Menu Join now Search

Moving Forward After Losing a Job

Losing a job is like buckling into the last car for your first roller-coaster ride. Over the next few weeks or months, your emotions are going to plummet and soar again and again. How you handle this thrill ride can have profound effects on your life, your career and your family.
In my thirty-three years as a professional recruiter, I have seen people at every peak and valley of that ride. I have seen those who made good decisions resume a rising career. I have seen those who suffered through divorce and estrangement as their poor decisions or pessimistic attitude affected those around them. From my discussions with thousands of people in between jobs, here are the steps in a strategy I recommend for moving forward after losing a job:
Recognize, Understand and Manage Your Emotions. Studies have shown that next to the death of a family member, job loss is tied with divorce as the next most stressful event in a person’s life. Psychologists also agree that the loss of a job and the loss of a spouse seem to have the longest recovery periods. Recognizing that losing a job then having to look for a new one is going to inflict incredible, and possibly long-term, emotional strain on you is critical in those first few days when many of the most severe collapses occur. This is especially true for those who have been employed in their present job for five years or more.
Having recognized and accepted that your emotions are about to take a beating, it is important that you understand and steel yourself for the natural reactions your mind will undergo in response to that stress. Understand that while you may not have had control over what happened, you do have control over your reaction to it. The healthy reaction is not to deny the feelings, but to recognize them, acknowledge them and get over them as quickly as possible. Too often, a long grieving period is incapacitating and prevents a person from looking for a new job. Life isn’t fair . . . get over it . . . and get on with it.
To completely understand your emotional state, it is important that you express your feelings in absolute detail. One method is to write down your feelings so that they can be seen. Pour out your emotions completely. Write until you are physically and emotionally tired of writing. Then, read what you’ve written—out loud and as many times as you can until you cannot stand to hear it any more. Some of my clients have even recorded themselves and listened to it over and over.
Sharing your feelings with a loved one, counselor or clergyman often helps. Other than a spouse, it is important that the people to whom you express your emotions are trained in dealing with emotionally distressful situations. “Pity parties” do not help . . . trained, nonjudgmental professionals do.
After writing and repeatedly listening to your feelings, the next step is to manage your emotions. Remember, the objective is not to eliminate these emotions altogether. The objective is to minimize their impact so that you can move toward a “good enough,” positive emotional state that allows you to interview well and find a new job.
To manage any emotion, it is critical that you objectify it. As you write, speak and review your feelings, ask yourself out loud, “Can I let go of this feeling?” followed by, “Do I want to let go of this feeling?” Don’t be surprised if the answer to each one of these questions is no. It is not uncommon to hang on to your feelings during a grieving period. It is important that you feel them over and over and over until you are genuinely and sincerely ready to let them go. You may have to review what you’ve written or recorded a number of times before finally being able to answer these questions positively.
Another management technique uses visualization. This means closing your eyes in a relaxed state and playing a “movie” in your mind of each instance of frustration, disappointment, loss of self-esteem, shock, etc. You should be associated into the movie, and you should imagine the pictures as close and colorful as possible. With concentration, you will be able to hear the sounds, see the colors and smell the smells as you feel the emotions—even the temperature in the air and the taste, if possible.
With the movie playing vividly in your mind, turn the picture black-and-white and eliminate the sounds, the taste and the smells, etc. Doing this sends the picture as far out in front of them as possible until it becomes merely a speck—way, way out in front of you. Doing this exercise over and over works to neutralize the emotions associated with the situation.
By dealing with anger and fear in an honest and detailed way, you relieve the acidity of the emotion. I’ve read of another technique that seems plausible although I have no confirmation from clients: a Native American shaman recommends that a person go out into a natural setting, where one feels comfortable and has privacy, and dig a hole in the ground. The person lies on her stomach, flat on the ground with her head over the hole and screams her feelings into the hole. Finally, the hole is filled with dirt thereby symbolically composting the negative feelings and planting something new and positive to grow in its stead.
 Following are questions a person might ponder to provide the catharsis I have recommended above.
  • How was I frustrated in my last employment?
  • What were the disappointments I had with the job or the company?
  • Did I lose self-esteem in losing the job? How? (describe in detail)
  • Was I surprised at being laid off, fired or forced out? Honestly, should I have seen it coming?
  • Who is to blame for my having to look for a new job? Was it them or was it me? (describe in detail)
  • Do I have any shame in needing to look for new job? What will other people think or say about me being unemployed? How did they feel about me being fired or laid off?
  • Do I feel isolated by having to look for new job? Do others really understand?
  • Am I denying any of the events or situations that happened? Can I describe them clearly even if they are emotional?
  • Toward whom do I feel hostile, if anyone? Why, if so, do they deserve my hostility?
  • Complete this sentence: I am angry because_______________. (Provide a very in-depth explanation as to why you’re angry. Be as angry as you want to be. Write for as long as you would like.)
  • Do I feel guilty about what happened in losing my job? Is there anything I could have done to prevent the situation?
  • Do I feel sad, empty, fatigued, frustrated, angry . . . ? How does a “poor me” feel?
  • Describe how unfair the whole situation is.
  • Can I let go of these feelings? Do I want to let go of these feelings?
Written originally for by Pam Williams.