Losing a Job
by Rev. Kathryn Ellis
We Are Not Moving On
We are not moving on
we are embracing our mourning
we are sad enough to know we must laugh again
no one deserves a tragedy
we are better than we think and not quite what we want to be
we will continue to invent the future
we will prevail
—Nikki Giovanni (2007)
Unitarian Universalists affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings. Inherent means that worth is not dependent on what we do or what we have. It is simply part of our being. We are part of the interdependent web and we have value. I like the theology of Original Blessing; that is, that we have all been blessed with gifts. The gift of life is certainly a blessing, but also who we are is a gift and a blessing as well. We don’t need to be other than who we are to be of worth. Yet it can be easy to forget that this theology includes ourselves. It is all too easy for us to equate our own worth with the work that we do or the things that we have. It is still too easy for many adults to lose sight of their own value because of others’ reactions to us. So when we lose a job, it can be difficult not to feel diminished. When we make mistakes or fail in reaching a goal, we can call ourselves failures or mistakes. Our faith reminds us that we are not failures; we are not mistakes.
Loss and suffering are part of all lives and do not diminish our worthiness. Biblical wisdom tells us, “Again I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor yet favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all.” Ecclesiastes, 9:11.
I have had several experiences with losing jobs. The first two were not so significant because I was a teenager. Still, I learned from them. My very first job lasted a couple of weeks; I think I was 15. I went to a job interview; they asked me to call someone and to try to sell them a magazine. I did and the person bought a magazine! I was amazed and thought the job might be all right. The employer was probably amazed, too. I was quite proud of having to go downtown to go to a job, but I never sold another magazine. They told me to go. I was unhappy about no longer having a job, but not really unhappy about losing that job. I learned that I am not skilled at selling people something that they do not need and that I do not believe in. Later, as a college student, I had a brief summer job at a fast food restaurant counter. I was fired from that job because I wasn’t fast enough and talked to the people too much. This time, I felt a little indignant. I am not an especially talkative person, but I believe in courtesy and respect. I value people and I am interested in people. Also, I am generally not a fast moving person. So, I really was not a good fit for that job, and again, it helped me to clarify some of my own values and to learn more about myself.
These job losses may have hurt my feelings, but I was not supporting a family. The jobs were not long-lasting nor on a career path. My third job loss was much more emotionally difficult and required time for healing and for finding a new perspective, for “inventing a new future.” I finished a doctoral degree in counseling psychology and took a tenure track position at a university. I taught master’s degree students in counseling and counseled students. I loved this work and from my perspective, it paid very well. I felt proud of being a college professor. Taking the position had been costly to my young family. We left our home, and my husband had to find a new job. We even lived apart from some months when my little girl was only five. I was determined that this sacrifice would lead to a good life for us all. I thought I would stay at that job until I retired. Six years later, I told my husband that I had to leave the job or it would kill me. I meant that quite literally. By then, I was sick and tired and angry. I was completely stressed out and I left the job without finding another. I felt the loss of an identity that I valued; I worried that I was letting my family down. I lost contact with friends from the workplace.
I was angry and depleted when I left the university. I did not feel whole. I was too angry to be whole. I worked to heal myself and gradually found a new future. I found ways to work that were more authentic to me and less damaging. I engaged in spiritual practices: yoga, meditation and spiritual reading. In order to feel whole and healed I had to let go of my sense of righteousness, let go of my anger, let go of lingering beliefs about controlling life. And then I found myself held in amazing love, comforted and encouraged by a great love that is more than human. I call that love God, but I don’t care what you call it. What I can tell you is that you are also held in that love, as are all people, all of the time, as well as all of creation. I found unity, joy and gratitude. I know that I am not my job and that love is not lost to me when life changes.
Spirit of life and love, may we remember that we are not our jobs and that our worth is not in our accomplishments. Help us to accept our own feelings and still value ourselves. May we be open to love, comfort and encouragement. May we find new and authentic paths for ourselves as life changes.
At times of loss and uncertainty, the loving-kindness meditation may remind us to be kind to ourselves. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Repeat to yourself:
May I be filled with loving-kindness.
May I live in safety.
May I be happy.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
Then envision someone in your life and repeat to yourself:
May you be filled with loving-kindness.
May you live in safety.
May you be happy.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
You can repeat this several times with different people, both those close to you and those you find difficult. As you come to the end of your meditation, repeat these phrases:
May all beings, everywhere be filled with loving-kindness.
May all beings, everywhere live in safety.
May all beings, everywhere be happy.
May all beings, everywhere be peaceful and at ease.
Go in peace, my friend. You are not what you do. May you know that you are worthy and held in love. May you be filled with loving-kindness.
Rev. Dr. Kathryn Ellis is Consulting Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia, PA. She still loves teaching and counseling and now loves leading worship, too. She is married to Rick and their daughter is now an independent adult.
Thumbnail artwork © Kendrick Wronski, www.Kendrickwronski.org