When I was laid off in 2018, the environment was very different than what is going on right now. The global economy was strong, the U.S. unemployment rate was about four percent and the idea of being quarantined for weeks was not even a wild dream!
While the circumstances were not the same as what millions of people who recently lost their jobs are undergoing now, I do understand and empathize with the experience of losing a job for reasons out of our control and what it feels like deep inside: it is disconcerting, it is hard, it is scary, it is sad, and it feels very personal.
The first thing to reframe is the impression that it is personal, because IT IS NOT! Think about this as when it rains. When it rains, you get wet and it does impact you and your plans, but it does not rain on you. It is not like the cloud is looking for you to intentionally make your day miserable, it just rains, and you happen to be there.
Why does losing a job feel so personal? Well, a big part of it has to do with our ego; it takes a big hit, and it resists, blames, gets embarrassed, gets angry, gets worried, etc. In addition, when you leave a job—especially involuntarily such as a layoff—a part of your SELF (your identity) is ripped apart.
Think about it. No matter the kind of job you do, more often than not, there are aspects of you that adapt to and merge with the job. It is easy to get so into the role, that we adjust and we lose a little (or a lot) of ourselves. Sometimes we even compromise our health, our family, our purpose in life.
Therefore, it is important to reframe your SELF as you go through this career-life transition. Let’s start by bringing closure to this chapter in your career-life, by following the four steps outlined below. The first two serve as an anchor to help you to not drift away when your ego, the one that took the first big hit and sometimes our worst enemy, kicks in.
1. Make a list of your accomplishments during your tenure at the job you are leaving. Write as many as they come to mind. This is an important first step, as it will support you when fear, self-doubt and other unproductive emotions come up during the transition. If you don’t remember any, go back to any farewell messages from colleagues or clients you may have received before leaving; read past performance reviews; ask your ex-boss, ex-colleagues or ex-clients. This will also help you to update your resume and social media platforms.
2. Make a list of all people who were your allies during your tenure. Bosses, colleagues, peers, internal and external partners, clients, friends, family members. Include how they supported you. Make sure you thank them. Make sure you continue nurturing these relationships. Talk to them, brainstorm with them, ask them for feedback. Do not withdraw. It is important to keep in mind that your family (spouse, children, parents, siblings) are also impacted by uncertainty and other emotions you will be experiencing. It’s super helpful to talk about it and to go through the emotions together.
3. Acknowledge and take responsibility for your shortcomings on the job. There are two important distinctions when it comes to shortcomings or “failures” that will give you a lot of freedom:
- You may have had failures, but you are not a failure. Having failures is a productive and actionable frame of mind, as you can look at them, explore what worked and what didn’t, how you can do things differently next time; you can learn from them and take actions to improve or learn new skills. When you relate to your failures as “I am a failure,” which is an automatic reaction we all have, it directly impacts your SELF, there’s shame and a strong pull to hide and withdraw.
- It is common for our mind to generalize and make it seem like a huge mass of failures. I promise you, your failures are finite. Make a list of them and reframe them as learning opportunities. If there’s anything you can still do, e.g. talk to other people involved or acknowledge what you did or didn’t do to contribute to the result, do so.
4. Next, think of all the people who were not on your side during your tenure. You know, those that you blamed at one point or another? Those people who seemed to have blocked your progress, who got in your way, who didn’t support your idea, who disappointed you, who didn’t get laid off. Write down their name and how they didn’t support you. Look into what was your expectation of them, and how they came short. Once you do that, comes the fun (and challenging) part. Can you take responsibility for the relationship, acknowledge your own shortcomings with these people, and discover what you learned from them? Can you be so generous that you authentically forgive them and thank them for having been part of your career? Can you send them a thank you note?
Once you have worked on these four areas, you will find some space in your mind and your heart to start reframing your SELF, which I will cover on the second part of this article.
This whole process will help you to either reinforce your vocation or make you realize that you want to explore other careers. Reframe this time of uncertainty and fear into a creative and productive period of your life.
Now, all of these steps are easier to read or say than to actually do. To support yourself, you may want to find an accountability partner or a coach, or get together with a few other people in your same situation to support each other.
In parallel to doing this process, make sure that you don’t overlook the practical, logistical and financial aspects of this transition, such as updating your resume and LinkedIn profile, connecting with people, signing up for programs that the government and other organizations offer.
If your company offers outplacement services, take advantage of them. My experience was very positive and provided solid resources to define my next gig, however they did not help me deal with the emotional side of the transition.
I did that work thanks to my background in coaching and the support of my own coach at that time, resulting also in the design of my program Honor, Dignity and Power, offered to organizations going through workforce reductions.
Stay tuned for the second part of this article and connect with me if you need support. I’m offering pro-bono coaching sessions now.
¡Buena suerte y hasta pronto!