What To Do When You Lose Your Job
The prospect of losing a job can be, well, the stuff of nightmares. And understandably so. After all, the rhythm of our lives is largely defined by work; our jobs occupy the majority of our waking hours. And the inability to work poses a threat to our very existence. Without work, there’s no money. Without money, there’s no food to eat or even a roof under which we can shelter. It goes without saying, then, that getting the sack can have serious long-term implications on your mental – and, by extension, physical – health.
According to a 2014 report by analytics firm Gallup, a fifth of those without a job for a year or more find themselves suffering from depression – which in turn makes it harder to get back into employment. The Movember Foundation identifies the loss of a job as one of the major potential crisis points in a man’s life, alongside the breakdown of a relationship and becoming a father.
According to Dr Hamira Riaz, a clinical psychologist and business consultant, the depression that occurs after job loss is partly a result of the sense of identity our work gives us. “Essentially, we learn to be a grown-up through our work,” she says. “It’s where we are rewarded for leveraging our talents, where we get feedback about our shortcomings, and where we set goals and channel our drive to achieve them.”
While getting fired is (mostly) out of your control, you don’t have to let the consequences of unemployment control you. In fact, it could be the opportunity you didn’t know you needed – the chance to “accelerate your career”, according to Dr Riaz. By all means, have a Jerry Maguire flip-out moment (don’t forget the fish) and mourn the loss of your job. But understand that there are ways in which you can turn the situation to your advantage, and end up a more enlightened, happy and fulfilled individual.
01. Don’t take it personally
“It’s not you. It’s me.” These words have ended many a relationship in which, actually, it probably was a little bit to do with you. The same goes for the loss of a job. When things go wrong, it’s only natural to assume a degree of personal responsibility, to wonder what you could have done differently. In reality, though, there’s likely a multitude of reasons behind your newfound unemployment. Was your company in financial difficulty? Maybe it merged with another and two people in the same role simply didn’t make sense. There are forces at play that you simply cannot control.
“Try not to take things personally,” says Dr Riaz. “Stay at a dispassionate distance from your situation and challenge any assumptions you have about who you are, and who you could be at work. In other words, press the pause button so that you can reimagine the role that work might play in your life going forwards.”
02. Take your time
Lose your job and the natural instinct, understandably, is to hunt desperately for a new one. But do this and you may well be repeating behaviour that got you in this position in the first place. If you have the means, hold off the search for a little while. Reflect upon, and take stock of, your work situation to date – the perspective could give your career a much-needed kick-start.
“Look for patterns in your work life and what this says about you,” says Dr Riaz. “Use these to inform how you might rebrand yourself ahead of the next phase of your career. If you give yourself the chance to do the necessary interior work – on your own, with a mentor or a coach – you are more likely to step outside your comfort zone, play with the possibilities and take a significant leap forward.”
03. Follow your dreams
“I see guys work at the same company their entire lives,” says Mr George Clooney’s character in Up In The Air, as he fires Bob, played by Mr JK Simmons. “They clock in, they clock out, and they never have a moment of happiness. You have an opportunity here… this is a rebirth.” While it might seem perverse to take career advice from one of cinema’s greatest corporate anti-heroes, there’s truth in his words. Losing your job can be a natural point in time to figure out if what you’ve been doing, is what you actually want to be doing.
“Compare the reality of your career with what you dreamed of doing when you were at school,” says Dr Riaz, “and decide if you are still OK with the trade-offs you’ve made along the way. Is there an opportunity to redress the balance if you are not?”
04. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses
“Be clear about what makes you successful,” says Dr Riaz. “What do you enjoy doing? What defines you? What do you uniquely bring to the table?” By identifying exactly what your strengths are, you’ll be able to shine a light on them more effectively when you’re finally ready to dive back into job market.
Equally important, however, is understanding what your weaknesses are and then taking the appropriate steps to address them. “What trips you up?” says Dr Riaz. “What causes you to get that sinking feeling at work? Are there common themes in the feedback you’ve received from colleagues?” Perhaps it’s learning how to deliver presentations with more confidence. Or developing a more creative and collaborative approach to leading a team. Whatever it is, by the time you’re done, potential employers will see you as nothing short of indispensable.
05. Take advantage of your network
Sometimes, it’s hard to see the long game when we’re eyeball-deep in our work-related stress, fears and anxieties. This is where our own personal networks can be invaluable in helping us to figure out which direction to head in next. After all, who knows you better than the people who know you? “Warm up your network and reach out to people who have known you across your career,” says Dr Riaz. “Ask them open questions about how they see you now and how they see you in the future. Give them permission to be honest with you.”
And who knows? Lurking in the depths of your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn networks could await your next – and hopefully dream – job.
Illustration by Ms Mikyung Lee