Andrew was an actuary in a reputable firm. He felt that he found his “dream job.” He was well versed in actuarial science, so his work, although taxing and challenging, was not grueling and stressful. He worked hard, but was happy with his hours. He had time to study Torah in the morning for an hour and half before he had to go to work, and he had a full night seder (scheduled period for Talmud study). He also was able to be home for supper with his family, and his firm was understanding about his Jewish practices, such as yomim tovim (Jewish holidays) – including chol hamoed (the intermediate days of Passover or Sukkos where work is permitted in case of necessity) and not shaving during sefirah and the three weeks (times of communal mourning where it is customary not to shave). He was at his firm for eleven years and presumed that he would be there until he retired or decided he wanted a change.
Suddenly, Andrew received news that left him flabbergasted and speechless. Although his work was exemplary, the firm was told by its Board of Directors that it had to cut costs. His direct boss was given the arduous task of figuring out who would be asked to leave. The boss called in Andrew and told him that he had to leave. He was going to be given a generous severance package, but could not return the next day.
Andrew left the firm that day, but the firm did not leave him. He was hurt, stunned, shocked, and insulted. He mourned the injustice he experienced and the unfair calculations that led to his dismissal. Andrew began to feel depressed, anxious, and generally out of sorts. He didn’t know how to make head or tails out of his experiences and his new situation.
Andrew did not want to share the bad news of his dismissal with anyone, but he mentioned it to one friend. That afternoon, his friend showed up at his with a gift – Who Moved My Cheese. Andrew sat down to read it immediately. The more he read, the more he felt that the book spoke to him. He liked it so much that he read it twice. He felt happier, more content, and ready for action. He was so enthused that he reached out to two colleagues he knew in other firms to find out if there were any openings.
By that night, Andrew was back to his doldrums. He kept on verbalizing some of the lessons of Who Moved My Cheese. “Change happens,” he told himself. “I can adapt,” he remembered. But he began to feel worse and worse.
Andrew’s reactions are expected, and are in accordance with years of research. Psychological literature spanning a long period of time has suggested that job loss results in low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Some researchers (Mendolia, 2014) have highlighted that the major blow suffered after job loss is not because of financial setbacks (Andrew had a great severance package), but because of the emotional and psychological hardships that losing one’s job creates. Current research (Mendolia) even highlights that job loss affects one’s spouse’s mental health. Likewise, the spousal reactions are usually not because of the financial hardships that losing a job sometimes creates. Furthermore, the latest research (Solove, Fisher & Kraiger, 2015) demonstrates that when one is able to uphold his self-esteem after job loss, it is not only easier to manage the joblessness phase, it is also easier for him to obtain another job reasonably quickly.
Andrew met with a psychotherapist to help him with his anxiety and depression and sense of loss. Together, they began to explore the meaning Andrew attached to his former job, to his losing his job, and how Andrew internalized those. As they met, Andrew began to understand that he saw the job as a large part of his identity. It was how he defined himself and how he viewed himself in the eyes of others. It also was a large part of how he saw his own religious identity, since his former job had created time for his to study and to take off for yom tov (Jewish holidays). As Andrew met more with his therapist, he understood that he saw his job as a central to who he was. He worked with his therapist to trace the foundation of how his identity developed (they discovered it predated his job at that firm) and alternate ways to see himself. As with many psychotherapeutic cases, the acute situation that caused Andrew to begin appointments with his therapist was unfortunate, but the self-awareness, self- knowledge, and self-understanding that the therapeutic interventions explored and developed was a great gift for Andrew.
Andrew took advantage of his severance to take time off and explore who he was even more. He met with his therapist twice a week and probed the depths of his identity and existence. After the six months, he began to reapply to jobs. Some were in actuarial science, and some were completely unrelated to it. Within a few weeks he found his new “dream Job,” but he realized that it was really just a job. The dream was within him.
Mendolia, S. (2014). The impact of husband’s job loss on partners’ mental health. Review of Economics of the Household, 12(2), 277-294.
Solove, E., Fisher, G. G., & Kraiger, K. (2015). Coping with job loss and reemployment: A two-wave study. Journal of business and psychology,30(3), 529-541.