal life has to do with how we handle reality, rather than waiting for our ideal life to arrive. I once heard someone say that life is not a dress rehearsal. If we keep waiting to live the life we “deserve,” we’ll miss all the goodies we currently have.
Another gift of grieving, oddly enough, is that we develop a profound sense of gratitude. When we acknowledge our losses, we can better see our good fortune.
Be willing to mourn the career you dreamed about, and you may even discover that your current circumstances can still open doors to a richer future. Sometimes our disappointments block our desired path, letting us discover options that are better than we previously imagined.
The last word(s)
Q: I work with a guy who’s a fan of saying truly stupid things. Is there a good standard, snappy comeback I could use when a colleague says something truly dumb?
A: Try silence. Sometimes saying nothing is a more powerful than all those snappy comebacks combined.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel’s “Workplace Guru” each Monday morning. She’s the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
(c) 2015 INTERPERSONAL EDGE
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
This was printed in the July 12, 2015 - July 25, 2015 edition.