Bouncing Back from Job Loss… Faster, Wiser & Better Off
There’s no two ways about it. Losing your job is hard. Whether it has everything to do with your performance, or nothing at all, it’s still hard.
But as I’ve said so many times before, often as I’ve struggled with my own adversities, success in life isn’t always about the opportunities we create but how we respond to it’s setbacks.
I remember being literally thrown onto the streets in the middle of the night while working in a pub in London many years (decades!) ago as a young intrepid back packer working my way around the world. The manager, who I later realized must have been mentally unwell, came into my bedroom which I shared with a few other girls my age and falsely accused me of lying to him about something totally ridiculous. He told me to pack my bag and get out. It was 2am. It was snowing outside and I had nowhere to go. And yes, it was a pretty crappy job anyway but that wasn’t the point. I’d been told I was no longer wanted and even though I knew the guy must be crazy, it still left me feeling emotionally bruised, not to mention unjustly treated, humiliated and out of the job which was supposed to he funded the next leg of my round the world adventure.
Of course that particular job wasn’t one I ever saw myself in for very long. So it didn’t crush my professional identity which, a year out of university, I had yet to establish. But often job loss does exactly that. As human beings it’s natural to draw a lot of our sense of identity from the work that we do every day. Whether it’s the specific role that we have, and the status it accords us, or simply that our job enables us to provide for our family and pay for the lifestyle we want, our jobs can shape how we feel about ourselves and with it, our self worth and confidence.
A friend shared with me recently how when her husband was laid of from his finance job during global economic meltdown in late 2008, he fell into a really big slump. He’d worked hard all his life, thrived on the pressures and challenges of his work, and enjoyed the money he earned. Becoming unemployed for the first time in his life in his early 40s was a huge kick in the gut.
It’s a story I’ve heard many times. The challenge people in that situation face is in how they handle not only the loss of their job, but the many emotions that it can give rise to. These range from a sense of humiliation, anxiety, resentment, failure, vulnerability, anger and a loss of self-esteem. Sure, losing your job can be a blow to your back pocket, but it’s also a huge blow to your ego and self worth.
Marty Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, found that the biggest determinant of those who succeeded after a setback such as job loss, was how they interpreted it. People who interpret losing their job as a sign of personal inadequacy or failure, are less likely to ‘get back on the horse’ in their job hunt, than those who interpret it as an unfortunate circumstance that provided a valuable opportunity to grow in self-awareness, re-evaluate priorities and build resilience.
As I stood on the street shivering on that freezing January morning in London in the early 90’s, I remembered my mother had a friend living on the outskirts of London she had wanted me to visit while in the UK. Her name was Aileen and she was a Josephite nun working in a seminary in Harrow. I rang her and she invited me to come and stay while I made new plans. So at 6am in the morning, after several hours taking a patchwork of London public transport, I found myself living with a nun and two priests. While I only stayed with them a couple days before deciding to head to Ireland to find work there, it proved to be a very memorable few days learning the inner workings of parish life. So as I look back on the entire experience, I can honestly say it ended up being an experience I am grateful to have had. Which leaves me to ask you one question: How can you turn yoru experience of job loss into one that you ultimately look back upon with gratitude for what it taught you?
8 Strategies For Bouncing Back From Job Loss
While I don’t have all the answers for all the scenarios that newly a unemployed person might face, I’d like to share a few strategies for bouncing back more quickly from job loss, and setting yourself up to minimize the time before landing a new job, perhaps even a better one!
1/ Consciously choose your response. Setbacks happen to everyone. It’s how we respond to them that differentiates people from each other. Whether the reason you lost your job has everything to do with you, or absolutely nothing, it’s how you respond to the setback that will set you apart from others when it comes to finding a new job, and turning this setback into a stepping stone.
2/ Don’t let it define you. Sure losing your job is a very personal experience, but don’t take it too personally. Research has found that the biggest difference between those who succeed after setbacks of any kind is how they interpret them. You get to define who you are, not your job or a company’s decision whether or not they employ you. Don’t take it as a personal rejection against you. It may well be due to economic forces far beyond your control that you found yourself out of a job. Potential employers will be more attracted to people who have proven their ability to stay positive and confident despite a setback/job loss.
3/ Prioritize self-care. When you’ve lost your job it is all too easy plant yourself on the couch, remote in one hand, beer or bag of chips in the other, and wallow in self-pity. Many do! But mental and emotional resilience requires physical resilience. So be intentional about taking care of YOU and doing whatever it takes to feel strong and fit. (After all, you now have no excuse that you don’t have time for exercise!) Studies have found that exercise increases stress resilience – it produces neurons that are less responsive to stress hormones. Get outdoors, go for a run, do some gardening, or just do something that lifts your spirits – whether potting fresh herbs, building your kids a cubby house or taking your dog to the beach – and helps to shift the negative emotions that have the potential to keep you from being proactive in your job hunt.
3/ Surround yourself with positive people. The people around you impact how you see yourself, your situation and what you do to improve it. Emotions are contagious – don’t get sucked into the company of those who want a marathon pity party. It consumes time and energy that would be better spent getting back into the workforce. Be intentional about who you hang out with. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and avoid those who don’t. Read positive books, watch positive movies, and remember that your family will take their cue from you. Let them know that while you may not have chosen your circumstances, you are confident that with time and effort, you will all pull through together, and be all the stronger and wiser or it.
4/ Tap your network. The vast majority of jobs are never advertised. So the adage “Your network is your net worth” is particularly relevant when it comes to finding those jobs that are filled via word of mouth. Reach out to people you know and enlist their support in making any introductions or connections that could help you. Whatever you do, never underestimate the power of your network to open up opportunities. The more people who know what you want, the more who can help you.
6/ Stay future focused. It’s easy to get stuck in the past and what shoulda-woulda-coulda happened, but didn’t. Doing so only perpetuates destructive emotions that fuel anger, self-pity and powerlessness. Focus on the future, and on what you need to do to set yourself up as well as possible both on the job front, in how you are budgeting your money and in your relationship with those who can help you find a new job. What you focus on expands, so focus on what you want, not on what you don’t.
7/ Treat finding a job as a job. If you feel the need, and can afford to do it, give yourself a break for a few days or week or two. But assuming you can’t afford a year sailing the world on the Queen Mary, don’t take too long before returning to your familiar routine. Create structure in your day. Sure you have extra time on your hands than you have before, but you will amazed how little you can do in a day if you aren’t intentional about what you want to get done. Create a job search plan with goals an small manageable steps. Then prioritize, structure your day and treat finding a job like a job.
8/ Practice kindness. It’s pretty simple really: extending kindness toward others makes us feel good. It’s not just a nice thing to do something for others – whether helping a neighbor or volunteering in a local soup kitchen – it’s actually a helpful thing to do for ourselves. When we give our time to help others, it helps us stop dwelling on our own problems, and makes us realize how much we have to be thankful for. Not only that, but it also can be a great way to build your network, and show potential employers you are not sitting idly by waiting for work to come your way. However you look at it, there’s no better mood booster than making a difference for someone else, even when you wish your own life were different than it is.