Where to begin when it ends
Is this the end for you at work? Job lost? Underemployed? Between gigs? Seeing the imminent signs on the horizon?
This stuff can be overwhelming and intense. And there are evidence-based strategies to get momentum and progress going in your professional life when it’s upended. Let’s start at the beginning, with the first 2–6 weeks. Read on.
Take some time.
o First, feel the feelings. Losing a job is intense. Being underutilized, underemployed and undervalued is hard on the mind and soul. My research and my personal experience tell me that even when people see layoff or restructure coming from far away — even if they themselves conduct the first rounds of layoff at an organization going through layoffs — they are emotionally impacted by the separation.
I know for myself both when I voluntarily left and was laid off from jobs, I experienced the powerful emotions that come with change. This included feeling unsettled and uncertain about adjusting to new people, new schedules and new processes, guilty about work that I never got to, or those who were left behind, and worried about how I’d perform as a beginner. It’s tempting to push forth and think there’s no time for feeling sad or worried, but the feelings are there, and research tells us that in order to move forward, we’ll need some strategies for processing and releasing those powerful emotions.
For some, therapy or counseling are appropriate. For others, diving into many great resources and teachers of self-compassion and managing our emotions is sufficient. I really appreciate the work of Kristin Neff and Rick Hanson.
o Take excellent care of yourself — physically, emotionally, spiritually. Again, it can be tempting to just ‘get back to work’ with long personally-directed schedules and to-do lists, but my research tells me that this leads to bitterness, burnout and lousy outcomes… our goal is get back on our feet feeling renewed, energetic and ready to build a healthy relationship with work. This is near impossible to do when we are depleted and wrung dry. Being separated from work can be hard enough; treat yourself with the gentleness and dignity you deserve.
Get some of the practical items in order.
o Maybe you have some contingency cash set aside. That would make you an exception rather than the rule as it’s well documented that most Americans aren’t ready for the financial disruption that unemployment can cause. Can you cut costs? Generate income through short-term work? Move assets around so that you have more cash available? Don’t go it alone — free or low-cost financial guidance may be available at your bank or financial institution.
o If you’re eligible for unemployment or COBRA (or other health insurance continuation) or need to consult with your accountant, financial planner, attorney or the other advisors who help keep your house in order, make yourself a schedule, and get it done. These items are critical for personal and practical peace of mind.
Assemble your list of helpers
It’s not always easy to talk about job loss. During times of global and national economic stress, it can certainly feel like you’re not alone in the experience, but that doesn’t always eliminate the feelings of isolation or shame that can accompany being out of work. Community and vulnerability are the antidote for this isolation and shame.
o Ask yourself what kind of job search help you need and start developing a plan to get it.
- Are you looking for emotional support and healing? Per the above, a therapist or counselor may be what you need.
- Do you have a sense of direction and a plan and want ongoing encouragement? How about a job seekers support group (local libraries, alumni associations, nearby staffing agencies often host these)? Or, how about you start one with others you know who are similarly impacted?
- Yes, you’re going to want to activate your network. Consider and plan what you need from them, and what you want to share/offer.
- Need a thought and accountability partner? A career advisor or coach can help you do some assessment, design a strategy and help keep you on track.
Do the personal work of reflection
I get it. Things feel urgent. You want to get back to work.
One thing I know for sure is that people who put the time in to reflect on what they’ve learned from this career disruption and what they want next have better career outcomes. Why? Among other things, they:
- Have a more succinct and relevant narrative about their career disruption
- Know how to answer the question: How can I help you? with more clarity and purpose when they’re engaging their networks
- Use their career search time more efficiently in order to preserve other time for things that matter
- Maintain higher and longer lasting morale during what can be a long road to find the next great professional fit
- Perform better in interviews because they have done the personal work to explore their strengths, ambitions, great professional stories, etc.
Support through this reflection is one of the hallmarks of coaching, but is available with a pen and journal — get to it.
Do things you love
This is the piece of insight that surprises people the most. I am a huge advocate of sending people out to connect with something they love to do when they are under- or un-employed. Your hobbies, your ‘happy places’, your curiosities, whether they’re sports or arts, or home projects, make sure to do something that isn’t directly connected to your job search. Hobbies have the remarkable effect of healing the scar tissue of painful work experiences, reminding us what it’s like when we’re surging in positive emotion and a sense of self-efficacy. And they help right-size the role of work in our lives so we aren’t always thinking about it.
Figure out your daily and weekly schedule.
I believe that many battles are won through the day planner. What do you actually want and need to get done week by week? Personal reflection, networking, progress on your resume or LinkedIn, an independent professional project, exercise, time with a friend? Build a schedule for a week, test it, and adjust accordingly.
Start with one thing.
You can do this. I believe in you.