When I lost my job in October, amid a company-wide restructuring, I wasn’t surprised. My co-workers and I had witnessed numerous reality-show-like rounds of layoffs in the months and even years leading up to our dismissal. Even though I knew it was coming, what shocked me most about being let go was my initial reaction to it.
Despite the subtle hints and somewhat secrecy, I remained in denial for the first few days. I had been laid off before, but I was surprised at how completely disorienting it was this time. But as the days passed in fighting the urge to take my dream road trip (which includes hitting as many local breweries as possible across the country), I’ve picked up some hard-won wisdom about this unemployment business.
If you’re in or ever have been in the same boat, here is the advice I’d pass on.
1. Mourn the Loss + Move On
Though I knew the end was looming, actually hearing the words, “Your position within the company is no longer needed,” left me feeling strangely unmoored. Throughout the days that followed, my thoughts played their own game of Whac-A-Mole as colleagues I’d miss, projects I’d never complete, and upcoming events I wouldn’t attend randomly flashed through my mind.
It seemed strange to be mourning the loss of a job I’d often blamed for the bags under my eyes, so deep that you could sleep in them. Yet there I was, mooning over the relationships and connections I’d made that, unintentionally but invariably, would weaken over time.
While I hated feeling like a pathetic sad-sack, my emotions are not so uncommon, according to licensed professional counselor Terri DiMatteo of Open Door Therapy. “Those dealing with job loss may be surprised to find themselves experiencing grief associated with loss of identity, of professional colleagues, and the work routine,” DiMatteo explains. “The unexpected silver lining, however, can be the discovery of renewed passions that lay dormant while employed.”
2. Rediscover Your Interests
Once I’d come to terms with the fact that my former employer wasn’t going to reappear like some sorry ex-boyfriend and beg me to come back, I embraced the hobbies I’d enjoyed before my work life devoured my personal life.
For example: For the better part of two years, I’d felt guilty each time I picked up a book and try and read it for fun. But when I was no longer rushing to meetings, compulsively checking email, or preparing for a phone call, I found I had the time to break open the latest Dan Brown or John Grisham and read it. While I was working, I was lucky if I’d finish one every eight months.
3. Don’t Let Fear Be Your Life Coach
Whoever says, “don’t make decisions based on fear” hasn’t been pricing out those beach vacations or even the latest technology. And yet, it seems like advice worth heeding. About a few weeks after losing my job, I received an offer for a position that I considered a fantastic opportunity. But because of a lengthy (and costly) commute, I had to turn it down. Though I was scared to pass up this career move, I knew if I accepted it, I would be miserable and end up right back where I started — searching for a new job.
While it’s easy to panic when you’ve sent out your 100th resume and received few calls for interviews, trust me: Jumping into a lousy fit out of desperation isn’t the answer.
4. Resist Temptation
For the last two years of my career, I was in love. With my team, with my role and even working with a fantastic boss. But when I lost my job, our affair came to an abrupt end. It was with great sadness that I walked out of the door for the last time. But, I knew that whatever was ahead of me, was meant to be. A new job, maybe a new career, and possibly a better purpose.
The siren song of the nap is another temptation to avoid. Many afternoons, I was dying to curl up with a blanket and binge on my favorite show, but I knew if I gave in this would establish a bad habit, I’d only need to break once I was working again.
Instead, I took my dogs for a walk, which gave me an excuse to get out of the house each day (not to mention a reason to shower). I even survived my first long run since knee surgery and found it cathartic, with the emotional highs and lows of Eat, Pray Love (but, sadly, none of the pizza).
Resisting the urge to hide out at home can also help when it comes to making connections that could lead to your next position. “Try to stay in the mix, as landing a job is often about who you know,” DiMatteo also advises.
5. Keep Your Sense of Humor
When faced with updating an ancient resume or ditching the sweatpants and stuffing myself into a dress and tights to meet potential employers, I quickly realized, if I didn’t keep laughing, I’d soon be crying.
Plus, after interviewing for the first time in a few years, I’ve learned that even though I’ve interviewed hundreds of people over the last six years, I still have trouble with being interviewed! I found that maintaining my sense of humor as I was forced to explain what I’d choose as my theme song or why I was the best candidate for the position in 160 characters or less helped immensely. Let’s face it: No one wants to hire someone who lost her wit along with her weekly paycheck.
Staying positive and focusing on all the things I’d missed while working has taken the sting out of the initial shock of being laid off. I chose to look at it as a well-earned break with ample time to research my next move — at least until I had to dip into my 401(k) or think about relocating to a van down by the river.