When I lost my job in January, amid a company-wide restructuring, I wasn’t surprised. My co-workers and I had witnessed numerous reality-show-like rounds of layoffs in the months leading up to our dismissal. Even though I knew it was coming, what shocked me most about being let go was my initial reaction to it.
Despite the cardboard box waiting on the front porch to carry my laptop and cell phone back to corporate headquarters, I remained in denial for the first few days. (OK, maybe weeks, but who’s counting?) I’d never lost a job before, and I was surprised at how completely disorienting it was.
But as the months have passed, in between sending out resumes and fighting the urge to take my dream road trip (which includes hitting as many major league baseball parks and brew pubs as possible), I’ve picked up some hard-won wisdom about this unemployment business.
If you’re in the same boat, here is the advice I’d pass on.
1. Mourn the Loss and Then Move On
Though I knew the end was looming, actually hearing the words, “Your role within the company has been eliminated,” left me feeling strangely unmoored. Throughout the days that followed, my thoughts played their own game of Whac-A-Mole as colleagues I’d miss, assignments I’d never complete, and upcoming events I wouldn’t attend randomly flashed through my mind.
It seemed strange to be mourning the loss of a job I’d often blamed for my new forehead wrinkles, so deep toddlers could bathe in them. Yet there I was, mooning over the relationships and connections I’d made that, unintentionally but invariably, would weaken over time.
While I hated feeling like a pitiful sad-sack, my emotions are not so uncommon, according to licensed professional counselor Terri DiMatteo of Open Door Therapy. “Those dealing with job loss may be surprised to find themselves experiencing grief associated with loss of identity, of professional colleagues, and of the work routine,” DiMatteo explains. “The unexpected silver lining, however, can be the discovery of renewed passions that lay dormant while employed.”
On that note:
2. Rediscover Your Interests
Once I’d come to terms with the fact that my former employer wasn’t going to reappear like some sorry ex-boyfriend and beg me to come back, I embraced the hobbies I’d enjoyed before my work life devoured my personal life.
For example: For the better part of two years, I’d felt horribly guilty each time my children drooled at the sight of an Olive Garden commercial. “Wow!” they’d say in unison. “That looks amazing!” I’d cringe as I’d close the microwave door on plates bearing an assortment of leftovers. Each time I’d tossed a frozen pie into the oven, I could feel my Italian grandmother giving me the evil eye from the great beyond.
But when I was no longer rushing to meetings, compulsively checking email, or preparing for a phone call, I found I had the time to whip up my own commercial-worthy entrees. While I’m not saying I’ve earned a spot on Top Chef just yet, I’ve definitely rekindled my almost-forgotten love for cooking.
Additionally, I finished reading four novels in my newfound free time. While I was working, I was lucky if I’d finish one every eight months. I’ve had library fines that could rival the national debt and, yes, I’ve been the gal who shows up at your book club meeting strictly for the wine and cheese. Not anymore!
3. Don’t Let Fear Be Your Life Coach
Whoever says “don’t make decisions based on fear” hasn’t been pricing children’s footwear or summer camps lately. And yet, it seems like advice worth heeding. About a month after losing my job, I was offered a position that, at another time in my life, I would’ve considered an amazing opportunity. But because of a lengthy (and costly) commute coupled with an off-hours shift, I had to turn it down. Though I was scared to pass up this career move, I knew if I accepted it, I would be miserable and end up right back where I started—searching for a new job.
While it’s easy to panic when you’ve sent out your 100th resume and received few calls for interviews, trust me: Jumping into a bad fit out of desperation isn’t the answer.
4. Resist Temptation
For the last two years of my career, I was in love. With my laptop. But when I lost my job, our affair came to an abrupt end. It was with great sadness that I bubble-wrapped my beloved and said goodbye. It was barely on its way back to corporate headquarters when I decided to pull myself together, get back out there, and find a replacement. But, with no new job in sight and smarting from sticker shock, I realized I couldn’t afford to blow more than two weeks of unemployment when I already had a perfectly fine (albeit outdated) model at home.
The siren song of the nap is another temptation to avoid. Many winter afternoons, I was dying to curl up with a blanket, but I knew if I gave in this would establish a bad habit I’d only need to break once I was working again.
Instead, I joined a gym, which gave me an excuse to get out of the house each day (not to mention a reason to shower). I even survived my first spin class and found it cathartic, with the emotional highs and lows of Eat, Pray Love (but, sadly, none of the pizza).
Resisting the urge to hide out at home can also help when it comes to making connections that could lead to your next position. “Try to stay in the mix, as landing a job is often about who you know,” DiMatteo also advises.
5. Keep Your Sense of Humor
When faced with updating an ancient resume or ditching the sweatpants and stuffing myself into a dress and tights to meet potential employers, I quickly realized, if I didn’t keep laughing I’d soon be crying.
Plus, after interviewing for the first time in a few years, I’ve learned that these aren’t your parents’ job application questions! I found that maintaining my sense of humor helped enormously as I was forced to explain what I’d choose as my personal theme song or why I was the best candidate for the position in 160 characters or less. Let’s face it: No one wants to hire someone who lost her wit along with her weekly paycheck.
Staying positive and focusing on all the things I’d missed while working has taken the sting out of the initial shock of being laid off. I’m choosing to look at this as a well-earned break with ample time to research my next move—at least until I’m dipping into my 401(k) or relocating to a trailer park.