It’s Not Your Fault: Recovering from a Layoff
After many years of experience as a career coach, and executive coach, and after working with hundreds of career coaching clients who have experienced a layoff, I’ve noticed a pattern. At the beginning of our first conversation, we talk about resumes because it seems like an important step (and it is) in the process of moving through this painful quagmire. It’s only after we’ve covered applicant tracking systems, branding, LinkedIn, and other practical, tactical topics that people trust me enough to pose the questions that whisper to them at night, the ones they’re afraid to say out loud:
- Where did I go wrong?
- Is there hope for me?
- How will I get through this?
- How do I talk to people about this?
There’s more: tension with their spouse, embarrassment in casual social interactions like the carpool for their kids’ school, loss, and loneliness because their community is suddenly gone, an aimlessness – or at the opposite end of the spectrum – an obsession and fierce dedication to using every minute of every day for their job search.
And there’s hope. You WILL get through a layoff, or job loss. Here’s how:
1. Find a safe listening ear. It’s vital that you create the opportunity to explore these and other questions that haunt you. If you get stuck on the gerbil wheel in your head, there’s a good chance you’ll keep spinning there.
Look, here’s the truth: most of the time a layoff has nothing to do with you. I liken it to being in a car accident. The road conditions weren’t good, and you ended up in a ditch. Or, to continue the driving metaphor, another driver (your company’s overly ambitious strategic plan, for example) smacked into you like a careless texter behind the wheel. We reflexively search for things we could have done to steer past this collision (“I should have seen it coming and found another job last spring when there were signs,” or “If I’d had that extra credential, I would have been more valuable”).
It’s important to ask these questions about where you might have shifted gears and done something different because if you can harvest these insights while they’re fresh, you’ll be less likely to repeat whatever misstep brought you here. But I have a significant database of clients who have been through a layoff, and it’s almost always not their fault. It’s just like an unfortunate car accident. Wrong place, wrong time.
So, extroverts: find someone to listen to you. You have to get it out of your head, so you can make sense of it. Introverts: write about it and then share your reflections because you have to be witnessed through this process. Bring it to me or any other coach here on Growing Self. Other possible safe spots to find a listening ear:
- A job search group (this really helps because you realize that you’re not alone)
- Your place of faith (there are often groups in churches and synagogues and temples focused around job search, and if there isn’t, the person who leads your congregation hears from people just like you all the time)
- A trusted friend (someone who knows how to listen – you might even design something with them so that they know that you want to be heard, not to get advice)
It’s tough to have these vulnerable conversations with your spouse or romantic partner, your parents, or others you live with because they are so closely aligned with you and it’s really hard for them to separate their own worries from yours. They’re concerned about money, what they’ll say to people close to them, or they may not know how to manage their own strong emotions. So, the people closest to you tend to the ones you consider seeking out for these conversations, and they can also surprise you at how awkward the conversation can become.
2. Focus on your self-care. Attend to the basics:
- Regular workouts (it’s actually very helpful to many people to be outside regularly – there’s something replenishing about the natural world for these folks)
- Eating nourishing foods (rather than comfort foods, as enticing as these seem)
- Getting adequate sleep (when you’re out of a regular routine, you may have difficulty when it comes to getting up in the morning and that can slide into an erratic sleep schedule, and when it comes to an interview date, if you’re off kilter with your sleep, that can throw off your game).
- Monitor your screen time (spending time online for networking, establishing your presence on LinkedIn, and viewing job postings is important, and it can quickly become your singular focus – and it’s so easy to fall into the black hole of distraction that the online world offers)
Many of us benefit from a structure during times when we’re out of routine. It’s tough to create your own structure, especially when you’re depleted and your worries are elevated, so be kind to yourself during this phase of your life and recognize that you don’t need to overhaul your whole life. Your financial, energetic, and inspirational reserves are likely to be low right now. Do the best that you can and ask for help before you think you need it. Specific suggestions include:
- Can you ask a former work colleague to meet you for walk (so that you reconnect and also get in some exercise)?
- If you notice that sugar and familiar comfort foods are dominating your diet, consider scheduling one or two comfort meals intentionally during the week so that you have specific times that you offer them to yourself – that can make it easier to eat nourishing foods at other times during the week.
- Schedule networking meetings in the morning so that you have an external motivation to get up early and be ready for those connection opportunities. Meet other job seekers at a coffee shop in the morning to get your day jump started.
- Set some parameters around your screen time so that you have some downtime from your search and from input that may undermine your confidence and energy.
3. Rehearse predictable social interactions. “I don’t want to tell anyone about my layoff,” one of my clients told my recently. He was embarrassed about it, worried that he’d been targeted in the wave of layoffs, and he wasn’t sure what people in his life would think of him.
“Take control of this narrative,” I told him. Former colleagues and other professional contacts will find out eventually. It’s best if they hear it from you in a way that handily dismisses concerns. Even loose connections, people you see at the gym or your neighbors, will become advocates for you if you intentionally loop them in to what you’re experiencing. There’s no need to overshare, and there’s no need to hide.
If you consider what you’ll say in advance of these casual and chance encounters, your words will flow easily. Some tips for this process include:
- Keep it short.
- Put things in context. Remember my client who was worried that he was targeted in the round of layoffs at his company? That layoff included >10,000 people worldwide. It’s hard to see the decision as personal when it’s clear that the resource reallocation was widespread. Even if just a few people were affected, let people know you weren’t the only person. If you were the only person, don’t worry, it happens. Simply offer some context for the decision that’s neutral (such as a budget shortfall).
- End on what’s next for you. The more specific you can be, the better.
- Example: “I was one of several people let go last week due to restructuring at my company. I’ve already started applying to companies in X industry for Y roles. Will you keep your ears open and let me know if you hear of anything that might fit me?”
While I’ve had a handful of clients who cheered when they were laid off (either because they wanted to pursue their own consulting work and they had a severance package that seeded their next chapter or because the environment at their former company was so toxic that they could finally breathe), most people go through significant emotional turmoil because of their layoff. If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. And you don’t have to go through this process alone. I hope that these tips help you find your way through.
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