I’m not big on self-help articles full of blue-sky advice. I’m writing this because being laid off is traumatic, and I thought it might be helpful to share my journey with you — the story of how I reinvented myself, what it took, missteps along the way and how, in the end, I made misfortune work for me. I hope you’ll find this useful for your own journey.
If you’re impatient, here’s the one-minute takeaway up front: The key challenge is learning to see yourself in a new light, as someone who is ready to change and make a contribution. From there, you can take the steps to transform that image of yourself into a reality.
I once sold Fuller Brush products door-to-door (that should give you a hint about my age), and I was given this advice: If you knock on enough doors, one of them will be the right one. And that’s what I’ve found – persistence and a positive attitude pays off.
Here’s how I went through my own attitude readjustment:
The Start of My Reinvention Journey
For most of my career, I worked freelance from project to project, primarily as a video editor, with some writing and producing credits as well, doing projects for PBS, trade associations, educational organizations and corporations. Along the way, I also spent 10 years doing political media and issue ads.
I became known as a film doctor, called in to fix troubled projects. I saw myself as a hired gun with a tough job to do, doing it as close to perfection as I could and then riding off into the sunset.
Eight years ago, I was invited to join a small production company. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: “What would it take for you to work here?” I’d never had a “real” job before and thought I’d give it a try.
I was hired as their senior editor, and we worked as a team on dozens and dozens of projects until one day my boss said I was done. I never saw it coming. After eight years of hard work and helping the company grow, it was no fun sitting there hearing that my world was about to be thrown into chaos.
Change Happens Whether We Like It or Not
Truth be told, I had also become bored at my job. The excitement of being a hired gun, of working my way through a morass of problems, had been gradually replaced by too many assignments that just weren’t challenging. To keep it interesting, I tried to bring something new or different to each project. I often asked for more responsibility — to write, produce and manage projects — but rarely got it.
What I knew about myself was that I thrived in difficult situations. I liked challenges. I didn’t want to admit it, but it was no longer a good fit for me there, anyway — I’d been marking time and trying not to let my boredom get me in trouble.
I was mad at losing my job, anxious about finding a new one, nervous about money and depressed at being thrown to the wolves. But at the same time, I was also excited about finding something new that would be fun and interesting (as well as naïve in thinking I could make it happen in just a few weeks, happy I had a new challenge in front of me and worried that despite my best efforts, my best days were behind me).
I decided I was done with the past, done with editing — I would reinvent myself as a writer. To which the only rational response would seem to be: Good luck with that. Luckily, by reassessing my career path and readjusting my attitude, I learned that it was doable.
Reassessing Your Situation
My biggest challenges were my attitude, expectations and — since I was launching a new career — my need to define who I was and where I was going:
- I would need to have a positive attitude — and given all my baggage with anger, anxiety and being laid off, that would take some work.
- I would need to deal with my expectations, which were wildly unrealistic, although I didn’t know that at the time.
- I would need to present myself to the world as something different: a communications professional. I had worked with plenty of people in this field and thought I would recreate myself in that image. I realize that sounds a little glib, but I decided if that’s what people were looking for, that’s what I should show them. That was a mistake. Instead of focusing on who I am and what I had to offer, I ignored a fundamental truth: a square peg rarely fits into a round hole. (More about that in a future post.)
The Importance of a Body and Soul Action Plan
To make all this happen, I knew I had to look good and feel good –- and that meant taking care of myself and staying fit.
So, first thing, I joined a gym and started going in the morning four to five times a week. I picked a place downtown to get me out of the house and also continued with my yoga practice twice a week. After a while, I felt better and liked the way I was getting in shape. It was also great for my self-image.
Challenging myself physically with an ongoing practice was really important, not just to feel better but also to help fight my anxiety and depression. Strenuous activity keeps you in the moment — you can’t dwell on your troubles when you’re challenging yourself physically.
I also joined a health plan I could afford and made sure I would continue seeing my doctor. I have a fairly healthy diet, and I kept to it. I wanted to lose a few pounds and did. (Again, good for that old self-esteem.)
Tending Your Emotional Landscape
If my physical activity cast a ray of sunshine, my emotional landscape found me mired in a swamp of anxiety. I was frustrated, angry and depressed — and it was taking its toll. I felt trapped inside a negative feedback loop, mentally calling up and reliving disappointing moments from my life over and over again (including the scene when my boss told me I was done).
I took myself to a therapist to get help. She recommended cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) sessions, joining an anxiety therapy group and seeing a psychiatrist for anti-anxiety medication. I had been in therapy before, and it felt good to be doing something to help myself.
CBT therapy and the anxiety group were enormously helpful. With a focus on specific skills, cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you how to face your anxiety and fears and confront all that negativity. And the group taught me how to listen to the anxiety rant in my head and challenge it. Challening that “OMG, something terrible is about to happen!” uneasiness brings anxiety up short. I started to get back in control instead of letting my emotions have their way. This is important –- you need to plant positive seeds in your emotional landscape, especially after something like a job loss.
The medication also helped get me over a hump and feel more relaxed. I took it for a few months until I felt the benefits of the CBT and then, with the help of my psychiatrist, I weaned myself off it.
I also tried visualizing positive situations where I would be working again — this time, doing something I liked. That helped. So did yoga and deep-breathing exercises. I tried to just float through the anxiety. When anxiety seeped into my awareness like some drunken party guest, I’d say to myself, “Oh, it’s back…I’m feeling anxious. I’ll just drop my shoulders, relax, slow down… breathe in, breathe out…chill.” That did the trick.
The thing about anxiety is you never totally get rid of it. It will always pop up at difficult moments. But you can decide whether to let it grab a hold of you or not. You have a choice about how you deal with it — just as you have a choice about how you deal with a job loss.
Getting Moral Support
After I was laid off, I debated what I should tell people. My boss said I should tell people I was resigning from my job, but that didn’t feel right.
I usually just suck it up, put my head down and tough it out, but this time I thought it was important to take a risk, be open and share what happened. It would be harder, but also cathartic, if I just told the truth. I decided to call some friends and colleagues. I wasn’t sure how they’d react and certainly didn’t want their pity.
What happened was really cool: Telling my story over and over again took the sting out of it. Also, by opening up and sharing, I got a lot of moral support. Instead of feeling humiliated, I got encouragement, and that made me feel better about myself and the way forward.
There’s More to Life Than Looking for Work
One thing I had to learn the hard way is that your life doesn’t stop because you’re unemployed.
In the beginning, I was obsessed. I felt guilty if I took time from my job search to do anything else. After a while, the relentless way I was pursuing my search overwhelmed me. I started to feel hopeless and depressed again.
So I stopped behaving as though all I’m about is looking for work — it’s too depressing and too limiting, and it put me back inside that negative feedback loop. I made time to do things that make me happy.
Wherever you live, there’s a world of free stuff happening every week. Find out what’s going on, put it on your calendar and go. Even if you just go by yourself, you’ll feel more connected to something bigger than your unemployment problem.
Attitude Adjustment Checklist
To sum it up, no matter what you’re facing, the only thing you really have control over is your attitude. (Click here to tweet this thought.) I suggest working on that attitude with passion and dedication.
Dealing with a layoff and finding a new career path is a long-distance race. To do well, you need to nourish and protect your self-esteem. How to do that?
- Deal with the physical side. Exercise frequently and consistently.
- Deal with the emotional side. If anxiety is troubling you, try CBT. You can find CBT resources here and here.
- Get some therapy, get a support group. Sharing with others is very helpful — it feels good to discover you don’t have to fight this battle by yourself.
- Make sure you do some things to have fun. See friends. Take advantage of what’s out there. There are lots of free or cheap events you can take advantage of.
- Change your focus and start something new. Do volunteer work, play sports, play music, join a club, whatever. Pursue things that take you out of your head and focus you away from your problems.
- According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, it typically takes two years to resolve an identity crisis. Give yourself time to reflect, to make mistakes and to get back on course.
- Know that nothing lasts forever. The more you’re able to embrace change, the easier it will be to “break on through to the other side.”
In my next post in this series, I’ll discuss the first steps I took in reinventing myself — namely, getting involved in social media and blogging.
Has a layoff or other career setback put you in an attitude rut? How can you readjust your mindset?
Dan Bailes creates killer copy, standout blogging and powerful but graceful video — wielding his keyboard to enhance brands, motivate audiences, celebrate heroes and inspire change. Blogging about innovation, creativity and vision on TheVisionThing, he can be found at danbailes.com.