Survive the shock, fear, anger of a lay-off by reaching out


By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

“This isn’t paradise,” are the words I heard spoken by a nationally recognized cleric just after the September 11th bombings. These words have stuck with me for weeks as I have reassessed my life and purpose and helped others do the same. This reassessment has taken several forms for people as we realize how fragile our lives and our dreams are. Some of us are rededicating ourselves to our relationships or starting new ones because we realize that we can’t have too many friends. Some are seeking out a stronger spiritual commitment. Others are picking up long lost career and volunteer goals. Whatever is missing in your life, no doubt you feel a strong pull to correct the lack.

With the national economy and world economy stretched to the breaking point, some people are facing layoffs in record numbers. This is yet another way that individuals and families are being forced to reevaluate their priorities. If you are a recently laid off employee, it may not feel like a layoff is your choice, but it certainly is an opportunity to reevaluate your life direction. Once you get past the shock, fear and anger of a layoff, you can begin to think through what you are going to do next.

But getting past the shock, fear and anger are not easy. Your safety is being challenged, as are your illusions that you are in control of your destiny. The first step in dealing with the crisis of a layoff is to get busy. Engage in activities that you do have control over and mastery of. If you don’t have a job create one for yourself. There are always long neglected house projects that you can get into. Perhaps this is the time to spend more time with the kids such as extra help with homework or coaching them on a sport or musical skill. If you have been lagging behind in your community service, roll up your sleeves and make yourself available to your favorite charity. This is also a time to catch up on much needed time to yourself. Catch up on your reading, sewing, crafts and hobbies. Teach yourself to play the piano. Build a Zen garden. In other words use your creativity to prove to yourself that you do have value.

It is not best to search for a new job while in the emotional throes of shock, fear and anger. You will come across in job interviews as neurotic. Better to give yourself a chance to cool down and come to terms with this life change. The idea of getting busy with projects is to prove to yourself that you do have value. The layoff is an economic fact, not a demonstration of your value as a worker or a human being. Rarely are people laid off during these times because they are incompetent. Hard working, competent employees are hard to find, train and keep. Just ask any employer. So the layoff is a result of economic hardship or perhaps your employer’s miscalculation, but it is unlikely that it is a result of your innate value. So give yourself a couple of weeks to a month to come to grips with this change in your life.

Once the sting of being rejected wears off, you can get down to the serious work of re-evaluating your priorities and finding the job that best uses your talents. Even if you took a voluntary layoff, you need time to adjust to the change in your life. Maybe you don’t feel as rejected as the surprise layoff, but you are still out of a job. If you jump into a new job too quickly you may find that you wish you would get laid off again. Use this time to ask yourself some important questions about where you want to go next in your life. Here are some sample questions to get you going:

  1. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? Could you still pursue this goal realistically?
  2. What aspect of your childhood dream could you pursue? If it’s not realistic financially or geographically could you still pursue some of it on a volunteer basis to give you a sense of following your destiny?
  3. What have people always told you, you were good at? How could this be fashioned into a new career?
  4. If you really loved the job you lost, where else could you work that has a similar position? Don’t be too quick to move geographically. There may actually be another employer who is hiring.

One mistake that recently laid-off people make is to hide away from others. This isn’t the time to do that. In fact this is the time to ask others for help. Tell them what you are looking for. Ask them for feedback about your goals. Ask them to tell you what your strengths are. Always ask them for names of people who might be in a position to help you. When you reach out to others like this you are sending the message that you are of value and expect to be appreciated and hired. An added bonus is that people like to help. Helping you makes others feels as if they are doing their part. It’s nice to feel needed, especially by a competent individual has courage enough to ask for advice.