Getting fired is the worst! Even if you were struggling in your position or were increasingly unhappy, losing your job sudddenly can feel like failure personified. And the process of involuntarily being forced to leave your position can swirl you into a blizzard of emotion: embarrassment, shame, worthlessness, self-pity, and depression.
Your identity is deeply embedded with what you do. So it’s not surprising that getting terminated is one of life’s most stressful and devastating events. This is not an easy thing to bounce back from, but bounce back you must if you want to move on and have a successful career. Because no one’s going to hire someone who’s feeling sorry for him- or herself.
Here’s how you can get your head back in the game:
If there was ever a time to veg out and relax, this is it. It’s hard to job search if you’re filled with self-judgment, anger, or shame over being fired. Give yourself time to grieve the loss in its entirety—the daily routine that was familiar and comfortable, the interactions with former colleagues, and the sense of purpose or worth that your work gave you—even if it wasn’t your dream job. It’s a lot to take in.
Permit yourself to process the complicated emotions. Maybe even allow yourself some time to sulk and feel sorry for yourself. Go ahead and let it out. You are hereby granted permission to get into sweats and be the antithesis of productive.
But only for a limited time. After a couple of days, you’ve got to face the outside world again.
2. Don’t Compare and Despair
It’s probably not an ideal time to be swiping through the “best-of” reels of everyone else’s life. Feeling envious or comparing yourself to all the gainfully employed, seemingly happy people in your Facebook feed won’t help you bounce back. In fact, if you compare your situation (arguably one of your lowest moments) to everyone else’s, you risk falling into deep despair, and that’s no way to move on and forward with your career.
Take a social media breather for a while. Stop thinking about what everyone else is doing, and just focus on you.
3. Reframe the Situation
Thought it may seem impossible, one way to bounce back is to reframe your experience. Turn your job loss into an opportunity.
You’ll quickly see that being terminated doesn’t define you, your capabilities, or your future career any more than it did anyone else. In it’s simplest form, getting terminated is a data point you can use to make better decisions ahead. Fair warning: You might even find yourself feeling excited about what lies ahead.
4. Understand What Went Wrong
Being fired for performance (even if you weren’t made privy to the precise problems in your exit conversation) means you probably have some things to work on. The question is, how aware are you of your shortcomings? Do your best to identify them and avoid carrying them over to what lies ahead.
Start by re-reading all your employer reviews. Make note of the things you were praised for doing—you’ll want to take those with you to your next role. Consider too the development suggestions. What are they telling you? How could you have improved your performance?
5. Have Difficult Conversations
Reach out to trustworthy former colleagues and request honest feedback. Ask them about both your strengths and your weaknesses. Identify emerging themes or patterns after you’ve spoken with a few people. Recognize and acknowledge the issues that surface from this valuable and candid feedback.
When they share their thoughts, listen. Don’t argue, debate, or contradict. Don’t defend yourself or blame someone else. Simply pay attention. Although this is a challenging exercise, it will serve you, and your career, well.
6. Make a Corrective Action Plan
Once you get feedback from your peers, figure out what you can do to improve performance issues you want to work on. Is there a class you can take to build a skill? Books you can read to help you deal more effectively with others? Podcasts or videos that will help untangle the issues that stymied you? Do you need coaching in a certain area, such as time management?
Using difficult feedback to get back into a learning mode will boost your confidence as it shifts your focus from your loss to planning your next win.
7. Work Out
If you think working out seems to be the go-to answer for improving any situation, well, you’d be right. Exercising and feeling strong are a boon to your mental wellness and will give you the charge you need to begin the job search.
At a time like this, you want to do everything you can to move the odds squarely in your favor. Grab those kettle bells, go out for a run, or do daily push-ups, and notice how the physical exertion impacts your well-being.
8. Write a Thank You Note
To your former boss! As you come to terms with the devastating loss, hopefully, you’ll begin to see things more clearly. Maybe you’ll even conclude that your manager made the right decision for the company, and if not that exactly, then a decision that in the long run will prove good for you and your career path.
Even if it takes swallowing some pride, send a note to your former supervisor, thanking her for the opportunity to work in the organization and offering your assistance should she ever need help in the future. You never know where she or you will end up, and it’s entirely possible that your professional paths will cross again. And at the end of the day, a simple note of gratitude will get you a lot further than burning bridges.
Dear [Boss Name],
I want to thank you for the experience and opportunities I was given while I worked with you at [Name of Company]. I learned so much in that role, and I know my experience will serve me well as I make the next move in my career.
If I can support you in any way as you go forward, I do hope you’ll let me know. In the meantime, I wish you well in the future and much success.
Getting fired is a disruptive life event. But, it can also open doors and lead to great and unexpected opportunities. If you’re tempted to feel like a victim, challenge yourself to rise above it. Instead of asking why this happened, focus instead on how you can bounce back and what actions you need to take to do so.
Lea McLeod coaches people in their jobs when the going gets tough. Bad bosses. Challenging co-workers. Self-sabotage that keeps you working too long. She’s the founder of the Job Success Lab and author of the The Resume Coloring Book. Get started with her free 21 Days to Peace at Work e-series. Book one-on-one coaching sessions with Lea on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author