Between jobs? – How to make the most of this time (and find a new role)

Monday, April 29th, 2024

Being between roles can shake the foundations of your world. When you leave a role, you lose not only a job but a daily routine and a community.

Finding yourself in empty space, with no demands or structures in your day, can be disorientating. How do I choose to spend my time? This might be the first time in decades that you’ve had to ask this question. It may be the first time EVER, aside from the odd vacation and parental leave.

Often, the disorientation of being between jobs goes even deeper than the practical level — it hits at the level of IDENTITY. In the past, you could define yourself through what you did: “I am a Brand Manager for XXX company”. Now, you don’t have that identity to hide behind.

That might trigger a range of unsettling questions:

Who I am, now?

Where do I belong? 

What is my life ABOUT?

What’s the point of it all? 

These questions are disorientating. But they are also a huge opportunity.


How to navigate this time

You can’t force you way through change. And rushing ahead, to make the uncertainty go away, might be counter-productive. It might land you back in a situation which looks different, but is fundamentally the same. Same job, different company; new job, same frustrations.

If  you sense you’re ready for a deeper kind of change – a reorientation, or more fundamental change of direction – then you might find it helpful to slow down, and allow the process to unfold more slowly (while doing what you need to do to keep the bills paid and food on the table).

From the hundreds of people I’ve coached through career transitions, I’ve discovered five phases in the journey between jobs.


1. Start Where you Are (and let yourself feel it).

Start Where You Are is the title of the book by Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron. And it applies here.

That means – give yourself time to feel the emotions that come with this place. Get curious about the range of emotions you might be feeling, and give each one space.

You might experience a range of emotions.

Relief – that you’re finally out of the previous role, which perhaps had come to feel toxic or draining or somehow “off”

Fear – because you don’t know how long you’re going to be here. How will I provide for myself and my family? What if I don’t find another role soon?

Hurt or shame – especially if you were “let go” or asked to leave. You might experience a sense of not being wanted, or tell yourself a story about how you’re “not good enough”.

Anger – because you feel you’ve been unfairly treated, or that this should not be happening to you because you’ve done everything right!

Grief –  You might feel sad – that you’ve said goodbye to people and a purpose that you cared about and invested a huge amount of time and energy into.

Hope – (and this can take some time to arrive – often once you’ve allowed yourself to fully feel some of the other emotions first) because you can sense that, somehow, this ending could be an opportunity. Painful, yes, but a chance to course-correct. To leave a path that you’ve outgrown or weren’t fully appreciated or had to twist yourself into shape to fit, and to choose a new path that better aligns with who you are, the gifts you bring, and what you love.

To explore your emotions, you might:

  • Journal about how you feel, every morning for a month
  • Write a letter to someone in your old company – venting, thanking them, saying something you weren’t able to say. (I don’t recommend sending this, but writing it can be very cathartic.)
  • Meet with a friend, coach or mentor, and share openly the range of emotions you’re experiencing – including the more vulnerable ones
  • Go for a hike, and speak out loud to a tree/ horizon / stone / stars about where you are and how you feel about it
  • Paint or draw how you feel – maybe a series of pictures that express how you feel about your past, your present, and your hopes for the future. These do not need to be works of art! They are just a way to give form to your feelings.
  • Write a poem or a story — as above, talent is not what you’re after!

The aim is to externalise your feelings — to give them form, so you can see them more clearly. There’s no need to judge them, interpret them, fix them, or make difficult feelings go away. Just notice them, and let them move through you.

A good poem for inspiration here is Rumi’s The Guest House.


2. What is ending?

Although it’s tempting to skip ahead to the future – planning and forging your way into a new job – I recommend spending some time getting clear on what you are leaving behind.

Why was it right for this role to end?

If you chose to leave your job, you might have already thought about this. Maybe the role started to feel overly familiar; the culture of the organisation felt unhealthy for you; you lacked a sense of purpose; you felt you couldn’t fully share your skills and gifts; you were ready for a more senior role, but had become pigeon-holed at a certain level in the org (and perhaps in your own mind).

If you didn’t leave by choice, you might find this question hard. It might keep bumping you back to feelings of hurt or shame. But stay with it. I have yet to work with a client who hasn’t realised a misfit between them and a role / culture they’ve been asked to leave, even if they weren’t aware of that misalignment while they were working there – and I have worked with hundreds of people, over almost twenty years.

Some part of you wanted out, whether you were able to admit that to yourself or not. Find that part, and listen to it. It has wisdom for you about what you DON’T want – and therefore, what you do. For example – I don’t want to undersell myself becomes, I DO want a role where my gifts can have a real impact.

Being clear on what you’re saying NO to helps you get clear on what your YES might be.


3. What do you love?

Once you’ve cleared the ground, by observing your emotions and clarifying about what you are leaving behind, you’ll naturally start thinking about the future.

You’ll probably find yourself asking – What do I want?

It’s easy to kick into thinking mode here, trying to “figure it out” or come up with a check-list for the kind of role you’re looking for.

I recommend starting closer in. Exploring, rather than analysing. Leading with curiosity, not a need to define or explain yourself to recruiters (yet).

What do I love?

What do I care about?

What am I FOR?

Sometimes, we haven’t allowed space for these kinds of question. We may have been following a different set of questions — what SHOULD I do? What is expected of me? How do I become successful? What do I want to achieve? So, it can be hard to answer the deeper question of — what do I love?

In this case, it might help to ask yourself:

  • What would I do, even if I wasn’t paid for it?
  • What makes me emotional, when I see / read / think about it?
  • What did I love to do as a child?
  • What would I love to be remembered for?
  • What were the peak experiences of my life / career so far — and what qualities were present in that role / culture / environment?

A good resource here is Bonnie Wan’s The Life Brief.

4. Explore multiple paths until one starts to sing

As the weeks and months go by, you might find a few potential paths emerging.

Some might take you back to the same kind role or industry that you just left. Some might be an iteration of that – e.g. the same role in a different industry. Some might be completely new and different — perhaps something you once dreamed of becoming, but never took seriously or somehow left behind.

It might be tempting try to to choose your path immediately, as soon as you see the choices. After all, you’ve probably been living in uncertainty for a while. The idea of solid ground – of knowing what you do, and where, and with who – might be appealing!

But I recommend staying in the uncertainty a little longer.

If you have a number of possible paths, tap yourself along each one, in parallel, and discover more about it.

For example, a friend who left her job four months ago now finds herself drawn down three possible paths.

  1. Take a new role in her area of expertise, but in a new org
  2. Explore roles in adjacent functions (HR or Customer Experience) – centring people, in the same context of a big corporate
  3. Retrain as a psychotherapist – heading direct to what she’s realising she loves, but with a higher degree of financial insecurity (which may or may not be feasible at this stage in her life)

Rather than trying to decide which path to go down, I suggested she explore all three.

For the first two, that might mean having exploratory conversations about potential roles, and noticing how she feels during and after those conversations. Do they bring her alive? Does she feel excited and energised, or flat and anxious?

For the third option – the bigger leap – she might spend a morning researching possible courses in psychotherapy and set up calls with the admissions department for two or three. Notice how she feels during and after these conversations – then let them settle. Does she find herself coming back to the dream of becoming a psychotherapist, or does exploring it set it to rest?

In the end, you’re looking for something to which you feel a wholehearted YES. As one of my coaching buddies says, “if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, or that it ticks all the boxes of what you expected or wanted. It means you feel a pull towards it: when you imagine doing that job your body leans forwards, you feel curious or intrigued or engaged. You feel, deep down: yes, this is for me, and I am for this. 

5. Commit

When you feel that yes, go for it. Step in. Show up. Actively pursue what you want. Ask for help — for introductions or recommendations from people you know.

Hopefully, you’ll land the job first time but if not, at least you know more about what you want. One action a day is a simple but powerful practice here— what can I do today to move my job search forward? When you’re not taking action, allow yourself time to rest and enjoy life.

Once you do land a job that you’re excited by, commit. Let go of other paths, which you’re not taking. Be present with what you have chosen. Maybe, in the future, you’ll find yourself at another cross-roads, or in limbo between roles. Then, you can ask the questions again. But give what you have chosen a chance. Don’t analyse or question it obsessively – that will only undermine the ground you are standing on.

You chose this. Trust yourself. And trust that, if something else is waiting for you in your future, you’ll find your way to it. For now, you are here. Enjoy it. Bring the best of you into it. Remember what you learned about what you’re for, and ask yourself: how can I bring what I love to life in this role?

You Can do this!

Being between roles is scary and disorienting and sometimes lonely. But it’s also an opportunity. You get to design your work-life to be more aligned with who you are, and what you care about.

One day, you may look back at this time with affection. Hopefully, also, with gratitude to yourself – for holding your nerve; for listening to your heart; for going after what brings you alive, what you love, the place you can make a unique contribution in the world.

As John Lennon said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

You can do this. Keep going.


Elle Harrison , MCC, is Founder & Executive Coach at Wild Courage, where she coaches C-Suite leaders and change-makers to navigate change with confidence and calm. Elle is a Master Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation and is author of “Wild Courage: A Journey of Transformation for You & Your Business” (Watkins, 2011).

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