Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Most Important Thing to Do When You're Laid Off

Getting laid off is a crappy happening in so many ways, it’s hard to pick just one. But I will anyway. Not to discount all the other ways you’re taking it on the chin, today I’m focusing on the hit your self-esteem is taking. And what you can do about it.

When you’re laid off, you’re out of work. That’s bad enough. But, precisely because you’re out of work you have all this time to worry about. And brood about it. And obsess about it. And on top of that, you have to do it all by yourself. Why? Because everyone you know is busy at work. Or, if they’re not, they’re probably laid off too. And you really don’t want to be around worrying, brooding, obsessing people – especially when they’re negatively focused on the same thing you are.

Okay, granted, you have your career to be worrying about – not to mention such incidentals as mortgage, health insurance, kids’ education, etc. But you also have something else much more close to home than that you need to ferociously protect right now – your confidence, self-respect, your faith in yourself and your future. In other words – self-esteem.

Self-esteem protection has got to be Job #1 right now, even outclassing the job of finding a job. The good news here is that this is one aspect of your life you have complete control over (although it may not seem to be the case at the moment). So I’ve outlined a few steps you can take to create a cone of esteem protection around your head and heart as you move proudly toward an uncertain future.

Give yourself the time you need to grieve and then recover. You wouldn’t take a cast off before a broken bone was healed, would you? You wouldn’t force a child with a 104 degree fever to go to school, would you? (The correct answer is: No.) Don’t rush yourself to “get over” the emotions around your feelings of betrayal, shock, even rage. Even if you have to get a new job instantaneously, don’t think you “should be over this by now.” You’ll be over it when you’re over it.

Be a rainmaker for other people. Wealth comes in so many forms, and your network is one of them. While you may be thinking that your set of personal contacts is completely useless in helping you find your new job (you’re probably wrong, by the way), you can open up your address book to help your friends find the job of their dreams. It is beyond words how rewarding it is to be able to make a real difference in someone else’s life, especially when you’re spending your days trying to renegotiate interest rates and minimum payments.

Be your own champion. Remember how I said that it’s your job to ferociously protect your self-esteem? Well, that begins with the kinds of thoughts you fill your mind with. If you’re prone to criticizing or second guessing or psychoanalyzing yourself (even a little bit), knock it off. You can always come back to that self-talk when you’re on steadier ground. Don’t worry, you’re in no danger of getting a “big head” in the meantime if you let up on yourself. Reality will keep you humble. Stay away from so-called friends who make you feel uncertain or bad about yourself. Even the ones who you think might be smarter than you about these things. You know in your heart what’s what. If someone else wants to castigate you for some perceived failings, just think to yourself, “projecting!” (like Jon Lovitz’s Master Thespian character announcing, “acting!”) and lose their contact information for awhile (I mean, forever).

Be someone else’s hero. Confession: I like Mariah Carey’s music. And I’ll never forget the time I first heard her song, “Hero.” I was on my way to the dentist to get a root canal. Talk about having something imprinted on your brain. I was especially receptive to the message of that song that morning. There is always something you can do to relieve the pain or restore the hope of someone else. It’s especially good if you’re able to use your professional skill set to make that happen. You need to remind your heart and brain that you still have a role in the marketplace – even if it’s volunteer for the moment. It won’t be for long. (Although it would be excellent if you continued to volunteer after you landed your next great job.)

Give yourself a success project. One of the messages your hammered self-esteem may be telling you right now is that you are powerless to make an impact. Give yourself real and current evidence to the contrary. Assign yourself a series of projects that you have total control over and can see to completion. Cleaning out the garage. Cutting out sugar. Taking the car in to get serviced. Little projects. Big projects. Whatever. Just make sure that you can see that light at the end of that project tunnel. And that you are in total control over a successful completion. (The down side of this advice, of course, is that if you fail you will have only yourself to blame. So. Don’t fail.)

Don’t believe everything you think. You’ve been wrong before. You know how it feels. You might have been one of those people who thought getting laid off would never happen to them. Surprise! Personally I’m big into believing everything I feel (I usually come to regret ignoring my intuition). But believing everything I think is another matter altogether. It’s really easy to get into the habit of drawing sweeping negative conclusions about the way of the world, and our personal success prospects, when nothing is going right. Just remember to constantly ask yourself, “where’s the evidence?” And if you see that you’re compiling a dangerous amount of evidence to support your negative assumptions, load up on those success projects.

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