Your Slip Is Showing. Oh, and It’s Pink*

Besides suffering from a serious illness, losing a loved one or enduring a contentious divorce, losing your job is one of the most stressful setbacks you can experience. I have coached several friends about surviving those words, “Your job has been eliminated.”  I’m glad I was generous with my time helping others. Otherwise, when my job was eliminated recently, I might not have been able to be as objective and rational about the situation. And since the economy has seen better days, here are a few things to know in the event that you or someone you care about has an unexpected meeting with a similar challenge.

Be better than bitterness.

Face it: losing your job stinks. The emotional roller-coaster you may experience is like the grief cycle described by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. During this time, your emotions may go from “I’ve given (insert-company-name-here) the best years of my life” to maybe “Those people wouldn’t know talent if it bit them in the bum!” Or “I can ask to stay on at reduced pay until I find something else.” And then, “I am so lost” before exploring “What’s next for me?”

One of my favorite books is Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. When ex-convict Jean Valjean tells the Bishop about the hardships he has experienced, the Bishop wisely replies:

If you emerge from that…place with thoughts against mankind, you are deserving of pity; if you emerge with thoughts of goodwill and of peace, you are more worthy than any one of us.

Bitterness might come easily in the early stages of grief. Resist the urge to stay there. Be better than bitterness for your own sake. Bitterness is a weight around your neck, making it difficult to move quickly, smartly and productively. While bitterness might be a typical response, it is not the best place to linger, and it can delay or destroy your recovery.

Choose a healthy perspective.

The day after I lost my job, my neighbor came over to visit me and chat. While we stood outside and talked, I told her that I had entered the ranks of the unemployed.

Her response floored me: “Good! Now we can freshen up the outside of your house!” Before I could recover, she started peeling off strips of white paint from my house to expose beautiful stucco underneath. Her enthusiasm for the job was astounding. I’m not sure how it happened, but within minutes I was holding a power washer and she was on a ladder next to me with a wire brush removing years of old paint.

She asked me, “When was the last time you took more than a couple of weeks off with your kids?” I couldn’t remember a time when I had done that in years. She continued, “Your son enters high school next year. Won’t it be nice to have a summer with him, getting him ready for that new phase of life?” That’s a healthy perspective.

Later that week, I had a barbecue and invited friends and former colleagues. I called it a “retirement party.” Why not? I was closing one big chapter of my life while preparing for the one that follows. It wasn’t a time to mourn the passing of the old days. It was a time to reflect on the best of times while looking to the future. That’s a healthy perspective.

Surround yourself with good and positive people.

Naysayers are all around us. If you lose your job, it’s more important than ever to steer clear of negative people. “Friends” who encourage you to wallow in self-pity are not a positive influence. Surround yourself with good and positive friends. You need friends who will offer objective insights about your abilities and connect you with a network of individuals who might point you to your next oasis.

Craig Wortmann is a friend and the author of What’s Your Story? He has a concept called a “win book.” This is a small notebook for you to collect affirming quotes, tape notes from those who send you positive thoughts, or even glue photos of what’s important to you. Keeping this notebook in hand allows you to gain encouragement and to add new items of your work of life that’s in progress. I’ve been so blessed to receive some excellent snippets for my win book from former colleagues and great friends. These notes encourage me when I need it most. Here is one recent addition to my book sent from a friend:

I believe there is something much bigger and more beautiful than you can imagine waiting out there for you. I truly have NO fear for what lies ahead of you in your future. You are programmed to make a difference and to lead people to see the beauty in our less than perfect world.

Like the song says, “Put one foot in front of the other.”

At work, you have goals that are tracked and measured. If you lose your job, you need that same disciplined approach. There is a sense of accomplishment when you set a goal and see steady progress.

You have no choice. Look around the bend.

Create goals for updating your resume, reaching out to former business contacts, and starting the search for your new adventure. This won’t happen by sitting on the couch watching reruns. They take a planned, disciplined approach.

Carpe diem. Personal and professional setbacks are part of life. It’s been said the test of your character is what it takes to stop you. Embrace change, forge ahead into new frontiers, and find the positive. This is a time for your character to shine the brightest. Seize the day!

* Originally published as “Your Slip is Showing.  Oh, and It’s Pink: Overcoming Job Loss.” Attitude Digest, 2009, Fall, pp. 7-10.

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