Protecting your self-worth when employment dissolves

Michael LaNasa
Jul 20 · 5 min read

“Everybody has a plan until they get hit.” — Mike Tyson

Whether or not you were raised to be a responsible planner, it is more than likely that once entering the job market, the thought of unemployment has been present. Maybe not regularly, but after a rough day, as you’re falling asleep, it knocks on the door right around 11:15 pm.

A particular kind of personal catastrophe that is reserved for those employed would be hearing the phrase, “Your position has been eliminated.’’

This may have been a complete surprise or something you had feared due to foreseen circumstances.

You may be 23. Or 53. The universe doesn’t discriminate.

Regardless, this is the moment where doing emotional damage control may seem like the last item on the emergency to-do list. But it should be right in the top three, if not number one. In bold.

Take a long yoga-breath in. And then out.

Let’s talk about separating perceived value by an employer and why it should not affect your personal and professional self-worth.

“If you’re part of a crew, nobody ever tells you that they’re going to kill you, doesn’t happen that way. There weren’t any arguments or curses like in the movies. See, your murders come with smiles, they come as your friends, the people who’ve cared for you all of your life. And they always seem to come at a time that you’re at your weakest and most in need of their help.” — Henry Hill, Goodfellas

The first time it happened to me, this was the quote that flashed into my mind soon afterward. Losing a job in real life isn’t quite as sinister as a gangster hit in a movie, but it can definitely feel similarly dramatic.

When your work is woven into your passion, it can be very hard to separate a personal insult from critical feedback at work. For many in creative professions, this is like attempting to separate your mind and body. No matter how you feel about the actual job, here is how we counter those dark thoughts.

Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash

Step One: Almost everyone works for someone. It’s not personal.

It’s not. Even if the messenger delivers with a smile, they’re no more in control than the birds outside. This likely came from above or from someone counting numbers, salaries, and headcount of a department.

Remember that it may feel personal but in the world of everyone looking out for themselves, as much as it hurts to think at first — this isn’t about you. They don’t know how much fulfillment you get from the work or your team, and thus can’t take a drop of that away from you.

Thus, it is not about the value of your work or you as a person. Especially not the latter, no matter how close the work is to your heart.

Step Two: React like a poker player wearing sunglasses, playing for millions.

Don’t fight it. Don’t yell. Don’t attempt to negotiate or ask for answers. These kinds of decisions are set in fast-drying cement long before they are verbalized.

I once asked for clarification, only to be met with a tidal wave of ambiguity. Make a clean break and process after the smoke has cleared.

“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.” — Marcus Aurelius

Nothing said after hearing one’s position has been eliminated will subdue the shock or insult.

Taking things personally, even if a knee-jerk reaction, will only feed into your own self-doubt. Embrace your inner-stoic and show that you’re unshaken.

Step Three: Embrace freedom. Fate just pushed a notification to your phone.

After being gifted a healthy amount of free time during regular DMV hours, a close friend once told me, “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

He was right. I celebrated a small pity party with a few bottles of wine over a long weekend, and then immediately got to work. Refreshing my portfolio, cold-calling and emailing clients, and being more productive at 6 am than I had ever before.

“Fate leads the willing, and drags along the reluctant.”
- Seneca

When something out of your control happens, you can only control your reaction to events, not the past events themselves.

Reframe unpaid time as an open window for personal and professional growth. Time is the commodity we can’t buy more of, no matter how much money thrown at the problem. Being given the gift of more time is often underappreciated.

Finally: Reaffirm Self-Worth

We have all read news reports covering disasters or shootings. They often remind us that things could have been worse. This kind of perspective helps many people process the stressful situation but what about those who it did affect first-hand?

While overly-dramatic to some degree, the comparison is there in my opinion; being on the other side of the desk or on the sidelines to job loss is always where that advice originates.

When it’s you, it does matter. It’s rent. It’s your livelihood. It’s possibly fulfillment from something you are indescribably passionate about on most days.

The inherent value of time, energy and passion is something unique to each person. No job title, employer or printed award dictates otherwise.

Photo by Aperture Vintage on Unsplash

Take solace in the reminder that we’re all living examples of nearly-impossible timing and circumstances, clinging on to a spinning rock circling a ball of fire larger and older than we can comprehend.

By some quick calculations of time and space, that makes everything you do astounding and amazing. Don’t let anyone else on this rock make you feel otherwise.

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

We're confused twenty-somethings. We dish on our post-grad blues, successes, failures, and everyday life right here. Featuring topics related to work, relationships, travel, finances, and so much more.

Michael LaNasa

Written by

Photographer, filmmaker, and house shoe enthusiast. Comparing notes on life, creativity, and tech. Sometimes I make things:

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

We're confused twenty-somethings. We dish on our post-grad blues, successes, failures, and everyday life right here. Featuring topics related to work, relationships, travel, finances, and so much more.

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