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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

5 Career Lessons You Only Learn From Being Laid Off

I assumed my life was over when I got laid off.

Within seconds of being told the news, I’d fast-forwarded to moving back home to Tampa, running into high school classmates and explaining my new career as a cat sitter, watching HGTV marathons with my mother on Saturday night, and trying to remember what it was like to have co-workers (who didn’t use litter boxes).

A friend promised me the next day that this would end up just being a short blip in my career, and that soon enough all my stress and anxiety would seem for naught. As someone who hadn’t slept or eaten in 24 hours, that seemed unlikely. But I thanked her for her “advice” and returned home to stare at myself crying in the mirror, so I could accurately pinpoint exactly how ugly my cry-face had been in the office when I’d heard the news.

Now, looking back, she was right. And while I can’t go back in time and tell myself to stop staring into the mirror, I can tell you that if you’ve recently lost your job, you’re going to be OK. In fact, you’re going to be more than OK, because the experience actually ended up being quite a career boost.

Here are five lessons I never would’ve learned otherwise:

1. You Need to Stop and Take a Breath

I loved my job—and because of that I worked nonstop. And there’s nothing quite like being told that you literally (and legally) cannot come into an office to force you to take a timeout. And while the the first few days off involved me unconsciously checking my phone for email every three to five seconds, the next month or so gave me time to relax and recharge. Yes, I was job searching, and networking, and completing freelance assignments—but I was also sleeping in, eating three leisurely meals a day away from a computer, and (eventually) leaving rooms without my phone, guilt-free.

Not only did I feel better, but stepping away from the daily grind gave me a lot of time to think about what I missed about my former position—and what I did not. And knowing that gave me a lot of clarity on my next steps.

2. Your Dream Job Isn’t Always What You Think it Is

I’d been half-ass job searching for about a year before getting laid off. But each listing I found just didn’t seem right. Mostly because I was searching for the magical position where I could do whatever I wanted every day, on my own schedule, with people I liked, and get paid handsomely for it. But since Kris Jenner didn’t give birth to me, that wasn’t exactly coming easy.

As soon as I had no choice but to find a new opportunity, I suddenly sat down and thought about what I realistically wanted that to look like. What mattered more: a salary bump or flexible hours? Did I want to spend more time writing or more time managing? With this new list of real requirements, I suddenly found openings that I never would’ve ever considered before. That’s not to say that I lowered my standards or gave up what mattered to me—but rather that I got real about what my ideal day looked like.

3. You Don’t Hate Networking as Much as You Think You Do

Everyone knows you’re supposed to put effort into building and strengthening your network. But when push came to shove, I’d choose going to happy hour with friends over meeting up with a semi-stranger for coffee any day. And, after making that decision week after week, year after year, the whole idea of meeting LinkedIn contacts seemed absurd.

That’s not the case when you have to get a new job. Not only did I reach out to everyone I’d ever worked with or for, but I said yes to any meeting opportunity that came my way—no matter how random it felt. This not only led to my current job here at The Muse, but it also made me realize how many smart and talented people I’d crossed paths with over the years, and that networking wasn’t so much a dentist appointment as it was an opportunity to connect (and re-connect) with interesting and successful people.

4. You Should Take More Risks

On my networking spree, I grabbed drinks with a former colleague. And over glasses of wine, she reminded me that she’d been laid off herself years ago—and the best part of it for her was that it taught her to take risks. She’d hit rock bottom, seen the worst-case scenario, and survived it. No matter what job you have or what industry you’re in, you could end up being let go for a variety of reasons outside of your control, so why not make a scary move at some point?

And it’s true. Once you realize that losing your job doesn’t automatically translate into a one-way ticket to Tampa, you also realize that the worst-case scenario isn’t actually that bad. Don’t get me wrong, it was an incredibly stressful time in my life—but I had hit rock bottom (as did my bank account), and I got through it. So why not take the position at the startup? Why not try something you don’t feel 100% in? Why not move to a new city or go after that dream career in an unstable field?

5. You’re Not Your Job

Before losing my job, I defined myself by it. So it was quite the surprise to me when I learned that I could still live, breathe, and carry on a conversation without an official title. Sure, that sounds overdramatic, but one of my first thoughts upon being laid off was how would I introduce myself to people: “I’m Jenni…and I like dogs?”

It turns out that I was putting the pressure on myself to be my job, to kick off introductions with what I do, to prioritize it on a daily basis. What I learned was that, yes, my position added to my life, but it wasn’t the entirety of it. Yes, I like my career (and yes I also like dogs), but there’s more to me than my resume.

So, if you’re reading this because you’re at rock bottom right now, take it from me: Yes, this time is incredibly hard. But in the long run, it really will be a blip in your career—a transition period before you land the next big thing. And soon enough, you’ll have your own career lessons that’ll make crying in your office totally worth it.

Photo of woman on bench courtesy of Shutterstock.

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