Sometimes in order to move forward with our lives, we have to give ourselves time, space, and energy to mourn the loss of the life we are leaving behind.
Here are six things that I had to mourn in order to move on with my life and live my dreams.
1. Being normal
The first time that I really noticed myself mourning the loss of “being normal” was when I decided to become a vegan. It was one of the last days before my roommate and I had committed to going vegan and I was meeting a business contact for the first time. We sat down in a little sports bar and shared a plate of nachos. I was a vegetarian and asked if he wouldn’t mind having vegetarian nachos. He said “no problem, as long as we can have cheese.” I felt suddenly uncomfortable as I realized that this was probably the last time that I could answer “yes” to such a normal request. The hardest part of becoming vegan was that I had to sacrifice my normality in the sense that it became much harder to eat out at non-vegetarian restaurants, and to present myself as a “normal” eater. Now if I eat out I have to let my dining mates know that I’m vegan and to a certain extent the meal is always planned around me.
Now I love being vegan, and I’m fortunate to have friends and family who are happy to accomodate me, but I gave myself time to be sad about no longer being “normal.” Your perception of normal might be different than mine, but everyone has behaviours, mentalities, and habits that they consider normal. If you decide to do something that you know your peer group will consider “abnormal,” go ahead and do it, but be sure to give yourself time to mourn “being normal.” Don’t think that feeling sad, frustrated, or upset about a change means that you shouldn’t do it.
2. Loss of societal approval
This is a big one for me. I mourned the loss of all sorts of approval from all sorts of different people. Here is an example of the loss of “general societal approval”:
Random person: So Darby, what do you do?
Me: Well I’m in corporate communications for a major commercial real estate company.
Random person: Ooooo, ahhh, how did you get that job? (Or something like that.)
Random person: So what do you do?
Me: Well I recently quit my corporate job and I’m moving to Japan.
Random person: Wow, you must have a really awesome job lined up.
Me: Not exactly – I don’t have a job. I’m just going because I want to.
Random person: *Blank stare.* (Or some variation.)
Now obviously making career decisions based on the opinions of random people is a bad idea. But if you decide to pursue an unconventional life path, it might smart the first few times that you get this reaction from people. Especially if you are in an awkward growth stage where your business isn’t making money, your project is in its infancy, or you haven’t exactly figured out your plan yet. You and I both know that you’re going to do great things, but when you try to articulate your vision in a soundbite it might fall flat.
Give yourself time to mourn the loss of societal approval. It doesn’t make you weak to feel embarrassed, unsure, or otherwise awkward when you get these kinds of reactions. You just have to push through them, don’t let them stop you, and know that this too shall pass.
3. Loss of approval of friends/family/peers
Hopefully you will find that 100% of your friends and families will be 100% supportive of your decisions every day. I can pretty much guarantee though that there will be times when people think you’re crazy, talk down to you, try to denigrate your dreams or otherwise make you feel less than. This will particularly happen when you face hardships and try to seek some sort of support from your network. You may find that people aren’t sympathetic to the trials that you face because you’ve stopped “playing by the rules.” Maybe your parents are always calling you and telling you about jobs that “you would be great at” or pressuring you to pursue a more conventional path. At times people may genuinely be trying to help you, but it might come across as a negative judgement on the path that you’ve chosen to pursue.
In some way you will certainly lose the approval of people that you care about, if only because they won’t understand what you’re doing. Keep going any way, but allow yourself to mourn the loss of their support.
4. Loss of the familiar
Even if you hate your job, it’s familiar and it’s safe. Every time I’ve left a job I’ve felt really sad during my last few days, knowing that on some level I will miss the familiar things, faces, and routines that make up my day. Even now, on days when I’m feeling sad and nostalgic I’ll think back fondly of some of the comfortingly familiar parts of my day. There will be things that you will miss. It’s OK. It doesn’t mean that you want to stay in that life/job/place (or that you want to go back to it), it just means that you are human and that you find some comfort in the familiar.
5. Loss of the life that you thought you would have
Have you ever gone through a really bad breakup? Do you remember feeling so sad when you thought of all the plans that you had with your ex – how you thought that you would live together, or get married, or have children, or go to Bali? When you go through a breakup you lose not only a partner, but also the dreams that you cherished for your future together. Even if you know on some level that the relationship wasn’t right, you’re still sad about the loss of a future that you were invested in.
Leaving behind a life plan that didn’t work for you is much the same. Even if you hated your job, your city, your situation, you probably still saw some future that involved aspects of your life that you are now giving up. On some level you were invested in that future, even if you thought it sounded terrible. There were probably some aspects that you liked – maybe you hated your corporate job, but you liked the idea of being promoted and earning prestige (I know I did). Maybe you hate your city but you still dreamed of living in its nicest neighbourhood in a massive house.
Give yourself time to mourn the loss of a future that was at least familiar, and in which you were certainly invested to some degree.
6. Loss of support systems and social circles
If you leave a job, you are probably leaving behind a group of people with whom you often shared stories, complaints, and/or funny pictures of cats. Even if these people weren’t your best friends, or you never saw them outside of work, they likely still offered you some sense of belonging and of social support. When you leave your job you will leave this all behind. You will probably miss being around some of these people. Even if you disliked your co-workers, you may miss spending time with a group of people with whom you have something in common, if only your job. On some level these people support you, so you shouldn’t be surprised if you feel a free-floating sadness or loneliness when you leave them behind.
If you move to another city, country, or continent, you are probably leaving behind everyone that you have ever known. This is a big deal. Even if you throw yourself into new relationships and make tons of awesome friends, there may be times when you feel lonely and don’t really know why. Allow yourself to mourn the loss of familiar people and the support that they gave you.
How to Give Yourself Time and Space to Mourn
The first and most important thing is simply to understand that you are mourning a loss. Even if your new life, new job, new country, or new situation is infinitely better than what you left behind, you will likely still mourn one or more of the losses mentioned. Be kind to yourself and give yourself extra time to rest; schedule a day off and make no plans beyond relaxing. When you feel sad, allow yourself time and space to feel that, and then try to get outside for some easy exercise and sunshine, or do something to lift your spirits. Know that grieving your former life is a normal part of change, even if you didn’t much like your former life. Sometimes you might just need half an hour a day to cry and then lay around feeling sad. Give yourself that half an hour and don’t beat yourself up about it.
Rather than feeling sad, you might feel a free-floating sense of irritation or anger. Or you might feel incredibly numb, or at times incredibly overwhelmed. Whatever you feel is OK, and it’s important to acknowledge and honour those feelings.
Just because you’re chasing your dreams doesn’t mean that you’re going to be ridiculously happy all the time. That’s OK, grief is a part of any major life change, and it’s necessary in order to move forward and fully embrace your new life.