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How To Find Yourself After You Lose Your Job

Three things to consider as you figure out the next step.

Alex Barnett
Nov 26 · 7 min read

“We’re going to have to let you go.”

Ever heard that?

If you haven’t, you’re lucky. If you have, I’m sorry and I empathize because I’ve heard it.

I heard it from a friend. A partner. A guy I thought I was in business with as co-equals. Yes, I always knew he owned more of the business and so technically was my boss.

But, it turned out he was more than just “technically” my boss. He was literally “my boss,” and as such, when money got tight — or, at least, when he thought continuing to pay me was jeopardizing his next vacation — I got the “going to have to let you go” speech.

If you’ve never heard that speech, it always comes with a long recitation of what a wonderful person you are, how many admirable qualities you have, and what a delight you are to work with and be around.

“If I’m so terrific, why are you letting me go?”

Answer: Because when you get the axe, your other parting “gift” is a shovelful of bullshit to go along with it.

The truth, though, is that you are a wonderful person.

You have admirable qualities and are delightful to work with and be around (well, most of you).

But your boss has vacations to take, tuition payments to make, summer homes to finance, cocktail parties to throw, cars to buy, and families, step-families, spouses and ex-spouses to lavish with toys and jewelry.

Your salary really would help defray those costs. So, sorry. Hope you’ll have a nice life.

But, you know what? You can have a nice life. Yeah, you can.

Getting let go, laid off, riffed, fired — they all suck. But the end of a job doesn’t mean, shouldn’t be, and isn’t the end of your life.

In some ways, many ways, most ways . . . it’s just the beginning.

Being let go is an opportunity — even if it’s a shit-covered one.

Losing your job comes with a loss in money, which is a problem. It’s a blow to ego and self-esteem, and that’s also a problem. It separates and divides you from co-workers, and to the extent that they’ve become friends and mentors, that’s yet another problem.

But, it’s still an opportunity because it’s a wake-up call.

It can be an alarming, head-splitting, nerve-jangling wake-up call, but, like all wake-up calls it gets you to sit up and pay attention.

And that’s important.

Most times when people work in a job, they stop paying attention to what’s important and what matters.

They get caught up in just “doing the job,” “covering their ass,” “going along to get along,” and forget who they are, what they’re passionate about, and what they want out of life.

Maybe they think about it in passing, but they’re not focused on it. They’re too busy punching a clock, writing memos, sending emails, dialing into conference calls, attending meetings, and hustling back and forth to and from the office to really stop and think whether the job they have is helping them live the life they really want to live.

But you, you’re not doing that anymore. You’ve been “let go.”

Now you have an opportunity to stop and take inventory to figure out how you really want to spend your life.

I should pause here to say I recognize full well that you live in the real world and not fantasyland.

You have bills to pay, and while you’re taking stock, you may have to find something — and quickly — to make sure you have a roof over your head, food in your belly, and clothes on your back (although you probably already own clothes, so it’s really just a place to live and food that you have to worry about). Understood.

And if you have kids or other dependents, the need to find a source of income may have added urgency. Acknowledged.

But even as you do what you need to do to survive, it’s still a chance to take stock and ask yourself if you could do it all over again, start from scratch, would you go into the same profession or would you do something else?

If the answer is ‘no,’ that you loved your job, but the economics of your company just froze you out, so be it. Then go forward and look for a new job in your same industry.

It may take some time and some effort (I get it, I’ve been down that path and know just how long it can take), but by all means lean into your industry.

With any luck, you’ll get hired by a big company — one so big you can acquire your ex-boss’s company, and then you can fire him or her.

But if your old job was just a paycheck, now that you’ve gotten off the ferris wheel you’re free to consider doing something else.

To help you do that, here are a couple of things to consider:

1. Ask yourself why you didn’t love your job.

Was it something small, like you didn’t like the coffee maker?

Or was it something bigger and more profound, something that was telling you to get out, but you didn’t listen (or were afraid to)?

Regardless of the reason, this is your chance to shift gears and work at something more suited to you.

But, what exactly is that?

Ask yourself what you would do if you didn’t need to earn money.

What you would do each day if you had enough money to pay your bills without having to work to earn that money.

Whatever you would do — that’s a good hint about the type of work you ought to be doing instead of the job you’ve been toiling away at.

2. Ask yourself how much you really need to earn.

Living in the developed world costs money — there’s no getting around that.

But we often get caught up thinking the cost of living is higher than it actually is.

We see friends or neighbors who have three vacation homes, multiple cars, custom-made clothing, and think we “need” all that.

Do you? Do you really need all that? Is it really important to you?

Maybe the cost of living the life you want to live is less than you think.

Yes, there are real costs in life (e.g., mortgage, rent, childcare, food), but often we can get by with a lot less without suffering. Maybe that means you can take a lesser-paying gig that allows you to pursue what you really want to do (e.g., pursuing an artistic endeavor or going back to school).

When I got laid off, I eventually found a new job in my field that paid considerably less than I had been earning, but that job had far less demanding hours that allowed me to spend time pursuing creative activities I hadn’t previously had time to do.

And the truth is while I had to trim my expenses here and there, I didn’t really wind up having to make wholesale cuts.

I kept my apartment. I didn’t change my eating habits. I still had cable and Netflix. I did cut back on some luxury or high-end purchases (like fancy dinners out), but I didn’t really miss them, given how occupied I was with my new creative outlets.

So sit down with a pen and paper (or your computer) and figure out what you really need to earn.

You may be surprised to learn you have more financial flexibility than you thought.

3. Give yourself permission to feel the full spectrum of emotions.

Being laid off sucks.

Even if you hate your job like poison and loathe your boss like he or she is the Devil incarnate, being let go still is awful.

It throws you off-balance and out-of-whack. It challenges your understanding of your identity and your value.

Yesterday, you were a VP with a six-figure income and today you’re an unemployed person with bills and income. That’s scary and infuriating and depressing.

But you have to allow yourself to feel those things, if only so you know how you never want to feel ever again — and so that you can avoid making someone else feel that way.

If you decide to change gears and try something totally new, that can take real guts and require you to overcome tremendous fear. Don’t pretend it doesn’t.

Acknowledge the bravery needed and the fear you have. Don’t let them paralyze you, but do let them guide you.

If you feel fear, you’re probably considering doing something really spectacular.

I wish you much success and the best of luck — know that you’re not alone.

Well, maybe you are actually alone as you read this, but if you’ve been let go, you’re part of a proud fraternity/sorority of people who’ve been let go and then gone on to do some amazing things.

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Alex Barnett

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