Overcoming Life’s Challenges

When I pulled into the parking lot several hours before anyone else normally arrived, I saw the lights were already on in my office.  It was weird to see any lights on at 6 am, but I didn’t think much of it – that was until I saw the head of HR and the COO sitting at my desk.

It was a quick conversation.  My position had been eliminated.  I was handed some paperwork and told that my insurance would last until March.  It was just a few weeks before Christmas.  They thought it would be best if I left for the day and got myself together.  I drove to a park close by.  I wasn’t really sure how to go home and tell my family that I no longer had a job.  After all, we just had our fourth child. 

Dealing with my job loss was an incident in my life.  Truth be told, it has been almost 7 years, I am occasionally hurt or angry about the entire situation.  Job loss can be a major trauma in your life or the life of someone you care about.  Really, even people who don’t even like their jobs experience a sense of grief and fear when they lose their job.  Our jobs are often tied to our sense of self and greatly influence our self-esteem and self-worth. It’s not just a paycheck.  That paycheck is what allows us to pay our bills, feed ourselves, and support our families.

It can be very hard to overcome the loss of identity, the loss of work-friends, and the loss in routine.  It can be even more difficult if it happens as a surprise.  I was shocked when I lost my job.  I had just come back from maternity leave.  I had met all my yearly goals before I was out on leave.  It was a few weeks from Christmas.  I had a new baby at home and a number of other major life changes had all occurred at the same time.  My job was the thing that I had that was solid, safe, and secure.  Or so I thought. 

While it can be difficult to overcome the grief of dealing with job loss and find a new position or a way to earn a living, there are strategies that can make it easier to do.  Here are a few things that supported my mindset and emotional stability as I dealt with job loss and looked for a new opportunity.

Stay Focused on the Future

I was not able to focus on the future immediately, I wasn’t that strong yet.  I remember sitting in the car at a local park trying to figure out how to tell my family, then trying to figure out how to support my family.  It took a little time, but I realized I had to get my head right because what I did now would affect the four children that were at home waiting for me.  Luckily, I also had a working spouse, or it could have been even more challenging.

Just like me, you have a choice of whether you want to live in the past or focus on the future instead.  I got super focused, after a few days of mourning, and started applying to jobs like a woman on a mission.  I was, after all, a woman on a mission. 

I knew that if I kept looking backward, all I was doing was perpetuating the continuation of my negative emotions.  Like I said, I was pretty hurt and also pissed off.  So, I have to try to forget about what had gone on at that job and give my future the attention it deserved.

It isn’t just worrying about the next job either.  I needed to consider our current finances and what our budget needed to look like for the near term.  I had to do some research to see whether or not I needed to spruce up my resume.  I considered if I should reach out to others that helped with recruiting. I knew I needed help, so I sought out those that might help support me through the current situation. 

The steadfast focus on the future allowed me to find a position just days before my severance ended.  While the new position wasn’t ideal, it did feed my family and help me get from where I was to where I wanted to be.  Yet, that three months was difficult and very focused on a move forward strategy. 

Reclaim Your Identity – You Are Not What You Do

Admittedly, one of the most difficult parts of my job loss was how tightly married “who I thought I was” and “what I do” were linked. I had worked at some capacity since the age of 15. Not having a job felt like I lost part of who I was as a person.

Yet, one of the great things that came out of my job loss was realizing that the job was not who I was, it was just what I did to earn a living.  Yes, my job was very personal, but I have to learn not to take the loss of the job personally.  

I was never great a failure.  At least not the first three decades of my life.  I struggled with feeling like I failed at my job and therefore I was a failure as a person. Whether you succeed or not, comes down to what meaning you decide to make of the setbacks you experience. 

A job loss is simply a setback. It is not an inadequacy or a failure.  Unfortunately, job loss is just a part of the human experience, just part of life. Also, and unfortunately, most people will experience it at some point.  Only a few years later my husband’s position was also eliminated. Luckily, I had already experienced a lot of what he would too experience. 

One of the ways we both were able to move through it was to realize that we are the ones that define what our experiences mean to us.  We get to define ourselves.  Our job doesn’t define who we are, it just defines what we do. A company doesn’t have that control over you.  You are who you want to be, not who they say you are supposed to be.

While it might seem trite, I spent a lot of time saying “I am” affirmations during the three months that I was looking for work.  I am strong.  I am smart.  I am capable.  I needed reminders that I wasn’t what I did for a living, that I was more. Perhaps that might help you too.    

Engage in Healthy Self-Care

While I was tempted to sit on the couch all day and eat Cheetos and have a beer, I didn’t.  First, I was nursing my fourth child and I didn’t think he would enjoy Miller time.  Second, I knew that sitting around and not taking care of myself would just make me feel worse.  I didn’t want to wallow in self-loathing.

I decided to treat my days as if they were workdays.  I got up at the same time and did the same more hygiene routines that I would have done if I went into the office.  I did dress down a big, I mean a suit was a bit much, but for the most part I replaced work hours with job searching.  I still walked.  I still journaled.  I still said prayers before meals to give thanks. 

It is helpful for you to take care of yourself, physically, spiritually, and mentally.  If you were exercising before the job loss, push yourself to exercise.  If you want to just sit in the house and wallow in your bad mood, try instead to go outside, meet up with your friends, spend time with your family, or just enjoy some quiet time reading a book.  It was all about moving my emotions from negative to positive. 

Did I have a few pity parties?  Yes.  Did I get over them fast and move forward?  Yes.  Engaging in health self-care can be the difference between staying in your funk and getting out of it and getting a new job. 

Surround Yourself with Positivity

I didn’t realize it at the time, but emotions can be contagious.  I learned that well after the job loss situation.  Luckily, I knew that I didn’t want my children to see their mother sitting around in her jammies sipping on a glass of wine at 9am.  So, whether you realize it or not, your emotions are contagious, so surrounding yourself with positivity is very helpful is getting through this tough time. 

I spent more time with my kids.  I tried to do things with them that I always had the “I’m working” excuse to avoid. I watched a ton of cut cartoons and listened to little kid music. My children were the people that I surrounded myself with.  They were happy and positive, and it affected my mood as well.  They inspired me and helped life me out of my slump.

While you might not have children at home that can help you in the way that mine did.  You might have friends that can serve the same purpose.  Or perhaps you listen to uplifting music instead of the music that keeps you in your funk.  Either way, surround yourself by smiles and others with positive mojo.  It helps, really.

Get Support from Your Network

Ever hear that song, “I get by with a little help from my friends”?  Well, consider it your motto as you work toward finding a new job. Luckily for me I spent a lot of time cultivating my personal and professional networks over the years.  I keep up to date with folks on LinkedIn and on Facebook. I reached out to everyone I knew and let them know I was looking.  I changed my status on LinkedIn to seeking new opportunities.  Interestingly, one of my prior direct reports helped me get my next position at a company she worked at.

Reach out to the people you know and ask them to keep their ears to the ground in terms of job opportunities. It really is who you know so, don’t be afraid to ask others for help. They would do the same if they were in your position. I know this is true too.  The same person that helped me get my position … a few years later I helped her get a new position.  If you give you get. 

Job Search Like It’s Your Job

While I talked about this a bit in the stay focused on the future and the self-care sections, it is worth repeating. I spent the time that I wasn’t working looking for the next job. I treated my job search, like my new job. 

Remember, right now, your job is to find a new job. If you can afford to and it makes sense for your mental health to, consider taking a short break before kicking off your search. You want to maintain your routine as best as possible. Your day needs structure, you don’t want to get out of the habit of working. It will be difficult to get back to normal. Sit down and make a plan to job search. You should have goals and milestones; from there you can prioritize and structure your day. It’s your job.

Last, but not least … be kind to yourself. You would extend kindness to a friend or family member who lost their job. You deserve the same. Practically speaking, sign up with job search providers, look into whether you are eligible for unemployment, and take steps to consolidate debts if you need to. Once you have taken care of the financial side of things, make sure your resume is updated. This is going to serve as your first impression with potential employers.

Remember, your job is not who you are.  Your job is just what you do. 

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