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When R & R Is Not a Vacation

Can we talk about the "R" words? Not recession, reorganization, or reduction. In these burdensome times, too often fraught with diminished advancement opportunity or frustration with the unending job search, you need to challenge "rejection" and its debilitating partner in crime-'resignation." And by resignation I don't mean voluntarily relinquishing a position-I'm talking apathy, passivity, and lethargy.

I recall a scene from the Woody Allen movie, Bananas. Woody can't Understand why co-star Louise Lasser won't get more involved with him. Louise turns to Woody and states, "You really want to know? It's because you're immature - mentally, emotionally, and sexually." After a pregnant moment, Woody exclaims, as only Woody can, "'Yeah, that may be so ... But in what other ways?"

While Woody's bravado may be a tad false, at least he doesn't feel like a failure. Louise may be rejecting, but Woody's not a reject. He's not taking her comments so personally. However, if Woody were a bit more insightful, he might learn something -how to handle rejection and grief and rejuvenate his spirit.

Look at your situation. Can you be receptive to challenging ideas in your job while questioning prevailing images or outmoded assumptions without losing a grasp on your basic strengths and self-worth?

If you're feeling paralyzed or trapped at work, welcome to the burnout crisis. But wait. Hitting bottom means there's no more downward spiral. In fact, while grappling with a sense of loss, you're likely not losing it - but experiencing vivid, yet normal burnout symptoms. The task, now, is learning how to handle those negative symptoms. . Moving on may eventually be the answer; being impulsive rarely is. Learning to let go gradually of lost dreams, familiar roles, or false hopes is essential for the transition from a stagnant present to one filled with possibilities. Embracing the "grief process" is absolutely necessary for passage through the burnout tunnel. Here are several stages of workplace grief:

Loss and sadness. After feeling shock and denial from a significant negative event, such as a downsizing, you're feeling deflated and losing control. Consider a guide, professional hand, or support group to help you steer clear of seductive and destructive voices and conflicts. This is an odyssey of Homeric proportions.

Rage and guilt. You've been wounded, feel exposed, and just want to lash out. Or, you turn the rage inward. Perhaps you feel stifled by a sense of guilt because you've let people down. Consider this: In The Random House Dictionary: The Unabridged Edition, the first six definitions of the world "failure" describe it as an act or instance. It's not until the seventh and last definition that "failure" takes a personal direction. Losing a job is an event, an act-not a judgment on you.

Focused anger and letting go. The challenge now is to blend the energy and rage with a sadder-yet-wiser assessment of the situation. You're ready to loosen - if not untie - the knot of hurt and humiliation. And best of all, you're ready to knock on (maybe even knock down) doors again.

Exploration and new identity. Now more than ever there's a chance to evaluate your skills and interests. As French author and philosopher Albert Camus noted: "Once we have accepted the fact of loss we understand that the loved one [or loved position] obstructed a whole corner of the possible, pure now as a sky washed by rain." Take some time to explore what's out there. Volunteer or work part-time, or consider working as a consultant. While there will be plateaus, persistence and patience will win in the end.

Whether the loss is your current job, a desired position, or a key person on staff-each deserves the respect of a mourning. The pit in the stomach, the clenched fist and quivering jaw, the anguished sobs prove catalytic in time. In mystical fashion, like spring upon winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal.

Executive Update, September 1992