How can the classic 5 Stages of Grief model help us with career transitions?

Well, if we don’t reflect on where we’ve been, we can carry a lot of crappiness around in our brains. Lack of self-confidence, anger, bitterness can all come with us into our new job and won’t serve us well!

So, how can taking some time to reflect on what you need to leave behind and what you want to carry forward help you during this Great Resignation Era?

  • Just been made redundant or can see it on the horizon?
  • Fed up with your job and starting to look for something new?
  • Been micromanaged to the point where you just can’t take it anymore and need a NEW JOB RIGHT NOW!

Take some time to grieve your old job before you start a new one!

My thoughts on this come from two things.

Firstly, my Dad (who avoids all social media so won’t even know I’ve mentioned him here until I end up telling him!). My Dad hit age 45 and was “let go” by the people he’d worked for from school age – he was deemed “too old, off you go”!

Dad took some time to sit back and reflect on what he wanted to do next and, while doing that, I saw him going through some of these stages of grief, grieving his old job, life, identity. He went on to gain his degree, a successful consultancy career and a Masters at 68! What a great role model for successful career transitions!

The second thing is the actual 5 Stages of Grief model. There are other grief models but it’s this one that I think goes with career transition the most.

The 5 stages of grief and career transitions


Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross spent a lot of time thinking and working with death and grief. She suggested we go through five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. What I’ve seen from my own experiences and working with coaching clients, is that recognising these stages are helpful when going through job or career changes.

Do please note that I’m not making light of anyone grieving loved ones – I’m one of you, having lost two family friends to Covid-19 and a friend very suddenly died this year, it’s utterly shit. If you have lost someone, I recommend talking to someone qualified: Psychology Today’s website has a directory of counsellors and, if you’re in the UK, the UKCP has qualified psychotherapists. There’s a list of helpful links at the end of this post.

Relating the 5 stages of grief model to our experiences when we lose our jobs



Our reality has suddenly shifted, it’s completely beyond our control so denial often comes up. For example, redundancy is announced and your brain thinks “surely they don’t mean me, my team, my department, I’ve/we’ve been brilliant all year!” It’s our brains actually giving us a bit of time to absorb what’s just happened.



Wow, this one can be a biggie! It’s often easier to be angry than admit to ourselves that we are actually scared of what’s going to happen next. If you’re feeling forced out of your job then anger and it’s best mates, bitterness and revenge, may be coming up for you. Acknowledge your emotions, sit with them, explore why you’re angry (and write it down!). I’m not suggesting taking out your anger or revenge on anyone though!



If you’re feeling helpless, then it might comfort your brain to bargain with a higher power, either in your faith or a person – you might be thinking “the CEO will change their mind, of course they will!”.

Here might also come in that old faithful cognitive distortion of Shoulds rather than Coulds so obligation rather than opportunity. So, “I should’ve done such and such differently” or “if only I’d done x, y, z, then I wouldn’t need to be looking for another job”.

The language we use in everyday life represents and impacts how we experience our world. We attempt to capture thoughts, ideas and to describe what we see around us using words. With our bias towards negativity, we distort our experiences and situations – this is called cognitive distortions and we do this consciously and unconsciously. So, again, acknowledge that “should” or “if only” and think about what you can replace it with, seeing opportunity rather than obligation.



If you feel yourself becoming depressed, then please seek out mental health help: as I said, in the UK, either Psychology Today for a psychologist or counsellor; or the UKCP for a therapist are good places to start. Please also be aware that coaches are NOT mental health practitioners! We can signpost you to someone or some resources though. Some signs of depression might be isolating yourself from others; loss of interest in hobbies or activities; feeling fatigued or not sleeping; feeling hopeless. MIND UK has helpful advice and resources on depression – links at the end of this post.



This final stage is the key one to think through before going for another job or starting your job search. 

At this point, you’re no longer resisting the reality of your situation so you can now be thinking about how to move forward.

So, the two biggie questions to be reflecting on right now are

What do you need to let go of?

What can you embrace or celebrate that you can carry with you forwards?

You might be in the midst of one of these stages.

You might be able to give yourself some time to write down your thoughts as you go through a big career change.


So, what’s next for you?


Take some time to reflect on this post.

You might want to focus on figuring out what you truly want from your working life. If so, all this thinking on career transitions is part of Career Happiness for Scaredycats, my new focused group coaching journey for fed-up women in their 30s-50s who want to dig deep on their values, support, strengths and planning for career changes. Read all the details or just go ahead and apply!

Join the Scaredycat Crew mailing list for more insights like this and some fabulous planning, decision-making and action tools!




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