Graduation & My Experience with Change Grief

I have a Senior graduating from high school this month. The range of emotions I’ve felt over the last few months has surprised me. I’ve felt joy, sadness, excitement, grief, gratitude, anxiety, and even relief. However, the sadness is lingering. I am very excited about the future and the opportunities ahead for my child, yet I need time to process this change.

This grief and sadness are also there when you face other big transitions like a new job or any major change that impacts your life.

Change is hard, even if you’re moving on to something you want, and it’s the right decision. Take the time you need, both before you leave a job and after you’ve started a new one, to process this significant change. Facing these bouts of grief instead of ignoring them can help you navigate the complex emotions of a child moving on to the next stage of life or leaving a job you love and starting somewhere new.

Here are some things to think about that may help you process change grief:

  1. Understand How Your Role is Changing – Many people tie their identities to their work. As a mother, I’ve worked for 18 years developing, nurturing, and preparing my child for the next phase in life. I am a mother, but my role is changing, and I will operate differently as a mother in the future.

As you move on to different roles in business, really look at how you identify with work. Do you identify with your professional occupation or with the organization you work for? Understanding how you identify with work and how your role will change will help you process the grief of leaving your comfort zone and confidently move ahead into the unknown.

  1. Realize Who You Are Leaving Behind – I’ve spent every day of the last 18 years building a relationship with my child. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nonetheless, we have been through it all together. In this next phase of life, I won’t be able to physically see him every day; for that, I’m grieving.

This feeling could be like what you might feel moving to a new job. We often share a big part of our lives in the workplace. We develop relationships with co-workers and may even become like “family.” We connect, support each other, and engage socially in ways we sometimes take for granted. You can prepare yourself for this loss by intentionally preparing for your departure. Think about how you can exit positively. Talk about it with co-workers you trust. Build a transition plan and find a way to connect with your previous “work family” after you leave. Realizing who you are leaving behind can help you process the loss you are feeling when you transition to a new job.

  1. Recognize the Complexity of the Work Environment – As a mother, my work involves physical, mental, emotional, financial, spiritual, and intellectual growth experiences with my child.

Some of these dynamic growth experiences are occurring at work, possibly without you even knowing about them. Your job isn’t just a place where you just go to execute tasks. It is filled with daily experiences that are complex. If you recognize the full breadth and the many needs met in your work experience, you can better process the change and grief caused by leaving one work environment and starting a new chapter.


I’m starting a new chapter as my son heads to college. I know the lessons I’m learning as I enter this new phase will help at other times in life when a new chapter ends –  but a new one begins.


Meredith Johnson is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at or on LinkedIn.