Bouncing back from career trauma

joshua-earle-223653-unsplash.jpgI recently read Battle Scars by Jason Fox, having seen him presenting on a number of TV Programmes. It’s true to say we’ve all experienced trauma in our lives. Thankfully most of us haven’t been shot at by hostiles and maybe we aren’t all built with the strength to bench-press a rhinoceros! Humour aside, here’s what I learned from reflecting on this thought-provoking and inspiring book relating to managing your own career trauma. 

Also full credit to Jason for writing about this challenging subject in such a personal way. His book brings the subject of this type of mental health issue into public discussion. I hope his actions help others to work through their trauma and challenges of leaving an institution like the British Army and move on to a new career. Thanks for inspiring us and sharing your journey and your successes. 

What is trauma and phobia?

Lots of people talk about ‘Trauma’ like a hashtag for anything difficult in their lives. It’s not really like having trouble parking or an extra long queue at the coffee bar! The truth is that trauma is an event your life that’s shocking and highly charged with emotion. What this will be varies with individuals, but it can be events leading to significant loss.

Real trauma can include the death of a loved one, an unpleasant divorce or a severe and sudden illness. In Jason Fox’s case repeated exposure to life-threatening combat over a prolonged period gradually became traumatic. Not much compares directly to that level of trauma, but we all face our own challenges where situations become toxic. 

Psychology today define trauma as “what doesn’t kill you…” which I guess is leaning towards the view of making you stronger – a positive frame for change. 

While not everyone experiences the trauma of war, personal trauma causes by dramatic events can affect all of us. It’s also worth mentioning phobias here. A phobia is a reaction to a high-stress event that causes our brain to learn very quickly to avoid something. If you are chased by a Tiger and it eats your friend (just imagine…) you might develop a phobia of dark places in the jungle! Thanks brain – glad I learned that skill. 

On one hand, our brain is helping us to survive through quick and deep learning, but the same phobic creation can also occur on less threatening items, such as a deep-seated fear of choking on grapes. The fear of fruit would be a less helpful learning.

Phobias are less severe that trauma, but in both cases the brain is trying to protect us from repeated stress (by replaying it) but this becomes unhelpful to our lives and may prevent us from enjoying daily life. This is not to trivialize trauma or PTSD, just to provide some comparison on what’s going on here.

Do we all have some trauma in life?

Although trauma may be too strong a word, as explained above and due to overuse by the media, we all endure events in our lives that mark us emotionally. These can include such family disputes, sudden career changes, location changes or leaving a group that has previously defined us. 

My own experience of moving house and changing schools felt traumatic looking back at it. Leaving friends, learning new routines, experiencing the challenge of living in a new location – all of these are tough as a child. Many things can be considered as ‘loss’ and leaving them behind can be tough. Trauma? – not exactly, challenging? – yes and emotionally significant. 

However, as per the frame from Psychology Today, change can reveal new resources and help you develop new skills. It’s often worth weighing up what the positive learnings are from challenging events. Both skills and scars help us move forward. 

How can you recover from challenging events like career change?

In ‘Battle Scars’ part of Jason’s recovery is helped by time spent away from the stresses of life, getting outdoors and enjoying ‘mountains and ‘water as well as some creative time.

Distracting the mind and making use of the therapeutic power of nature and landscapes helps him recover. It can help us all recover from the stress of work. 

My own tips on recovering from career-based stress would include: 

  1. Get outside – get ‘off the concrete’ – as this naturally relaxes your mind
  2. Get creative – if you like music or art or any creative activity, spend some time ‘in the moment’ to help your brain become calmer and feel productive again
  3. Get moving – find a way to pump the blood and work the muscles, but don’t be limited by conventional views on what exercise is, do what you enjoy
  4. Get interested – what is it you like to do most? what makes you happy?
  5. Get talking – find people who will listen to you. If you need counselling, see what you can gain from it. When you’re ready, perhaps find a coach to help you move forward again. Different people can help you at different stages of recovery. 

What can we learn from emotional challenges and career trauma?

As Jason Fox highlights in his book, which was where this post started, challenges and trauma can eventually help us grow. In his writing he highlights what he learned about his own needs and how he was later able to address these in the next step in his career. The professional help he needed to move forward was considerable, but it’s great to hear how he found the right help and was able to refocus and move forward. 

When change takes place in a work context, once you’ve processed the emotional aspects, it’s worth considering what learnings about yourself or what opportunities may arise from it. Change is hard but it creates new knowledge, greater experience and new structures to work in.

Career trauma and change is not easy ground to cover and always emotionally significant, but with all the people I have coached in this area, they have all discovered something new in themselves and found a path to a more fulfilling role or a new vocation. Something is always gained from the journey and it’s usually not obvious what the benefit will be at the start. 

Having your own career challenges?

Thanks for reading and good luck with your personal career changes. If you’d like support or coaching to help transition your career, please get in touch. 

Image credit:

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash