The day was January 14, 2009, but it still feels like yesterday.
Sitting at my desk, I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I turned, I was greeted by the head of my group, who asked, “Can you please swing by my office?” I knew it was over. I sheepishly followed him, like a kid being escorted to the principal’s office, my heart pounding uncontrollably.
Our conversation lasted only a minute or two. He thanked me for my work and told me that times were tough. Cuts needed to be made. He handed me the number for our HR rep and wished me the best. Moments later, I was asked to leave the building.
I’d only been an investment banking analyst for six months. Considering that I joined the company in 2008, I knew that the industry was in a weird place. For weeks there had been talks of layoffs, and I had a gut feeling that when they came, I would be included.
I wasn’t wrong.
I spent the next four months searching for a job. I can’t remember the number of roles I applied for, but by the time I found my next role, I’d interviewed with 20 companies and 65 people. That four-month period of my life was hard, and I battled discouragement throughout it. Ultimately, though, getting laid off taught me indispensable lessons.
1. Own It
When I got terminated, I wanted to rationalize why it had happened. I wanted to fault the market. I wanted to point fingers at colleagues. But at the end of the day, I was accountable. There were, in fact, several projects that I’d turned in below expectations, and although I didn’t get fired for performance reasons, I believe that I might’ve escaped the layoffs if I’d been a top performer. Of course, it’s always easier to say what you should’ve done differently looking back.
Regardless if you were laid off or fired, trying to assign blame to others will only make matters worse. Even if everything that happened at the office was out of your control, you can control how you react to it. And no one’s ever said that sitting around and pointing fingers led them to their next opportunity.
2. Put it Into Perspective
During my search, I interviewed at and was rejected by 19 companies. I eventually learned to deal with the rejection by putting things into perspective. Going on long walks, reading books, and serving other people allowed me to step away from the disappointment I was feeling and to think clearly.
When you’re in the middle of a career crisis that feels like it’s taking over your life, take a step back to focus on the good things in your life can provide much needed perspective. You may feel like it’s the end of the world, but in the grand scheme of things, it is will likely be just a small setback.
Don’t get me wrong: Being unemployed and seeing a growing pile of bills is stressful. But you will get another job, and this will eventually be just a blip on your career path.
3. Seek Mentors
You’re strong, so you don’t need help from others, right?
As silly as that may sound, that’s the approach I took when I got let go. I wanted to prove that I was independent, that I could handle it on my own. I spent several weeks trying to go at it alone before a close friend helped me understand how foolish I was being.
Realizing I needed guidance in my search, I set aside my pride (harder than it sounds) and started seeking mentorship. The people I built relationships with during this period proved essential. They provided advice, encouragement, and, in some instances, job leads.
As LinkedIn Chairman Reid Hoffman puts it, “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you're playing a solo game, you'll always lose out to a team.”
4. Focus on What You Can Learn
Getting laid off forced me to think seriously about what I wanted to do with my life. It was during this time of reflection that I first thought a career in finance might not be the right fit. While I wouldn’t end up transitioning to human resources for several years, this period motivated me to look inward and better understand my strengths and aspirations.
I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now if I hadn’t had that period of unemployment to reflect on what I missed about my role—and what I didn’t.
Losing a job isn’t pleasant. I'm not going to try and sugarcoat it for you. There were days during my longer-than-expected unemployment when I felt defeated and down on myself. But, there’s no question in my mind that the experience ultimately made me stronger.
And in my next job, I can tell you that I worked harder than ever to ensure my success. You'll get through this, and you'll be better because of it, even if you can’t fathom that right now.