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When You’ve Lost Your Job: How to Start Moving Forward

Man with Box

“If you can’t fly then run. If you can’t run then walk. If you can’t walk then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

For five years, I worked for an incredible little company that makes creative products for creative people.

I first joined the company as the marketing director and over time, moved into a top executive role. It was a wonderful adventure with passionate people and incredible learnings, challenges, and joys. And then it wasn’t. I was laid off.

Suddenly I, among other top executives, managers, and team members, found myself out of work. The reason? Budget cuts. But that didn’t really matter.

What mattered was that my “second home,” the place where I had made close friendships, where I had mentored and worked side by side to build teams, where I had laughed, cried, and come to work after too many sleepless nights of worry and planning, had let me go.

I had lost my daily connection with my tribe.

My mind flooded with thoughts, questions and emotions. I was pissed, and heartbroken and frightened, all at the same time. How could this have happened? What was I going to do? It was paralyzing.

And then I paused and took a deep breath.

I reminded myself of a phrase a friend had told me long ago, “Eat your elephant one bite at a time.” It had helped me through other seemingly impossible projects and life changes, so why not now?

I asked myself what one thing I could do that day to move me forward. I knew that even one small step would be better than nothing.

The pause brought me a moment of clarity. In that moment, I knew there was only one thing I needed to do.

I took a deep breath and cried.

I mourned not only a job that I loved, but also the loss of my friends and co-workers whom I’d grown to love. There would be no more daily hummus sharing, or yoga mat brainstorming meetings, or late night planning sessions, or morning burrito walks.

I needed to allow myself to mourn this loss and to experience these painful emotions. Until I owned these feelings, I knew I wouldn’t be able to move on.

The next day, I found myself staring at my outdated resume. I had trouble remembering anything of importance that I had done in my career the past five years. What were the highlights? What are my strengths and how did I use them to the company’s benefit? I was at a loss.

Again, I paused and asked myself what one thing I could do that day to move me forward. I reminded myself that even a small step would mean progress.

The best thing I could think to do was to find a mirror. How did other people see me? What value did they think I brought to the teams I worked on and to the company overall? I asked several colleagues to write recommendations for me on LinkedIn and was overwhelmed with the responses that I received.

It was a great way for me to see common themes of how and where I really add value. Many of them also wrote specific examples of successful projects or goals and noted how I had been integral to the success. Having these recommendations helped me to start thinking about who I am when I’m at my best.

Like many people, when I’m at my best, I’m motivated, happy, and highly functioning. As I became clear about this, it was easier for me to see what kind of work I wanted to do moving forward, which in turn helped me create a resume that really spoke to my strengths and passions.

I won’t lie; it was difficult at times. Finding a support system of friends and colleagues was so important. Being a support system for someone else was also very rewarding and helped to put my situation into perspective.

In the difficult times, I reminded myself of my strong connection with my family, my loving circle of friends, and my supportive partner. Life wasn’t so bad.

In the end, I found myself working with a lovely group of women at a local consulting company. I’ve been blessed to once again be working with an incredible group of motivating, intelligent, and supportive people, all while doing work where I can use my gifts and talents in a way that I’m proud of.

If you have been laid off and are facing similar challenges, here are some things that helped me move forward:

Pause.

You don’t have to have it all figured out right now, so take a moment to breathe and clear your mind. If you’re overwhelmed, this can be a great way to help get you unstuck. Just think about one thing you can do to move you forward (which leads to the second item on my list).

Keep moving forward.

Try not to stress if things seem slow going, or worry about things not working out. Sometimes it seems like things aren’t coming together, but every small effort pushes you a little closer to your goal. As long as you’re moving forward, even just one little teeny tiny step, you’re making progress!

Allow yourself to feel your emotions, but don’t let them overwhelm you.

It’s natural to be scared, worried, and anxious, but you don’t have to let these feelings control you. You can create peace and foster patience by taking care of your mental and emotional well-being with deep breathing, yoga, meditation, exercise, and other self-care practices.

You might think you should spend all your time job searching, but making time for self-care will make you far more present, peaceful, and effective.

Find a mirror.

Ask colleagues to write recommendations for you, or ask a trusted relative or friend to tell you what they see as your strengths, or maybe what sort of work they could picture you doing. Understanding your worth through other people’s eyes is truly inspiring, and it can help give you direction.

Be good to yourself and find a support.

Don’t be too proud to reach out to friends or relatives, or even search for an online career resource. (There are a ton of these kinds of companies now and they are great about offering all kinds of helpful content and community in addition to regular job postings.)

One thing I’ve learned in this process is that we’ve all got things in our life that make us feel “less than.” Once I started sharing my story with people, I actually felt powerful!

You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can work on how you respond. It’s been profoundly helpful to claim the control I do have—inside of myself as well as in the external world.

Treat yourself like you matter… because you do.

Man with box image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Heather Stewart

About Heather Stewart

Heather Stewart lives and works in the majestic Portland, OR area. She loves coaching and motivating friends, family, and clients to take charge of their lives and bravely step into their leadership. She works for Carpenter Smith Consulting, llc as a Leadership Coach and Marketing Director.

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