Whoa! Where Did THOSE Emotions Come From?

I’m sure we’ve all gone through times in our lives when we’ve tried to “trick our emotions” or tell ourselves that we shouldn’t feel a certain way about a situation — even through deep down, we found ourselves feeling another way entirely.  We can all relate to this experience, right?

At any rate, it’s interesting how this phenomenon manifests itself in the job search process, at times…

For example, one of my clients who just landed a new position (and a fairly decent one, at that!) commented that he felt that he should be jumping up and down with joy by this development, but didn’t actually feel all that excited about the transition, for whatever reason.  He was downright apologetic about it, actually, to the point that he said he felt embarrassed by all the back-slapping he was receiving from his friends and family.  On a related note, I remember another client from a year or two ago who had landed a new job, after a fairly long search, and reported her amazement that she could already feel her emotional defenses going up — and that some part of her was already trying not to get too attached to the new role, lest the job not end up working out for whatever reason.

I’d contend that these kinds of unpredictable, counterintuitive reactions happen more often than people think during the process of career transition.  On one hand, you’ll see cases like the ones above where a person seems to have every reason in the world to celebrate, but is baffled to discover that they don’t feel all that much relief, excitement, or enthusiasm about their new opportunity.  And then on the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve seen people experience waves of exuberance upon been terminated or laid-off from a position.  I’ve witnessed this regularly even during troubled economic times, when the folks in question fully realized that they could be facing a lengthy period of unemployment.  It didn’t matter.  They still felt themselves soaring with happiness, at least initially, when they received the layoff news.

My amateurish hypothesis?  Apparently, some short-term emotional aspect of these peoples’ situations (the newfound freedom? the escape from a bad boss? liberation from constant worry about when the axe might fall?) compelled them to feel an immediate positive reaction to the change, despite what one might expect from looking at the situation from a clinical, intellectual standpoint.  Heart trumps brain.

Side Note: One company I visited a few years ago had a whole department full of folks doing shots of Jeagermeister in the hallways following their layoff announcement.  Since this seemed like a somewhat pre-planned event, however (they all hated the company and knew the news was inevitably coming) I guess we can’t really call this an “unpredictable” reaction, after all…

At any rate, the moral of the story is to not necessarily assume you know how you’re going to feel, when certain big career events transpire, and to not feel bad if your reaction doesn’t match the one that you were expecting to have.  It happens more than you’d think.  Just honor how you’re feeling, whatever that may be, and gently analyze matters to see if your emotions might possibly be based on an unconscious concern or some other stumbling block you’d “intellectually” overlooked.  And if you’re friends with somebody who has either lost or landed a job, try to avoid making any kneejerk assumptions, as well, and to give them some breathing room in terms of how they deal with it.  THEY may be as surprised at how they’re feeling as YOU are, so giving them a hard time or telling them to “suck it up and just be happy” might not be exactly the most helpful way for you to support them.

Just some thoughts, since this isn’t a subject I’ve seen talked about much out in the career ecosystem…


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