If this is something that’s keeping you stuck and you feel tortured by making this decision, listen in this week. I’m sharing the common pitfalls I often see, why making this choice with intention and concrete reasoning is so important, and my best tips and suggestions for supporting yourself through whatever decision you land on.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 115, Returning to Work.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.
Hey there. Welcome to another episode of the podcast. So we’re going to talk about returning to work today because it’s something I end up coaching on quite frequently.
And maybe you’ve decided to return to work, maybe you’re not sure if you want to return to work, maybe you’ve already returned to work and it’s not going very well, maybe you’re thinking about different work, we’re just going to tackle all of it.
And before we do that, little quick update on my life. So I’m about to head to Colorado to take a week off from work, a week off from my business, a week off, which I have never done in all of the years that I have been coaching, I have never actually completely unplugged from work.
And by that, I mean I’ve gone places but I’ve also coached while I’ve been there. And I’m not going to coach next week. I’m actually just going to relax and be with my family. Now, I can’t promise that I won’t be actually writing emails and doing things because frankly, it’s just always on my brain. It’s hard to shut off for me because I really do love what I do.
But I am taking a vacation and I’m recording this podcast before I leave, which means that I will be in Colorado on the fifth anniversary of Hugo’s passing, which if you’ve listened to the podcast for a while, you already know, has some special meaning for us. Hugo loved the cabin, my dad’s place in the Rocky Mountains.
And so it’s just kind of always a place that I feel connected to him, but a place that I also always kind of simultaneously miss him. And interestingly enough, not that my experience will be the same as anyone else’s experience, but for me, coming up on the five-year deathiversary feels like by far the easiest one so far.
But I also know that in order to get to the cabin, I have to drive by the accident site and that’s never my favorite thing to do. Sometimes it’s harder than others. So have that to look forward to Thursday, but I’m getting pretty darn good at supporting myself as I do that, when the hard spots come, when the grief grenades are there, or I know that a trigger is coming, pretty good about loving myself through it, and hopefully you’re benefitting from me sharing my experiences with you in that way.
I also think personally, this has just been a year of great change for me. So my boyfriend and I bought a house, you’ve heard me tell you I love it, I love what I do, my coaching business is amazing, it’s so rewarding, and really things do feel like they’re just going really, really well.
So I will enjoy my memories of Hugo. There’s something about five years that feels a little heavier than other numbers. Why is that? What is that that years that are multiples of five somehow feel more significant than other years? I don’t know why. But it is true, that’s how it feels.
But yet, at the same time, even though it does feel like a more significant year in terms of the number, it feels like the lightest year. I still feel very connected to him, I still miss him, but it doesn’t feel as heavy as it used to. So hopefully that helps some of you, not because your experience will be the same as mine, but just because it helps to know that you’re not alone and that even at five years out, these are still things I’m thinking about.
Let’s get into this episode. I don’t want to make blanket statements about what it’s like for everyone to return to work, but I do a lot of coaching on this subject. It comes up a lot inside of Mom Goes On, which is my group coaching program.
So in this episode, I want to share some of the common pitfalls that I see and some of the things that I want you to really think about if and when you decide to return to work. So here are some things to think about before you return. I want you to consciously decide if you even want to return.
And some of you may be saying, “Well Krista, it’s not a matter of want to. I have to.” And I hear you and I know what you’re saying is probably that I need the money. Some of us are telling ourselves that.
But even then, I encourage you to make a choice. Because the truth is none of us have to do anything and I know that seems like semantics but it really isn’t. When we tell ourselves that we have to do something, we end up feeling trapped or obligated or resentful.
And the truth is that no one has to work. Even if you didn’t get a big life insurance policy, you still don’t have to work. You could cut your budget, you could sell your house, you could be homeless in a van.
But that’s probably not what you’re going to choose to do. And so I want you to choose powerfully for yourself. Instead of telling yourself that you have to go back because that will have you feeling trapped and obligated and resentful, I encourage you to choose that you either are going back, or are not.
You’re choosing to go back or you’re choosing not to go back. But make that choice powerfully so that you feel powerful when you make it. You realize, no, you don’t have to go to work, you don’t have to do anything, honestly. You don’t even have to pay taxes. You choose to.
And if you choose to, I’m hoping that you will really get curious about your reasons and make sure that they serve you. So any reason that has should in it typically isn’t going to be very empowering. Probably not going to be a fan of that reason if it involves the word should.
A lot of times I hear widows torturing themselves about whether they’re going to go back to work because they make going back to work mean all sorts of things that it doesn’t need to mean. Like, they’re lazy if they don’t go back to work, or they’re weak if they don’t go back to work, or that they aren’t handling their grief well.
And instead of going back to work because they want to go back, they go back because they tell themselves that it would mean something bad or negative about them if they didn’t go back. I also see us when money in involved, not wanting people to know that life insurance money was exchanged, was received, and then going back to work only because we don’t want people to know about the money.
That is not an empowering reason to go back to work. You can go back to work just because you want to. So I’m not trying to tell you don’t go back to work, do go back to work. I just want to make sure that you’ve gotten curious about your reasons and that your reasons genuinely serve the life that you want to create.
That you’re not just doing it because your reasoning has gone unquestioned. You get to decide what’s right for you always. And if you’re wondering, do I need to go back to work, meaning, financially can I make it? I encourage you to do the math.
Get a trusted financial advisor, someone who can help you do the math. Get someone to help you understand how much runway do you have? Can you make changes in your budget and not go back to work if you don’t want to go back to work?
Because sometimes we’re so uncomfortable with the numbers that we don’t actually investigate them and we don’t know what they are. And so then we’re not making decisions with accurate math. We’re making decisions with inaccurate assumptions, and those decisions aren’t going to serve us.
So do the math. And if you need somebody to help you, get somebody to help you. If you choose to go back, consider easing your way into it. Would that feel good to you? I went in one day just to say hello and see people and get the awkwardness over.
My boss and I had talked about it and I don’t remember who’s suggesting it was, it might have been his suggestion or maybe someone in human resources. But I went in the day before – I think it was on a Friday. And I went in and said hello to everyone and got hugs and kind of got the awkwardness over.
And then I had a weekend to take a break. And then I went back on Monday. That helped me a lot because I wasn’t dreading so much the awkward conversations because I’d kind of already gone in and gotten that over with. And that helped me.
I went back full-time. And I took about six weeks off. But for me, going back was actually rather healing because everyone in my work environment knew Hugo. We had worked together. And I kind of wanted to get back. There was a part of me that really did want to be back there and wanted to be around people who I knew and people who loved me and people who loved Hugo and that felt good to me.
So six weeks felt right to me. Also, I had an incredibly supportive employer. My boss actually, he spoke at Hugo’s memorial service. We called him Uncle Alan affectionately, but he knew that I was seeing a therapist and he was incredibly supportive and he made sure that I always had time off so that I could make those appointments and he really worked with me.
And that worked for us because he was available, he was supportive, and I was honest. If I had pretended that I felt stronger than I did, if I had tried to worry about his opinion of me or tried to be strong and I wasn’t honest with him and I didn’t tell him that I was seeing a therapist regularly, it would have been much more difficult for me.
So I encourage you, figure out what’s going to work well for you. Do you want to ease your way into it? How could you do that? Could you go in like I did, get the awkwardness over with, or maybe go in for half days? Maybe you work part-time from home and only a few days at work for a while. Can you come up with something that isn’t so all or nothing, isn’t so black or white, and then ease your way back into it?
And then when you return, I want to remind you of a few things. It’s totally okay to cry. Please don’t put pressure on yourself to hold it all in. Please don’t worry about what other people think of you because frankly, if they’re judging you for crying, they’re probably not great friends or can’t really relate to your life experience and don’t understand, so let’s just not worry about them.
If it bothers you to cry in public and you know you’re going to cry, then have a plan for that. What bathroom can you go to to get some privacy? Can you go into your office? Do you have a door, do you have a cubicle? What can you do? Can you schedule lunch breaks in your car so that you can have some time away? Can you go take walks?
All of these things are acceptable. But if you’re judging yourself about crying, then if you cry, it’s going to be even harder on you. And of course, what we resist persists. So when we tell ourselves it’s not okay to cry, guess what we want to do? We’re probably more likely to want to cry. So be kind to yourself about the tears.
I would like to recommend that if you have not familiarized yourself with tapping, also called Emotional Freedom Technique, that you do so before you go back to work. It is an amazing way to process a feeling, especially when you really want to do it quickly.
When you need to help create safety in your nervous system, so that you can allow yourself to feel how you feel and process something, tapping is such a brilliant way to do that. You can listen to the episode that I did on tapping with Jessica Ortner. You can go and get The Tapping Solution app and it’s free and learn how to tap. You don’t need the app to be able to tap in the moment.
You can go the bathroom or go into your office and it’s very simple to do. I’m not going to spend this podcast teaching you to do it but it’s very, very simple to do. Once you know the points and you know how to do a setup statement, or a couple of setup statements, you can really support yourself in that way.
Also, you can tap without using all of the points. So even if you’re just tapping on the side of hand or on the collarbone point, which by the way is very easy to do without people noticing what you’re doing, you can also rub the sore spot near your collarbone and that can be very helpful too.
That’s something you can do, even tapping on your collarbone or tapping on side of hand or rubbing the sore spot can be something you easily do in a meeting and no one will be the wiser, it will help your nervous system calm down and you will be able to comfort yourself in a way that I just find incredibly powerful. So highly recommend that you learn how to tap before you go back to work.
If you want to talk about your partner and you get the idea that others are too uncomfortable to bring it up, it’s totally okay for you to start the conversation. That’s what I did with Hugo. Most of my coworkers knew him because he had worked there for 20 years. I had only been there for 10.
So some of my coworkers actually knew him longer than I did. And even still, even though they knew him, they were still very worried I think that talking about him would make me uncomfortable.
And so in those early days, I wanted to talk about him and so I would bring him up. So I would crack jokes, I would make a comment about what Hugo would think about something, or how he would respond to something. And because I made that okay, then other people picked up on that, and then they started making it okay.
And then when something would come up in a meeting that would remind someone of Hugo, because he was a charismatic, opinionated engineer, and we knew how he would react to things, it was easy to tell stories. But because I laid the groundwork and I brought it up and I showed other people that I wasn’t uncomfortable talking about him, that in fact I wanted to talk about him, that gave them permission to talk about him.
And that was really healing for me. I wanted to talk about him. I didn’t want him to be forgotten, and it was soothing to me to have people tell stories and talk about him. So you don’t have to bring it up if you don’t want to. You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to.
But if you want to give other people permission to talk about your loved one, totally start that conversation yourself, do it. Also, cut yourself some slack if your widow fog is intense. Seriously. And if you’re not familiar with widow fog, check out the episode that I did on widow fog, it’s one of the earlier episodes.
But for many widows, our cognitive functioning takes a hit. Our emotions are all over the place, our hormones are all over the place, grief impacts our brain, and every part of us. And so our ability to process using the higher part of our brain is sometimes compromised and it feels like you’ve got cotton candy stuck in your brain and you just can’t remember things, or you can’t process like you had been able to process before.
It’s temporary. It’s not going to be with you forever. But if the widow fog is intense, be kind to yourself because sometimes you’re not going to be able to function the exact same way that you were functioning before. And there’s no point in being mean to yourself about it. Cut yourself some slack. It’s just widow fog. It’s not your fault. There’s nothing wrong with you.
You’ve heard me talk about the gap and the gain. I want to encourage you to stay in the gain. Because your brain is going to want to go to the gap, meaning your brain is going to want to go to where you are and how you’re doing relative to what’s possible for you, relative to how you were doing before your partner passed.
And your brain is going to want to compare and despair in that way. We have a built-in negativity bias. It’s just part of being human. But there’s no value in being in the gap. It just makes us feel bad. It just gives our brain the homework assignment of finding other things that aren’t going well.
It gets our brain focused on what we don’t want to see and less able to see what’s actually going well. So expect your brain to focus on the gap but redirect your brain to focus on the gain. Don’t compare yourself to how you were doing before your partner passed. Compare yourself to how you’re doing since your partner passed. Look for progress. Look for progress.
Set the goal that’s in front of you and then compare yourself not based on where you’re going but based on where you came from. And that will help you feel more momentum, that will help your brain find more evidence of progress. That will give you more things to celebrate.
But it won’t come naturally to most of us because we just have that built-in negativity bias. And if you want to listen to the episode of the podcast that I did on gap versus gain, that might also be helpful to you if that’s not familiar to you.
Okay, also, two more things. Decide in advance how you’re going to talk to yourself. Be prepared for your inner critic or your barking dog brain to pop up and give you a hard time. Be prepared for that little critical voice to say, “Ugh, you can’t handle this, ugh, you’re not doing this as fast as you used to do it, ugh, what’s wrong with you? Ugh, you’re never going to get back to where you once were.”
Be prepared for that inner critic. That is not you. That voice, that is not who you are at all. So be prepared and be ready by deciding in advance how you’re going to talk to yourself when that voice shows up. What are you going to say to yourself?
And here are some things that I would recommend. “I’m so proud of you. You’re doing such a good job. This is hard and you’re doing it. I love you so much.” That’s how I talk to myself. That’s how I want you to talk to yourself.
I’m sure there are lots of other ways you could talk to yourself that make you feel good, but those are just some of the ways that I talk to myself, especially when my inner critic pops up.
And last but not least, you can always change your mind. Just because you decide to go back, or just because you decide not to go back, you can always change your mind.
Sometimes we put pressure on ourselves in these decisions as though they are decisions that we have to make forever. We don’t. If you go back and it’s not working for you, it’s not a good fit, and you’re not ready, you can change your mind.
If you don’t go back and you decide later that you’re more ready than you thought you were, or you actually do want to go back and before you didn’t think that you wanted to go back, you can always change your mind. And you can change your mind when it comes to your career path.
I know we’re always told don’t make any big decisions in the first year, which is well-intentioned advice, but listen, for me, I really quickly realized going back to work that even though I loved those people, I loved those people, and even though I was good at my job, my heart was not there.
I didn’t have a passion for planes. Hugo had a passion for planes. He loved planes. Everything about planes. If a plane would fly over, he was staring at it, he was telling you about it, he had a pilot’s license when he was younger. He was through and through in the right career for him.
I didn’t. I loved the people there. I loved celebrating a project well done, I loved overcoming obstacles and figuring out how to solve a problem on a deadline. Those things were fun and challenging to me, but I didn’t have a passion for that.
And I quickly decided more so than at any other point in my life that holy cow, okay, life is short. Nothing is promised. Is this what I really want to do with the next chapter of my life? And after some investigation, the answer was just no. The answer was just no.
And I also happened to get coached during that time, to discover coaching. Not because at that point I was really planning to become a coach. Not at all. I was just trying to help myself. But it was through coaching that I realized, oh, I’m capable of doing other things. I can do what I want. I don’t have to follow this trajectory just because I’ve been at this company for 10 years and it feels really safe and it pays really well.
If I want to go do something else, I can. Because coaching was so powerful for me personally, that made me want to share it with other people. Super fun, by the way, to watch that happening within my Mom Goes On membership.
I don’t remember how many women who have done my program who are now either certified coaches or are in the middle of coaching certification because they had the same thing happen, where it changed their lives and they just decided they needed to share it with other people. It happens.
So it’s okay if now is the time where you say you know what, I’ve been doing this for however long and it was part of my other plan, but now I want to make a new plan, now I want to do something else. Give yourself permission to explore that. Give yourself permission to consider all the options.
You can go back to school, you can become an entrepreneur, you can do anything that you want to do. And if something has been pulling at your heart, maybe now is the time and you can listen to that little voice and give it some curious exploration. There’s nothing to lose there.
Bottom line, like every other part of the widow journey, be kind to yourself. Be kind to yourself. We don’t go back to work because we have to or should. We go back to work because we choose to. Make that choice powerfully.
Don’t be mean to yourself and make going back to work mean things it doesn’t need to mean. It’s not a commentary on your character if you choose not to go back to work. It doesn’t mean anything bad about you if you decide to take another direction.
Or it doesn’t mean anything bad about you if you decide to go back to work. I’ve had clients beat themselves up over that too. Where they tell themselves they should be staying home with the children, and then are mean to themselves about going back to work.
It’s just unnecessary and I love you and you’re not doing anything wrong if that’s what’s happening, but I give you permission to just be kind to yourself. Figure out how to be your own champion here. Have a response for that inner critic if it’s flaring up in your brain. Just because the thoughts appear, you don’t have to listen.
That’s what I have for you this week. I love you whether you go back to work or don’t, or go back to work and change your mind, I love you, it doesn’t matter. Alright, you’ve got this. Take care everybody. Bye-bye.
If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about, even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.
Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than what you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click Work With Me for details and next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.