Laid Off, Propped Up, and Pressing Forward

by Barb Waldron



On December 29, 2009, I received a year end “gift” in the form of a layoff from my employer of 19 years. I was four months shy of my 20th anniversary with the company. On the surface, it was shocking, disarming, and unwelcome, but much deeper below, and higher above, God was working out a greater plan for my life. Now, a few weeks removed, I am better, not bitter, and write this article with the hope that my experience can offer some practical insights to help you, or someone you know, cope with being terminated from a job. This was my second time being laid off and I had once before been fired. Each separation was hard to handle at the time, but they all brought me a “gift” that changed my life.



What about you? Are your hands clenched in fists of anger, torturously cupped over your face in disbelief, or perhaps sorrowfully placed at your side; or are your hands held open to receive this news that allows you to begin a new chapter of your life? Allow yourself to move through the grief process. That is important. Most likely, you will experience shock, denial, anger, bargaining, and will finally arrive at acceptance. Take the time you need for each stage, but be careful to be a “visitor” not a “resident” so you don’t get hung up there. The more energy you place on accepting your layoff, the quicker you will be able to rebuild your life. You will learn not just to survive, but thrive, by implementing some valuable tools and using helpful resources. The strategy I used follows. I hope this information can help you or someone you care about.



One of the best resources you can secure immediately is a downloadable book called “The Layoff Survival Guide,” by Nancy Collamer. Nancy is a career consultant who compiled the resource after her husband was laid off. Go to www.layoffsurvivalguide.com. Be sure to click on “what to do in the first 72 hours.” Everything from filing for unemployment compensation to how to tell your family, Nancy has designed a highly practical, resource-rich volume which will guide you well. Be sure to visit her career coaching blog and sign up for her free e-newsletter at www.lifestylecareer.com.



It is extremely important to create a vision for what you want your new life to look like. Even if it is etched on your mind through tears, come up with an image of yourself doing work you love. Then you can begin working toward that. Focus on your possibilities, not the limitations. Develop confidence in yourself and don’t give in to fear. Surround yourself with people who encourage and believe in you and who can cheer you on. This sets the stage for success. Write down your vision and post it everywhere within eyeshot.



In terms of chronology, the first activity I engaged in after my layoff was physical exercise. I was let go at 5pm and by 7pm I was at the gym at a Pilates class. One of the best decisions you can make after a layoff is to take care of yourself physically – eat well, keep your energy up, and get the exercise and rest you need so you can handle the mental and emotional requirements you are about to undergo.





A quick note on the physical impact of a layoff - take your time as you move through your daily activities. You may feel awkward and uncoordinated physically. Your mind all of a sudden has shifted into a panic/fear-type of overdrive. The body reacts to that stress. My complexion broke out in painful acne and I even stumbled sometimes while I walked. I was disoriented! Breathe deeply, think positively, and allow yourself to recover. Hold a simple statement in your mind which eases your thoughts, such as “keep things simple,” “what’s good about today?” “what’s possible now?” “discard the unnecessary” - whatever works for you! A good resource to help you is a “Choice Map” created by Dr. Marilee Adams, author of “Change Your Questions, Change Your Life.” Look it up at www.inquiryinstitute.com



Keeping a daily routine is important – otherwise you could get lodged in depression. I found myself sleeping more than usual, but I had been sleep-deprived for several months. Working a full time job while doing a counseling internship, going to night school, and serving in ministry at my church all required time and energy. While all of these activities were important, I was exhausted. The layoff afforded me time to rest. Be sure you get up in the morning, create a new routine while you look for work, and get to sleep at night. You may have heard it said, “Finding your new job, is now your full-time job.” It’s true! Use your time well. I started my job search by visiting local companies in the same office building where I worked. This may not be right for everyone, but it was comforting to me in a way. I enjoyed finding out about local businesses who had been my “neighbors” for so many years while I didn’t even realize it. Get out there and meet people! Research companies online and even consult the phone book to find companies that do work you believe in. Ask if they are hiring. You never know what possibilities lay beyond the “traditional” job search methods. Join local networking groups. I became active in New Beginnings which meets the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month at Deer Run Country Club (look up New Beginnings CFL on Facebook), and the Christian Chamber of Commerce (www.cfchristianchamber.com). Find organizations which share your values and can help promote your career.



Another good book to help you is “Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring: Take Charge of Your Career, Find a Job You Love, and Earn What You Deserve” by Ford R. Myers. If you look this up on amazon.com, you will find a short video by Mr. Myers with 5 valuable job search tips. I also came across a book entitled, “The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure, and Bounce Back from Setbacks” by Dr. Al Siebert. Check it out!



There are numerous FREE online career assessments to help you discover your strengths. Some of these include www.careerpath.com; www.livecareer.com; www.free-career-test.com; www.stronglifetest.com. Some of these offer free e-newsletters which may help you with your job search.



If you are considering starting your own business………….check out Florida Barter (www.floridabarter.com).





Connect with your new leaders. What circle are you in, or do you aspire to be a part of? As a graduate student intern at The LifeWorks Group, contacting the founder of our agency, Dwight Bain, was a critical first step in my first day of unemployment. Dwight met with me, offered valuable advice, a heartfelt prayer, and a promise of his support. It was like a “changing of the guards” in my life. Out with the old (12/29/09), in with the new (12/30/09 and beyond). What leaders do you need to get in touch with, or mentors would it be valuable to connect with? If you have no one, this is a time to find someone! Make that a priority for your first week. It will set the tone for your future.



Re-discover what brings you pleasure. Most of us expend a great deal of personal and psychological energy at work and don’t realize how drained we are. Fill up again! What do you enjoy? Sports, music, baking, cooking, hunting, target practice, reading, taking a class? Even taking a drive to somewhere you’ve never been, or going for a walk and really noticing nature and breathing in the fresh air, can be rewarding.



Check out your conversations with your loved ones. My husband was immensely supportive during this transition. But I found myself misinterpreting certain things he said, due to my own fears. For instance, he said something about taking a couple of days off, then moving ahead. I zoned in on the “move ahead” piece and did not think he trusted me to get back to work fast enough. Foolish me! He was emphasizing the need for me to take a couple of days to really experience this loss. Do yourself a favor and keep clear communication with your loved ones.



One of the greatest and simplest tools to help you bounce back and begin creating your new life is to write! Start journaling. Write about anything! There is a therapeutic benefit of release when we write. If you’re not sure where to begin, write about what you learned and contributed at your last job and where you envision yourself going from here. Just write!



Identify what you are missing and/or mourning. For me, it was the loss of influence. I was a trusted employee who inspired others to give their best each day, and demonstrated an interest in employees’ families and lives outside of work. Fortunately, simultaneous to this career in corporate America, I was also doing a counseling internship at The LifeWorks Group. Therefore, I was able to continue being an influence in other people’s lives. Give yourself an avenue to continue giving what you do best. If your self-image is broken, find a book to build you back up and put your life back together. When I was fired from a job in North Carolina in 1987, after moving to Florida with my husband’s job relocation, my supervisor at The Orlando Sentinel gave each of the employees in the classified advertising department an abridged version of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” by Norman Vincent Peale. I would cling to those pages each morning and literally “read back into my being” my self-worth and self-esteem. I still carry a copy of it in my purse, and share this resource with clients often.



One of the greatest and kindest things you can do for yourself is to watch a few funny movies. Whether you rent, already own, or borrow from a friend or the library, get a hold of at least 3 good, funny movies the week you are laid off. It will clear your head of saturating self-thoughts.



Find new ways to shop. In early December, we donated a TV to Goodwill. I now shop there. I also started clipping coupons immediately. Look for coupons online! There are tons of ways to save money. ALDI is a new discount grocery store in our area. Shop for needs, not your wants. This downshifting can actually be quite liberating. Try bartering with your friends and neighbors. How can you help each other? Get creative! You will save money and build relationships in the process. You can even hold a garage sale and make some extra money.



Your thought life. This is where the battle is won or lost for your future. If you wake up in the morning and your mind is flooded with emotions and thoughts, such as “I could have done,” “I should have said,” (I did this for a while) - you are focusing on regrets. Allow yourself to shift into some possibility thinking, such as, “Today I will do….see….become….discover….etc.” You fill in the blank. Keep it present and future-focused. With my layoff the truth was, my time was up. In the words of a gracious associate at our local Cracker Barrell who explained how she got through her divorce: “Why fight something that isn’t there?” I cannot emphasize enough: limit your negative thoughts and condemning self-talk inside your head. Notice how much time you spend in the “negative thought zone.” What percentage of your day? If it is 50%, cut that down to 25%, and concentrate it all at one time, saturating your mind by dwelling only on the negative. The other 75% of your day is dedicated to positive. Cut that 25% down gradually to 20%, 15%, etc. Turn over the greater percentage of your day to focusing on what’s possible and/or what’s positive in your life. Intentionally replace negative thoughts with positive ones and reprogram your mind to work FOR you, not against you! Caution: it is crucial to evaluate the influence of people around you in your life, especially at a time like this. Are they mostly negative and berating, or are they uplifting and encouraging? Are they naysayers or overcomers? I heard it said one time, if you want to know what your life will look like in 5 years, just take a look at the people you associate with. Your life will become what theirs is now. Think about it!



Hold at bay any bitterness toward your employer. Business decisions are made. You now have the power to make new decisions for your life. Focus on that! Intentionally keep yourself from commiserating with or socializing with employees from your former company who have a negative attitude. That is destructive. My layoff came during the holiday season, a tremendous time of giving and forgiving. I chose to view the decision makers in my termination as “change agents” helping me launch a new future. Those leaders were my “flight crew” at one time. That flight arrived at its destination at 4:58pm on 12/29/09 and I disembarked. There is another adventure in the making and a new career taking flight. Let go of the past, make peace with your present, and embrace your new destination (even if you are still, so to speak, in the airport terminal, wondering which flight to board and discovering where your next connecting flight will take you!)



Develop a network of future connections. Based on your areas of interest or job search criteria, find out what networks are available to you. The photographer who did my professional portrait for counseling referred me to New Beginnings, a bi-monthly business building luncheon. Get out there and meet people whom you can help and who can also help you.



Look for meaning in the messages coming your way. We still had a trickle of Christmas cards and thank you notes for gifts received coming to our mailbox the first couple of weeks I was newly unemployed. Those positive messages were all-the-more treasured and significant to me. A group of friends from work wanted to have lunch with me. Eight of them came and I was thrilled. They circulated a farewell card at the office so I had numerous employees’ contact information to stay in touch.



Harvard professor and social psychologist Dan Gilbert created a 6 hour miniseries for PBS called “This Emotional Life” which discusses what helps us find happiness. The overwhelming conclusion is: social connections – having people to share life with makes us happy. Get in touch with people who matter to you.



Most companies have a mission statement, vision, and core values. You left behind a belief system at your employer. Wake up with a new personal creed resonating in your mind and carry that thought throughout the day and into this next chapter of your life. Start with some keywords such as: “I believe…I stand for…I will fight for…”



Take a step back – what is this layoff affording you to do? For me, it became a time of focus, strengthening, studying, connecting with leaders, business owners and community members, and learning how to be successful as a counselor. I am deepening my relationships with my husband and family. I am getting closer to God through prayer and reading the Bible in a year (3-4 chapters daily). I am changing! This is priceless. The layoff is enabling me to exercise more, go outdoors during the day, do teleseminars during the week, attend business-building lunches and make connections with people who can help me launch my new career. This is prep work, pure and simple. We all need it. Think of your layoff and losses that come with it as training for your future.



My employer laid me off, friends and family propped me up, and now I am able to press forward into a new life of possibilities and adventure.



Tomorrow is my one month anniversary of the layoff. I plan to celebrate by having dinner with my husband and another couple we enjoy spending time with, followed by going to Phantom of the Opera at our local theater. It’s important to savor time and make new memories. Find a way to celebrate this new life of yours – even if it’s a simple peanut butter and jelly picnic while enjoying a free concert. It’s all what you make it. Make the best of it, and you will have no regrets.

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