Twice during my working career I’ve had to come home and tell my family, “I was let go.” Once during the fallout from the financial crisis in 2010 and again during the economic boom in 2017.
Both times were due to circumstances beyond my control. In 2010, I told myself that 9 million other Americans were in the same boat, and in 2017, I knew a third of my division had been chopped. But those facts didn’t make it any easier.
I wish I could say that I navigated unemployment like a champ, but I can’t. Here is one thing I did wrong and one thing I got right while unemployed…
WRONG: I Victimized Myself
Both times I beat myself up. Why didn’t I plan better? Why didn’t I see this coming? How did I give so much of myself to an employer that let me go?
If you are let go during a crisis, you’re a victim, plain and simple. You are suffering due to factors beyond your control. It doesn’t matter if those factors are the result of poor-upper management or a worldwide pandemic, you were put on the chopping block.
It’s ok to be angry, especially if the way you were laid off was disrespectful. It’s ok to be fearful. You’ve been blindsided, jump scared, knocked down.
But listen to this good advice someone gave me.
“You are a victim, but be careful not to victimize yourself.”
A friend shared those words with me as he talked about a layoff he experienced, and how he had begun to victimize himself by believing that a smarter person, a more educated person would have avoided being let go. He realized, he was victimizing himself with his own thoughts.
That’s exactly what I was doing. I was ruminating on all the “woulda, shoulda, coulda’s” and it was worse than what any employer could have done to me.
During this pandemic crisis you have to put all your energy into problem solving, not ruminating. There’s nothing to be gained by trying to prove to yourself that this is not your fault while you’re fighting to find a solution.
Besides the story you are going to tell one day about this crisis is currently missing a chapter. It’s the chapter about how you overcame; how you survived. You’re going to want to include that chapter. So, right now, don’t tell yourself an unhelpful version of the story. You will one day tell a helpful version that will include the hurt, the despair, the hope, and the solution.
DISCLAIMER: Coming to this realization is not a one-and-done decision. There where plenty of times that I slipped back into victimizing myself, and it usually required a conversation with my wife or a friend to help me stop.
RIGHT: I Bypassed the Gatekeepers
One of the primary responsibilities in my pre-2008 role was communication, usually public speaking for the organization to its network of non-profits. When I was laid off, no one wanted me to come speak – no invitations, no emails, no phone calls – the gatekeepers shut me out.
One day I was sharing with someone how I wanted to use my leadership experience to help organizations, he listened and said, “That’s good, but every non-profit I know needs help with social media. Do you know anything about that?” I did, very little, but apparently more than others.
Digital marketing and social media were taking off among non-profits. Every school, church and charity was starting a facebook and twitter account, but most of them had no idea how to effectively use the platforms.
I started sharing my knowledge of digital marketing, but none of my contacts would invite me to speak. So, I bypassed the gatekeepers and started a blog SecondChairLeadership.com. This blog is a result of being laid off and shut out. By learning a digital platform, I was able to SPEAK and add value without waiting for permission from the guardians of the status quo.
Who are the gatekeepers in your line of work? What skills have you developed that you’re waiting for others to give you permission to use?
Don’t wait for that permission. Use this time of crisis to consider how you can add value. It doesn’t have to be entrepreneurial. Your talents may be in community service or in education. What platforms, digital or physical, are you able to harness to begin sharing your knowledge or skills?
DISCLAIMER: It’s hard to reimagine ourselves in a time of crisis. I did a dozen different jobs while trying to get my own thing going. Even now I work for an employer, but I’ve kept this blog as a side-hustle. Do your thing, and move in and out of it as life allows.