I’ve lost two jobs over my long — and actually pretty charmed — career.
One job I loved, and I was very good at it. The circumstances were complicated, and I’m not going to go into them here, because it’s all a long time ago. But I was devastated.
The other job I didn’t love at all. I was unwell, unfocused, and quite frankly, pretty grim to be around at the time. My employer quite rightly made me redundant in the next round of cost-cutting. (In the British media, there are always another round of cuts on the way.) It was a blow softened by a severance package that was more than fair. Yet strangely — irrationally, even — it still hurt.
The first time led to months of mourning followed by a crippling depression.
The situation would have been worse were it not for the arrival of my gorgeous baby son a few months later. I was also lucky to have brilliant friends who called their contacts, and helped me find freelance work that was both interesting and fun.
The second time, I knew more what to expect. The period of grief and depression was shorter, alleviated by the generous severance payment and the knowledge that the job was wrong for me anyway.
But it was still surprisingly hard. I’d been rejected, and that was painful.
Here’s an uncomfortable truth.
No matter how great we are at our jobs, no matter how hard-working, most of us will lose a job at some point in our lives. Many of us will experience it more than once.
Sometimes you just weren’t ready, or the job wasn’t a good fit. But often it has nothing to do with you and your abilities at all. Industries are being disrupted constantly, and few of us can expect to be in the same career for life, let alone the same job, in the 21st century.
So if you’ve lost your job, how do you get through it gracefully?
Here’s what I learned.
1. Rejection hurts
Even if you were ready to leave, even if you get a great severance package, you are going to be upset. There will probably be some shame in there too, and anger.
Give yourself some time to really feel what you are feeling. Get those feelings out. Have a good cry. Punch a pillow. Scream into a rolled up towel. Dance the anger out, or do some feisty exercise. Write a letter in the voice of your five-year-old self, screaming, ‘It’s not fair and I hate them!’ (Just please don’t send it to anyone!)
2. Count your blessings.
Write a list of all the good things in your life, because there will be plenty. Be grateful for what you learned at your last job. For the family and friends who love you. For your home, your health, or just the fact that you woke up this morning still breathing. It helps.
3. Be kind to yourself.
Act as if you’d just been really sick. Or involved in an accident. Or like you’ve broken up with someone you loved. This is a period of recovery, convalescence. A time for treating yourself gently, not for beating yourself up.
Recovery involves kindness, rest and healing. But also getting back into action as soon as you can. Whether it’s a broken bone or a broken heart, there comes a point when lying low is no longer helpful. You need to get moving again. Even if it’s difficult, and painful.
4. Stay away from social media.
Suddenly, all you’ll notice as you scroll through are items about your friends’ fabulous careers, their latest glittering successes, their new job/car/house/holiday/relationship. This is not a time to compare yourself to others.
5. ..and day-time TV.
Things that are not particularly good for you:
- Rolling 24-hour news channels will either depress, scare, or leave you screaming furiously at your TV set.
- Shows that involve estate agents wandering round refurbished houses while trying not to look at the camera. Or smug couples looking to relocate to the country or find property overseas.
- Angry, upset people screaming at each other on morning talk shows.
- Shows about buying antiques in shops then inexplicably trying to sell them at an auction for profit.
- Soaps involving doctors, police, rural life or Australians.
- Afternoon quiz shows that make you feel old, or stupid. Or both.
In other words, all of it. Day-time TV rots your brain, yet is also oddly addictive. Just say no, from the start.
6. Learn what you can from the experience.
Be honest with yourself. I find Morning Pages a great way to do this. It’s simply three pages, written by hand first thing in the morning. You write quickly without editing, censoring, or even being worried about grammar and spelling.
They’re private, so no one but you should ever read them. It’s just a place to vent, to say what’s on your mind — and sometimes, in the middle of the rants and complaints, have some really great new ideas.
Ask what you could perhaps have done better, in your last job. Decide how you will behave differently next time. And plan what you will do, in future, to become more resilient. (Build up a bigger savings cushion; start a side business to bring in a second income; improve your skills.)
We all fail. That just comes with being human. It’s what we do afterwards that counts. The trick is to learn what you can, so you don’t fail again in exactly the same way. Then pick yourself up and try again.
7. Avoid asking why.
It’s a word that is rarely useful when you’re feeling low. Why me? Why do bad things happen to good people? There are no good answers to questions like this, and nothing empowering about pondering them.
Why tends to lead to self-pity, because the world isn’t always a rational or fair place. There is often no real why. You were unlucky. You made bad choices. Your boss was an idiot. Or it was just your turn.
Better questions lead to action, not introspection. Here a few to start with:
- How can I get through the next few weeks and months gracefully?
- Who can I ask for help?
- What do I need to improve?
- Where can I learn the new skills I need?
- Is there an opportunity in all of this?
- What do I really, really want to do next?
8. Do a skills audit.
What do you have to offer, at work? This is not just about qualifications, but attributes. Maybe you’re are great at sales, as a leader, as an organiser or planner. Or you have an ability to diffuse tension by making people laugh. Perhaps you have lots of experience and wisdom to offer, or just endless energy and enthusiasm. Also consider what are you good at outside the workplace. And what you really enjoy doing.
If you’re not clear on this, ask former work colleagues, or friends.
A good, honest audit will help you write a CV that plays up your strengths, and identify weaknesses you need to work on. But it might also point you in a whole new direction that makes your heart sing.
Both times I lost my job, it led to something far better than I could have imagined. The last time, I swore I’d never work fixed hours in an office again, because it made me feel miserable and trapped. That was nearly two decades ago. And I never have. Instead I’ve had a freelance writing career full of variety and new experiences, and now I’m a coach working with creatives and helping them find their own freedom and flow.
If you need new skills or knowledge, remember it’s never too late to learn. From software and programming to podcasting or Spanish, there’s a course for that. And now you have the time to do it.
9. Do a life audit.
Were you really happy in your old job? Do you like where you live? Are there things you’ve always wanted to try? Are there things you love doing in your leisure time that could be turned into an income stream? Do you want to travel, start a business of your own, or retrain to take a different direction?
If there’s anything in your life that you’d like to change, this might be the ideal moment to begin.
10. Use your time well.
Establish a routine quickly, and structure your day. Exercise, eat well, get outside and do everything you can to take good care of yourself. Remember that you are your most valuable resource right now.
When you’re not working on your next career move, use any extra time to get odd jobs done. Explore all those local places you’ve been meaning to visit. Read more. Reconnect with old friends. You could also get involved with your community, or volunteer for a charity or cause that’s important to you.
Opportunities, or new directions often come in the most random ways. But rarely when you’re lying on the sofa, feeling sorry for yourself.
11. Let your friends support you.
Wounded animals tend to hide away while they heal. And even if it’s only your pride that’s hurting, that might be your instinct, too. But it’s at times like this that our real friends come good.
Don’t insist that you’re fine, if you’re not. Reach out. Ask for help. Letting people give, when they want to, is a gift to them too, so don’t shut them out. At some point, they’ll need your help in return.
12. Use your network.
If you know the job you want next, tell everyone you know, even if that’s not their field. You never know who they know.
Go on message boards, LinkedIn, Facebook groups — anywhere that people in your industry hang out. Contact old work collegues. And make sure they all know that you’re available, and what you’re looking for.
13. Cut your costs.
Go through your monthly outgoings, and see where your money goes. Without making your life a misery, see if there are things you could cut back on, at least for a while. From gym fees to takeaways, cancelling subscriptions to delaying upgrades on your car or phone, there are usually expenses that can be put on hold for a while.
Now you have the time, check too if you can get better deals from your utility suppliers, or refinance any mortgages or loans — you can often save serious money without changing your lifestyle at all.
You’ll feel more in control, and less worried, if you’re clear about what you’re spending, what you could save, and what’s the bare minimum you need to get by. It’s often less than you think.
While you have the time, read Vicki Robin’s excellent book Your Money or Your Life, or dip into Mr Money Moustache – a hilarious, life-affirming blog about work, money and the joys of living frugally. Both of them might give you a different view on the kind of job you want to do next, and what you’ll do with the money you earn from it.
14. Create some cash.
There are many more ways to make money than working 9 to 5. This is a perfect time to try some them.
- Sell your unwanted belongings online. Clear out your cupboards and shelves, and dig deep in your wardrobe. Your trash may be someone else’s treasure.
- Join the gig economy. Rent out a spare room in your home either permanently or on something like Air BnB. If you live in an urban area where space is at a premium, you can even rent out your garage or driveway.
- Go freelance, or offer your services as a consultant. Do you have skills or knowledge that other companies could use? Then hire yourself out to them.
- Turn a hobby or interest into a side-hustle. Do you have skills you could teach, online or in person? Do you like making anything you could sell? From writing on Medium to hosting a pop-up supper club, there are all kinds of ways of making a little money while doing something you enjoy.
15. Get help.
This is not a time to be insular or proud — take whatever help you can get. If you get offered career advice as part of a severance package, try it. If you are eligible for unemployment benefit or any other state support, take it. It’s what you’ve paid your taxes for.
For a while, clarity might be a bit elusive. A coach can give you perspective, and get you into action again. The library shelves are groaning with self-help books that might also give you some direction.
And remember: your job is not who you are. Your salary is not the only wealth or resources you have.
In a year or so, you might look back on this and see it’s the best thing that could have happened. You may not feel it now, but you’ll be fine. You’ve got this.