One of the responsibilities of professional leadership is providing employees with ongoing feedback about his or her performance.
Appropriate feedback all along the way gives an employee the opportunity to correct her course and to improve her performance if it’s lacking. Conventional wisdom teaches that, if leadership is doing their job right, no one should ever be surprised by losing his or her job (downsizing and layoffs excepted.)
I was surprised—let’s just leave it at that.
Losing my job and getting through the aftermath was one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced, but I learned some valuable lessons in the process and I’m going to share those lessons with you.
Consider this a crash course in: What To Do Before And After You Lose Your Job.
Phase 1: Before
1) Be prepared.
Some of the most important steps you’ll take actually need to happen before you lose your job.
Create a Plan A and Plan B.
Keep your finger on the pulse and consider, regularly and realistically, what you would do if you weren’t doing this. Make and maintain relationships with people outside your workplace; they’ll be your most likely route to another job if you need one. Your work buddies are the ones who’ll sympathize, drink and eat with you after the fall. You need them too. The others are in addition to, not instead of.
Pack Your Bags.
Not literally, but know that if losing your job comes as a “surprise,” you’ll likely also immediately lose access to your work files, email and voice mail. Hell, you may lose access to the building! If this is the only place you’ve stored your contacts, training certificates and resume (who would do that? So stupid! But while we’re on the topic, take a few minutes once or twice a year to update said resume…) you’re going to be a) screwed and b) at the mercy of HR, who may or may not feel inclined to help you out in this situation.
So, keep that stuff off-site: mail important documents to your personal email. Sync your contacts to your personal cell. Keep a current copy of your job description. A flash drive on your personal key-ring can hold it all.
Phase 2: After
2) Fall apart.
When it happens, you’re going to feel like you’ve been kicked in the guts.
Then you’ll probably go numb for a while. Enjoy that phase, because it doesn’t last long before the pain comes back with vengeance. Cry, swear, eat, sleep, drink, whatever. You’re allowed to wallow, just not forever. If this phase lasts more than a week or so you’ll have to combine it with the next phase, which can’t wait too long.
3) Get smart.
As soon as possible, you’ll need to start taking steps on you own behalf. There are some things no one can do for you.
Call in the Cavalry.
a) Get in touch with those folks you cultivated back in Phase 1. Let people know you’re available to work (I actually did this within the first 15 minutes of losing my job.)
b) Stay in touch with your other friends and family. They’re going to be worried about you and will want to know how to help. Getting dressed and going out are those things you may not want to do at first, but do it eventually. It really will make you feel better.
c) Apply for Unemployment Benefits.
If your former employer contests your claim, file an appeal and if the unemployment office schedules a conference call with you and your former employer, show up. You’d be surprised how many people don’t follow through.
d) Figure Out Your Finances.
Lose any unnecessary expenditure. Trim the fat, for now.
e) Update Your Resume.
And touch base with the people you’ll be listing as references.
As tempting as it may be to publicly badmouth your former employer, especially if you feel you’ve been wrongly terminated, resist that temptation. Surely I don’t need to explain why.
5) Get positive, stay positive.
You can spend this time in misery, or make the best of it. Since the choice is yours…
Enjoy the time as best you can. Play with the dogs (or kids, if you have them) garden, read, bake, learn to knit, finish that project, write that short story, learn to use your digital camera or start a blog. The world is full of people who wish they had time to do those things. You do have the time—use it.
Practice good mental, emotional, and spiritual hygiene.
Make sure your self-talk isn’t self-defeating. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Be kind to yourself. While not necessarily easy, it really is just that simple.
6) It is what it is.
I am an absolute believer that things happen as they should, and that the journey—delays, obstacles and all—is as important as the destination. Use this experience to look at your life, and your beliefs about your life in new ways. Maybe there’s a lesson there. Maybe there isn’t. The point is, you can’t undo what’s happened, but you can determine what you’ll make of it and what it will make of you.
7) Bounce back.
You will. Really. Until then…
This too shall pass.
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