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  • Writer's pictureKayla Morse Higgs

Grief’s Role in Personal and Professional Transformation

Updated: Jun 24

The concept of grief traditionally conjures images of loss through death or separation. Yet, its undercurrents run through all manner of life transitions, marking not just the profound shifts in our personal lives but also those in our professional spheres. This interplay between grief and change is seldom straightforward and often goes unrecognized, especially when the changes are sought after or deemed positive. Understanding the stages of grief as they relate to both personal and professional change can offer us not just solace but also a roadmap for navigating these turbulent waters. It’s in the heart of these transitions, through the lens of grief, that we can find a more compassionate and empathetic approach to change in all its forms.

My tenure as the president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, at the University of Florida, serves as a poignant, relatable example of this very journey. Leading a chapter and being recognized as President of the Year was a highlight of my undergraduate years, a role filled with achievements, learning, and profound personal growth. As my term neared its end, I eagerly anticipated passing the baton to my successor, looking forward to the next chapter of my life yet unaware of the emotional rollercoaster that awaited me. This transition, seemingly straightforward, encapsulated the stages of grief in a way I hadn’t expected, offering a clear, if unexpected, reflection on the nature of change.

Denial and Isolation:

Initially, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. The weight of responsibility lifted, and I basked in the accomplishments of my term. However, as the new president took over, a subtle sense of denial crept in. The reality of stepping back, of no longer being at the helm, felt surreal. This wasn’t about doubting the new leadership but rather about me facing the void left by the absence of a role that had defined much of my college life.


The transition phase brought frustration to the forefront. Observing decisions and changes that diverged from my own leadership style stirred an unexpected resentment. This wasn’t a reflection of the new president's capabilities but rather an emotional response to seeing my established routines and traditions altered or set aside.


In an effort to maintain a semblance of influence, I found myself offering “support” that was more about steering things in a familiar direction than genuinely assisting. This bargaining phase masked my difficulty in letting go, portraying a veneer of mentorship while grappling with the loss of control.


The full weight of the transition hit, leaving me feeling stuck and disoriented. My struggle was not just with the loss of position but with finding a new identity within the organization. This period was marked by a search for meaning and a longing for the influence and routine I had lost.


The path to acceptance began with a heartfelt conversation with a friend and sorority sister. Her honesty helped me realize the importance of moving forward, embracing my new role within the chapter and the broader community. Acceptance meant recognizing that my time as president was part of a larger journey, one that was evolving rather than ending.

Reflecting on this period through the stages of grief provides a profound insight into the dynamics of change, both personal and professional. It underscores the universality of these emotional responses, reminding us that grief can accompany any transition, signifying not just loss but also growth. By acknowledging the grief in change, we can approach our transitions with greater empathy and understanding, allowing ourselves to fully engage with the new opportunities and challenges ahead. Whether leading a team, moving cities, or passing on a leadership role, understanding our emotional journey through change empowers us to navigate it with grace and resilience, ready to embrace whatever comes next with an open heart and a reflective mind.

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