Today’s job market is faster paced than ever, with swift role changes around every corner. Learning you’re out of a job, whether it has to do with your performance or not, can be a tremendously stressful life event. Job loss often ranks among the highest in stress on a list of life-altering events such as a death in the family, divorce, and serious illness. In other cases, losing a key manager that was positioned to train you and advocate for your career advancement can also feel like a huge setback.
These experiences can lead to feelings of panic, grief, anger and turmoil about what to do next. If you let it, getting caught in a tailspin of emotions after a professional setback can keep you from moving forward in a productive way. Allow yourself a good rant with your friends and family (not your colleagues) about the misery and injustice of it all. Then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and pull together an action plan so you can get on with your life. No one wants to stay paralyzed like a deer in headlights after what feels like a dismantling career blow. If you find yourself struggling to build momentum, consider enlisting an executive coach who can be a strategic thought partner in creating your next career come-back.
1. Flip the script. Major changes like the loss of a job or manager who was critical to your advancement can lead to emotionally derailing thoughts, rattling one’s sense of direction and purpose. When clients in my coaching practice share professional setbacks with me, their emotionally charged reactions are often fueled by the perception that they’ve lost control of their future. Particularly for the hard-driving, high-achieving ‘Type A’ people that make up Silicon Valley, this feeling is particularly intolerable. Rant. Breathe. Shake it off. Hit the restart button. Relocate superpowers.
Adam* had spent the last 2 years pouring all of his time and talent into an early stage startup after leaving a lucrative but uninspiring job at a large corporation. He’d given up higher compensation for the chance to hone skills and autonomy typically not accessible at his level of professional development. When the company shutdown unexpectedly as a result of cofounder conflict, he couldn’t stop ruminating about his decision to stay with the startup for as long as he had, and felt cheated thinking of all the financial sacrifices he’d made.
After losing a job, it’s completely normal to re-think every decision you made that contributed to the grim outcome of being out of a job. People can get stuck obsessing about the past, especially if they feel jilted. Moving on can feel like an unfair concession, but dwelling on the past will only impede your ability to start over, not vindicate you. Take inventory of what you’ve learned, where you are developmentally in your life, and let that inform how to prioritize your next work move. Ask yourself “how have I changed? What new insights am I taking with me? What opportunities am I free to pursue now?” To develop an empowered point of view- flip the script. Rebuild your narrative about what happened, and what’s going to happen next in such a way that you feel emboldened to turn the storyline into one of courage and success. This is not to be mistaken for ignoring the role you played in how things transpired, or fail to learn from how you got there. But those decisions are done and dusted, and now it’s time to move on. Develop a new narrative that captures the best possible scenario. A few examples to illustrate the point:
Reactive thought: “I sacrificed for nothing, and losing this job is evidence that that my gamble with startups is a failure. I’ve lost time and money and now I’m behind in life.”
Reframed thought: “The calculated risk that I took gave me firsthand, invaluable experiences and insights that I could not have gained otherwise. I now have clarity on what types of opportunities are best suited to my priorities in life. With that knowledge I can start again with improved focus and direction to achieve my goals.”
Notice the different approach to defining one’s progress and success in life- instead of measuring yourself by outcome alone, evaluate how capable you are of responding to life’s setbacks and challenges with aplomb.
2. Work backwards from the future. Fast forward for a moment in your professional trajectory. What specific learning and skill mastery will you need to successfully advance? Staying focused on solutions, flexible problem-solving, and the ability to dig your way out of complex situations will aways be seen as evidence of competency under fire by future employers.
Catherine* landed a coveted role at a prestigious financial firm after graduating with honors from an Ivy League university. She was meticulous in architecting her career trajectory, parlaying her work experience to train in a new area of finance under the tutelage of a managing director at a different firm. When this manager left for a rare work opportunity elsewhere, her chance to develop skills outside her wheelhouse was cut short. Emotionally immobilized and without a game plan, Catherine was at a loss for what to do next.
When elements outside of our control topple our specific strategy for achievement, it can feel like our route to get from point A to point B has been destroyed. Take a solution-focused approach and identify alternative routes to stay on target. Imagine where you want to be two steps ahead in your career path, rather than focusing on what’s directly in front of you. I asked Catherine to share with me what type of role she would be competitive for had her manager stayed and provided the specific guidance and training she’d wanted.
“Let’s say you got everything you wanted from the current role you’re in, and now you’re interviewing for your next advancement. What markers of success can you draw attention to in your interview? What specific qualities and skills will you need to have demonstrated to be competitive for the next level of growth?”
Catherine shared that she would need to demonstrate a high level of autonomy in her day-to-day work operations, process communication effectively between various parties involved in decision-making, and show success in developing and maintaining relationships that lead to new business. From there we mapped out specifics around whom she might target for support and how, identifying internal and external resources for mentorship and learning, and personal routines to help her stay on track.
None of these approaches are particularly swift or easy. They take a high level of personal discipline and an ongoing willingness to course-correct when you notice yourself going astray. Keeping people in your life who are closely aware of your intentions and support your efforts helps! With practice and mastery, these steps will be to your overfall benefit by helping you cultivate new and effective resiliency skills when life throws you a curveball.
*Names have been changed for privacy