Over the past few days, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with several talented individuals who have either recently been laid off or in the process of being laid off. Having had this experience not once, but twice, in my career, I am acutely aware of the psychological toll this turn of events can take.
The first time I was laid off, I spent a good deal of time ruminating over what I could have done differently. This lay-off had a conscious and subconscious impact on me. Consciously, I worried about how the job market would receive me. Would they think me a poor performer for having been let go? I worried about job security. How could I insulate my family from having this happen again? And, I didn’t know who I was outside of my job title. How would I answer the question, “So, what do you do?” as I began networking.
Subconsciously, I placed a lot of blame and shame on myself for doing this to my family. Just take a moment to take in the power of this sentence, I held myself wholly responsible. I did this. Ouch! While I hadn’t actually said those words to myself, my actions certainly exemplified it. My next role was in a large, well-established organization and I worked diligently to prove my worth to my bosses and business partners. It wasn’t enough to meet expectations, I needed to exceed them. And, by the time I took the job after that, I had a well-earned reputation for not only being a strong performer but for being a workaholic. What I didn’t understand at the time was that this was my way of trying to make myself indispensable, not from an egotistical perspective, but rather for the safety and security of my family. The irony is, this ended up being the position from which I was laid off the second time in my career.
So, what have I learned? Far more important than what the marketplace or those you are networking with think of your having been laid off, is how you think about it. The language we use when we talk to ourselves (both aloud and in our heads) has power. Are your words compassionate and constructive? Or are they critical? One litmus test for this is, if your best friend had been the one who had been laid off, would you say these things to them? I am not suggesting a rose-colored glasses, ignore reality, view of the situation, but rather that you are able to look at it with a bit more objectivity.
An important step is to get out there. One response to a traumatic event, such as being laid off, is to retreat – to withdraw back into our shells to protect ourselves. Perhaps a healthier approach is to actively engage with others. You will be surprised at how vast and supportive your network really is. A few ideas:
- Meet with those people in your life who can help you see how much bigger you are than any title that you’ve held; who can remind you of your true value.
- Meet with those who have been through this so that you may better understand that you are not alone and to realize that you will survive.
- Meet with those who work for companies, or do the sort of work that you may be interested in. They can offer valuable insight.
- Join associations and/or volunteer for organizations whose mission and values align with yours.
I can tell you that both of my lay-off’s ended up being gifts to me that, ultimately, helped me to see more clearly who I am and how I can best contribute to the world around me, and for that I am most grateful.