By Anne Evenson
It may not feel like it initially, but getting laid off can be an opportunity in disguise.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Winston Churchill, British Statesman and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Getting laid off is alarming for anyone, no matter their circumstance. I recently experienced this unpleasant event myself, and it initially made me feel powerless, afraid and adrift. Fortunately, I learned that a layoff could be an opportunity rather than a misfortune.
If you’ve been made redundant, you may be wondering what to do next. Here are a few ways to not only recover from a layoff but turn it into an opportunity to redefine your priorities and recalibrate your career trajectory.
Process Your Feelings
A layoff can be extremely distressing, especially if it was unexpected, and even more so if you’re supporting a family. You might even feel panicked, and while this is a natural response to this incredibly stressful situation, try not to let anxiety overwhelm you. Feelings drive behavior, and fear interferes with good decision-making by inhibiting your ability to process your thoughts in a logical, rational way. Another emotion you may experience is grief, and this is not uncommon.
After I lost my job, I grieved for the projects I’d never see come to fruition, the teams I would no longer be a part of, and the events I wouldn’t attend. I had never lost a job before, so being laid off felt like a personal rejection. It took some practice, but soon I learned to steer clear of negative self-talk and let go of the stigma associated with a job loss. There is a distinction between being laid off and getting fired. Generally, people are terminated “for cause,” like poor performance or inappropriate behavior. A layoff is the result of circumstances beyond your control, like a company merger or cost-cutting.
It’s important to mourn the loss of your job, colleagues, professional identity and work routine. Even when you have some forewarning hearing the actual words, “Your role has been eliminated” can be jarring. Allow yourself time to process all the emotions associated with this experience so you can analyze your situation, make plans and practice self-care.
Seek Financial Assistance
Apply for unemployment benefits as soon as possible. They are part of an employer-paid program explicitly created to provide temporary, partial income to help you through this turbulent financial situation, so take advantage of them.
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a record-breaking number of mass layoffs and furloughs over the past twelve months, so there are additional resources available that may help you through this difficult time. The federal government has implemented the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides disaster assistance through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, mortgage payment forbearance and other stimulus packages. Many creditors, banks and service providers have initiated COVID-19 hardship policies and programs to help their customers. Remember to consider the pros and cons before signing up for any of these programs.
Reflect and Refocus
Take time to reflect on your career and your life, so you can gain perspective and make intentional choices for your future. Instead of jumping right into a job search, use this time to catalog all your professional accomplishments and underscore those that were the most meaningful to you. What activities did you enjoy? Which projects inspired and energized you? Whom did you enjoy working with and why? This process can reveal new insights about what you’re good at that you also love doing and help you more precisely target your subsequent job applications and interview responses. You can also use this information to update your resume and LinkedIn page.
A few weeks into my unemployment, a company offered me a position that I would previously have considered an excellent opportunity. However, due to a lengthy commute, long hours and excessive travel, I declined the offer. Even though I was afraid to refuse what felt like a possible lifeline, I knew I would end up feeling overworked and unfulfilled and likely find myself searching for yet another new job if I accepted. I know it might feel unnerving to refuse a job offer, especially if you’ve submitted your resume multiple times and received few callbacks, but leaping at the first opportunity out of desperation is not the right move. Be selective when choosing your next position.
Your first days without a job are an opportunity to decompress, indulge in some introspection and rediscover the things that challenge and fulfill you. Pursue a hobby, restart your fitness program or try new recipes. Maintain a daily structure and practice self-care by getting adequate rest, eating healthfully and exercising regularly.
Channel some of this free time into developing new skills that you can add to your resume. Volunteer for an organization that supports a cause you’re passionate about; this a great way to learn new skills and expand your network. Are you drawn to something more creative? Consider taking a graphic design course. Do you feel strongly about helping people? Enroll in a nonprofit management program. Once you establish your new goals and objectives, you’ll be ready to plan your next career move with confidence.
After I recovered from the initial shock of suddenly losing my job, I discovered a renewed passion for pursuits that had lain dormant while I had my nose to the grindstone. Suddenly I had space and time to chase some of the aspirations I’d been holding back on for so long. Now I feel encouraged, re-energized and ready to reimagine a better future for myself!
Anne Evenson is a marketing specialist and copy editor working in Austin, Texas. She holds a BFA in Fibers and Printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute.
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