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How to Get Over a Job When It Breaks Up With You

Written By Nick Bachan | Sep 11, 2015

Many people say that a job is like a relationship. Those people mostly want to sound insightful over brunch, but there is something to the mentality that we are in a relationship with whoever keeps us employed.

The routine of spending at least 40 hours a week honing a particular skill set and then using those skills to execute increasingly complex tasks tells both our brains and our hearts that work is a key part of our identity.

Success in most jobs is achieved by forming relationships with people.

Furthermore, success in most jobs is achieved by forming relationships with people. For creative professionals, establishing relationships is a key aspect of both producing and securing good work. This process starts with loving the work itself and it extends to investing in partnerships that are fulfilling. This relational trajectory is quite similar to finding and nurturing romantic love.

No one’s implying that you need to get frisky with your job or coworkers to find fulfillment (except for most TV shows), but it’s fascinating how the components of satisfying intimate relationships and satisfying professional relationships overlap.

The Ingredients

A 2014 Forbes article by Josh Bersin lists the five elements of a ‘simply irresistible’ organization as:

1. Meaningful work
2. Great management
3. Growth opportunities
4. An inclusive, flexible, fun environment
5. Leadership we can trust

These elements correlate with top-level human needs to be happy and comfortable in any type of relationship. In a romantic context, meaningful work translates to satisfying and varied activities. Great management and leadership you can trust are similar to a partner who makes you feel safe and valued. Growth opportunities, flexibility, and fun directly translate to things you’d want in a romantic prospect or partner. In fact, these criteria apply to satisfaction in most of life’s interactions.

A graphic designer needs to truly know a brand and the organization behind it to represent that brand visually, in print or online. A copywriter must be briefed on the look, feel, and essence of the source material to produce content that resonates with an audience. Creative agencies live or die based on subjective, hands-on relationship management and attention to detail.

The Breakup

An ugly truth of both our professional and romantic lives is that relationships can end, typically on the terms of one party—the “breaker-upper.” Jobs can break up with us just like people can break up with us.

In the case of professional interactions, the hiring party often breaks the unfortunate news to a hopeful, invested employee—for whom a job may be a key part of his/her identity—that things aren’t going to work out. Actually, there are many ways in which this can be said, and the language often mirrors the things we say to end romantic relationships.

The Phrases

Below are ten common breakup phrases in their professional and romantic incarnations, respectively:

1. “We’re letting you go.” / “I’m letting you know…that we’re breaking up.”

2. “We’re going to allow you to pursue other career opportunities.” / “I’ve been seeing other people, and you should, too!”

3. “We’re eliminating your position.” / “I’ve eliminated your stuff from my apartment.”

4. “We’re downsizing.” / “You haven’t been exercising.”

5. “We’re cutting costs.” / “I am broke and you have been broke for a while.”

6. “We feel you’d be happier someplace else.” / “You need to move out and not call me.”

7. “We feel this job isn’t right for you.” / “I feel like you deserve better. It’s a compliment!”

8. “We’re going to part ways.” / “I have secretly moved out and gone upstate with my new lover.”

9. “You don’t fit our culture.” / “I feel like I’ve become cooler than you.”

10. “We’re restructuring our work force.” / “I’m just like, super busy right now and I don’t think I’m emotionally available to accommodate your needs.”

None of it is personal! What a relief!

These statements are quite personal in a romantic context, but they rarely correlate with specific criticisms in a professional capacity. Often, the task of parting ways professionally is not entirely the decision of the person informing the employee in question. None of it is personal! What a relief!

The problem is that, once emotional bonds are formed and a cozy relationship has been established, the mere idea of professional termination can be as devastating as the idea of parting ways with a significant other.

The Phases

Once a breakup has occurred, all parties involved must move forward (or act out like crazy people, depending on your style). In a professional sense, the phases of this aftermath include self-reflection, retooling, and sourcing new prospects.

The same mentality applies to romantic affairs, but I would hope most people don’t call working on themselves “retooling.” I also find the idea of “sourcing new prospects” for companionship cold and mechanical. If you don’t understand why I just made those two distinctions, you might be a robot.

Phase 1: Self-Reflection

Typically, the reality of suddenly not getting to work somewhere you love leads to some degree of anger and/or sadness. A bond has been severed that you took a long time to establish. You brought a plant to work. You went to the office parties. You went to a company retreat one weekend. You had a good thing going, and now you have nothing, right?

Incorrect. You still have you, and since this breakup was likely nothing personal, the world is your Google-able oyster. Before you and your plant are on the market again, though, you should make sure you’re both watered and looking spiffy.

Phase 2: Retooling

When you breakup with someone, you might buy some new clothes. You might style your hair differently. You might make your skin say things with some artful ink distribution that is oh so permanent. You will change in some way(s) because something as drastic as a relationship ending—if you were invested in that relationship—will necessitate that change.

In the case of a career change, your first impression will be under the microscope as you begin to put yourself back out there. You need to reacquaint yourself with yourself. This could mean a new resume or five new resumes. It could also mean a new desk for your workspace at home. A change of representation and scenery will allow you to maximize the potential of this transition.

Phase 3: Sourcing New Prospects

These days, most people in their twenties and even thirties are in a consistent state of “job hopping.” Some people even pride themselves on consciously separating themselves from roles that are not putting them on a particular path. Intention matters, and saying exactly what you want will open you up to extremely fulfilling professional relationships and opportunities.

Having your job break up with you can be an opportunity to take stock in what you might actually want. Sure, your dream job—the job that was your prom date—is all you’ve known and it might have been perfect. The beauty of moving forward, though, is acknowledging that you are consistently growing and changing. You can now find the job that will help you “win” your high school reunion.

The Conclusion

Being let go from a job unexpectedly can conjure skewed ideas about our work habits, the sense of balance we’re maintaining in our lives, and how poised we may or may not be to put ourselves back out there. Professional breakups and personal breakups expose many of the same vulnerabilities because they prematurely excise us from relationships that matter to us on a fundamental level.

Spend some focused time, on a regular basis, thinking about where you are and where you’re headed.

Often, there are foreseeable reasons why relationships end. This can make the healing process one of great education and discovery. It’s important to understand that relationships can begin and end on either your terms or someone else’s. Rather than being reactive, you should spend some focused time, on a regular basis, thinking about where you are and where you’re headed.

Treating relationships with respect and a sense of presence can reveal many things we wouldn’t otherwise discover about our minds, our hearts, and our abilities. This is as true for any professional relationship as it is for one between people who love each other.

Nick Bachan is a digital content coordinator with Dell’s Experience Design & Automation team, a podcaster and a producer of tweets.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.