Loneliness of the Long-Distance Transitioner
Loneliness is a taboo topic. We are taught, "If you're
lonely, it's your own fault." Needless to say, I disagree.
Psychologists recognize that bereaved and divorced people
are lonely. Few people acknowledge the parallels with career
change and relocation.
Why does transition often bring loneliness?
First, your identity affects the way you socialize. If you've
socialized as a couple, you need new friends to socialize
as a single person. If you've socialized as "corporate
person" you need new friends when you become "self-employed
In her book, Trespassing, Rebecca Parker reports, everyone's
eyes lit up when she introduced herself as a corporate lawyer
with American Express. When she said, "I'm a writer,"
their eyes glazed over.
Second, when you're in the middle of a transition, you have
a thin identity and people don't know what to say about you.
"But you don't really write, do you?" someone said
to me, when I was writing my first book proposal. "You
just write things for your job."
Another friend introduced me as a professor at University
of X. I pointed out that I had left University of X and legally
could not claim an affiliation.
She was genuinely puzzled: "Then how can I introduce
"Say I'm writing and consulting," I suggested.
"Then they'll think you're unemployed," she argued.
At least these people were speaking to me. Often people stop
calling and the person in transition is too self-conscious
and too tired of hearing, "How's the job hunt?"
or, "Is your business making real money yet? It's been
a whole month!"
Third, the newly-divorced person comes to a date shaped by
the experience of marriage; those new to a career or a community
will be shaped by their former lives. They ask questions that
seem bizarre or that get taken out of context. They may find
it hard to relate to new colleagues or neighbors because they
If you are very lucky, you will have supportive friends and
family who will remain with you through the transition. Typically,
you can expect isolation and sometimes hostility from former
colleagues and neighbors.
Some people feel threatened because they wish they had the
courage to leave a job or city they hate. Others simply fill
the gap created by your absence.
There is no easy solution, but people often are relieved
to realize their experience is universal. I encourage transitioners
to appreciate solitude: enjoy the opportunity to read, go
for walks, and spend quality time with the dog.
Find places where you can be with others but not feel lonely:
a bookstore café, a health club, a neighborhood hangout.
Present yourself in a strong, positive way: "I'm looking
for a job, but meanwhile I'm taking the opportunity to work
on a book."
If you have a friend who's transitioning, be proactive! Call
and send e-mails. Don't push the question, "How are things
going?" Don't give advice.
Instead, share your own news. Share lunch, coffee or a movie.
If your friend can't afford the time or money, offer to stop
by for a visit, and bring something to nibble on while you
talk.. If you're too far away, surprise your friend with a
phone call or newsy e-mails.
Above all, remind your friend that you care and that your
friendship will last well into the future.
|Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. is an author, career coach, and
speaker. She works with mid-career professionals who want to make a fast
move to career freedom. Visit her site http://www.movinglady.com
or call 505-534-4294.