Michael N. Ceo, M.A. Home     Published Articles
        Licensed Professional Counselor Biography          Contact

Navigating a job loss: The three challenges

By Michael Ceo



Like all of life's crises, a job layoff presents us with the classic paradox of danger and opportunity. As a new chapter in our life is, perhaps, forced upon us, we are confronted with multiple challenges.


The most powerful is the psychological challenge. Studies on mental health emphasize that a feeling of being in control of our lives is crucial to our well-being. Yet the painful reality is that often there is precious little over which we do feel in control, and losing a job certainly represents a "survival level" threat. Hence, the psychological stakes are potentially high.


The first step is to diagnose the threat associated with the loss and chunk it down to size. In my experience counseling men and women facing job loss, the threats are stacked up.


The initial threat is to our psychological sense of self-worth. It is common and understandable for the first response to a pink slip to involve feelings of rejection and failure. The usual suspects of self-doubt and inadequacy feelings are raised in a reflex of soul-searching questions, such as, "What did I do wrong?" or "Why am I not good enough?" This is where psychological damage control needs to come in.


Try and get your ego out of the way and force yourself to evaluate with detached objectivity the circumstances that prompted the job loss. The reality is that shift happens. Mergers, management gyrations, changes in companies' fortunes and plain old politics can all play into a layoff.


Do your best not to take the loss too seriously. It is not necessarily about you, despite your worst fears and darkest inner demons.


The second challenge is financial. Despite the urgings of financial advisors, people do not necessarily have three months of emergency savings stashed away. Securing a home equity or other emergency credit line is best done when your finances are secure. By the time that pink slip arrives, the proverbial horse is already out of the barn.


In a movie I saw in which Richard Gere plays an attorney, he tells his client, "You know that rainy day money you've been saving. .... Well, it just started raining."


Simply put, avoid the mistakes that can come from making financial decisions in a crisis. I'll leave it to the financial columnists to offer further suggestions about this particularly difficult challenge associated with job loss.


The final and most pressing challenge involves undertaking a job campaign to re-establish your career. While this may be material for a future column, there are a few tips I can offer.


First, view a job campaign as being both investigative and clerical. Use your creative investigative talents to ferret out job leads. It helps to think out of the box. But the day-to-day nuts and bolts of a job search should be viewed as simply a clerical function.


Momentum is important. Your mission is to pump out resumes, applications and letters and to schedule meetings and interviews. Just do it.


Tap your network and try interviewing for information and advice. Get in practice putting your experience and skill in front of people. Set a reasonable goal for yourself in terms of letters or resumes out per day or week, and then rest.


Get support by surrounding yourself with people who are positive and encouraging. If you keep your process tuned up and maintain momentum, you are doing what you need to succeed.

Survival tips for facing a layoff


  • Diagnose the threat: Sit down with someone you trust and work on clarifying your fears and self-doubt.


  • Get financial advice: Avoid mistakes by thinking through the financial decisions that inevitably come with a change in income.


  • Stay positive: Try and look at the crisis as a new chapter in your life that will present you with opportunities to reinvent yourself. Uncover the adventure and relief that change brings.


  • Tap your spiritual resources: Now is the time to dust off your belief that a higher power has a loving plan for you. If this not easy for you, identify comforting philosophies such as, "When one door closes in life, another door opens."


  • Exercise: Use the extra time available to work out and get fit. Exercise fights the depressive tendencies that come with a crisis. If your body feels strong, your spirit will follow.