Career Search as a Spiritual Journey

Every job seeker I ever met was on a spiritual journey. And I’ve met 4,000 of them! 

What is a spiritual journey?

“A spiritual journey is a process of reconciliation and education through enlightenment. It is as unique and individual as each individual is unique; and each of us eventually comes to attain the reconciliation and education in our own way, in our own time.”[1]

Stages of Job/Career Transition and Recovery

Most often a career transition begins with an abrupt ending – a layoff, firing, unexpected retirement for health reasons. Sometimes the ending is slower - a dawning recognition that your job is no longer fulfilling, or is even deadening.

Next is grieving, in all its forms, and can be short or long. The shock of being let go can leave your eyes spinning in your head. It can take awhile to get over. A person can feel ungrounded, fragmented, disoriented, angry and have physical symptoms like heart racing, sleeplessness or even panic attacks.  I feel sorry for people in this state because it’s frightening.  Yet, I know they will come out of it better than when they went in.  The phrase I often use to help them feel confident this will pass is that they are “putting their straw back in their shirts.”   

Putting Your Straw Back In Your Shirt

An important aspect of job transition is to remember who you are  – in your entirety.  Often while working, we get caught up in schedules, deadlines, pressures, climbing ladders and pleasing bosses and customers. We think our family and friends will understand that we can’t be all things to all people.  We leave bits of ourselves behind. We forget:

·        We are part of a community, with rights and responsibilities and pleasures in it

·        We like to draw, paint and make sand castles

·        We are parents of growing children, like Harry Chapin’s Cat’s Cradle song

·        We like to sing, dance, and walk around the block with our little kids learning how to ride a bike

·        We have talents and abilities that are valued by lots of people; that our boss does not always have our best interest at heart, and that making money is not our goal – satisfying customers with our best talents and values is. That’s why they’re willing to pay our company.

·        We can read a novel, cook gourmet dinners, and hang out with friends

·        We have interests that we have been neglecting while trying so hard to meet our responsibilities. We forget to nourish our inner selves, get rest, attend to daily needs like seeing beauty around us.

We also find out things we didn’t know, things we were never told. I found out my mother’s father came from an entrepreneurial family. This has been a great encouragement for me as I launched my new business with the intention of growing it and hiring people. 

One of my clients who came from a good Presbyterian family, found out during her transition that her father was Jewish.  His family had sat Shiva for him for marrying outside the faith.  There are two things about this: a) It takes a lot of denial for a whole family to neglect to mention that dad could not have sprung up out of nowhere, that he had to have a family of origin. And b) he had a sister and nieces who were delighted to be found!  What a reunion they had for his memorial service!  And my client got a call for a new job the very next week!

Mid-life seems to be a time for finding new straw for our shirts and job transitions seem to be the time when we find it.  It’s amazing how often these stories are told and reflected upon as the best thing that could have happened.  I promise you:

There is a gift in every transition.

Coming Out of the Transition Time

Sometimes during the grieving and sometimes after it we begin our job search tasks in earnest.

As a transition progresses, there are fits and starts and a good transition coach can be a blessing. Groups where you belong and can be yourself are important, too, so that as you make changes in your self-concept/self-integration, you have a sense of continuity with others.

Bewildering as it seems, you start to make changes in your approaches to job searching.  Networking becomes easier as you see more of your value, and practice telling your “story” – what you are doing, what you are needing, what you are sharing and what you are exploring.  All of this takes place in resume writing, interviewing (practice or for real) and networking. 

Yet, it seems that you are saying these tasks are taking you somewhere else, somewhere to a place you want to be. Satisfied that this is the case, a job seeker settles down and is now ready and able to hear and take in what others around them are saying and feeling. They realize this has been missing from their experience (sometimes for a very long time!).

Desert Time

I have come to rely on William Bridges’ Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes for describing this journey.  It fits job seeker experiences as they enter into their new roles and during the transition time itself. I like it because it gives the arc of the journey in three stages and everyone resonates with it; it fits their experience.  There are lots of examples of types of transitions in the book (not just jobs lost and found) and leaves everyone I have ever met who read it, with hope.

I explain his concept this way: First, you have to have an ending. We all know what that is: your termination date - or before that, if you got to make the decision.

Then there’s the Neutral Zone (Bridges), aka Desert Time (Sue Nelson). I call it Desert Time because it reminds me of the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years.  It’s only looking back from the edge of Canaan as they are preparing to enter the Promised Land, that they see the map.

Moses recounts the journey with all its lessons for new ways of being in the world: Oh! There’s where we got the 10 Commandments! There’s where we got the manna! Here’s what we need to be noble people with dignity and righteousness! Why they had to take the journey they did, what insights and changes they garnered along the way, now makes sense.

A student of Hebrew told me that it wasn’t until two generations had died off that the Israelites could enter the Promised Land.  They couldn’t receive the promise until there was no one looking back, no one who yearned for the security of slavery! Many job seekers feel this exact sentiment leave them. They begin to look fully forward. They have no unfinished business blocking receiving the new job.  

The new beginning may start before the new job does. Often a sense of serenity, of rightness, descends upon a person. I imagine sometimes when I see this that it must be what people meant when they said  the Holy Spirit descended upon someone. They have an inner peace and glow that is very attractive, especially to a new employer. 

Once a friend told me she wanted guidance on how to tell if she should follow her head or her heart.   I said I always come down on the side of the heart. She went on to a wonderful, international career in art. She used her head to work out the steps in tune with her inner guidance.  It was tough to make the first call since it felt like her heart’s yearnings were risky. But they took her places where she wanted to go, gave her platforms from which she wanted to make statements, and fed her spirit along with her lifestyle.


I know it’s different to talk about job searching as a spiritual journey. Yet I also know that until one takes the steps, it’s hard for the new job to come.  The opportunity exists for healing in mid-life of very old and very recent injuries.  Healing is a mid-life transition itself.  And the joy of working with it, training your eye for it, and making changes in your psyche are worth it – especially when you get to say about the Best. Job. Ever, “I got the job!”




[1] I like this definition from It complements my experience with all the job seekers I’ve worked with.