You can’t believe what your supervisor just said: “Our company is
feeling the impact of the economic nose dive. So we’re going to have to
eliminate your position, effective today. Now let’s take a minute to
review your severance plan.”
Instantly, you’re in shock. Controlling your inner turmoil isn’t
easy. A tidal wave of emotion sweeps over you. You feel cheated: “This
isn’t fair,” you’re thinking, “because I’ve been loyal and productive.
Why not Alice, who never got her work done on time?”
You are afraid: “How am I going to pay our mortgage? And Jenny has
three more years of college. Where is her tuition coming from?”
You are resentful: “After all I have done for these people, they owe me a promotion, not a pink slip.”
Your feelings are hurt. You are profoundly sad. As your supervisor
asks for your office keys, your eyes sting from the mounting tears that
are ready to flow.
You want to protest, fight back, demand an appointment with the CEO, and even talk with an attorney.
Obviously, Your first major problem is to subdue your anxiety, despair, and resentment.
I faced that problem, too. In 1996, the year had dawned with great
promise. As vice president of a charitable organization, I had exceeded
my fund raising goals by thiry-one percent. My salary was excellent,
and I had just deposited a strong year-end bonus. The signs pointed
toward remaining in my current position until voluntary retirement.
Then my supervisor entered my office, shut the door, and said, “I have
an unpleasant job to do today.”
From a couple of vantage points, the odds didn’t look good for me.
My fiftieth birthday was behind me, and I was well aware of an unspoken
managerial preference for “new faces and fresh ideas,” which ordinarily
translates into younger employees. My quest would be tougher than the
same challenge a decade earlier.
Too, my salary had been at a high level I wasn’t sure I could match.
And I was racing against time, as my severance package would last just
a few months.
Like you, I felt like launching a counterattack, starting with, “You’ve had your say, now you’re going to listen to what I really think about you and everybody else in management.”
What stopped me? An inner voice told me that combative response
would only make my situation worse. Whether my firing was justifiable
or not, I would need positive references. A potential employer might
ask my HR Director, “Did Bill leave a good impression there?” Then too,
spiteful words would rule out possibilities of eventually asking for an
extension of benefits.
Your second major problem: Telling relatives and friends
On your way home, you’re likely to feel ashamed. You silently ask,
“How could I let down those who love me and believe in me?” Facing your
family and friends seems unbearably tough.
I still remember when my wife came home from her job that January
day, asking the usual, “Well, how was your day?” Without delay, I told
her what had happened. I didn’t blame anybody else, nor did I play the
“But we’ll lose our home,” she said “That’s a logical fear,” I
responded,”but you can take my word that won’t happen.” I was right.
Ten years later, we made our final mortgage payment.
That night, we called my wife’s mother, our daughters, my brother
and two sisters. We made a list of friends to call the next day. I
opened those phone conversations with, “I want to tell you something
before you hear it from somebody else.”
Your third major problem: The tendency to postpone your job search
You are tempted to share relaxed lunches with friends you didn’t
have time for before. You can head to the gym mid morning , and find
other unemployed people to talk with. And isn’t this an opportune time
to take a few golf lessons? “Gotta wait until I’m in a better mood,”
you reason, “before I start knocking on doors.”
I faced those temptations, because leisure and recreation are
unquestionably more enjoyable than a job search. Yet they don’t move
you closer to a paycheck. So–with the help of an outplacement
specialist my former employer provided–I mapped out a job search
strategy. Instead of giving myself a vacation, I went after my next job
with the persistence that got me my first professional position.
During the next six months, I phoned every colleague who might know about job openings, and I followed the referrals diligently.
Your fourth major problem: Taking the wrong job just so you’ll get paid.
As your bank account dwindles and your benefits deadline approaches,
you might feel obligated to take the first job offer you get. “Whew,”
you sigh with relief, “that was a close one. At least now I’ve got some
After chasing many empty leads, I took that misstep which is common
for the unemployed. I accepted a job that didn’t match my interests or
skills. Almost immediately, I felt out of place. My employer sensed a
mismatch at least as soon as I did. After four months out of state, I
returned home, once again off the payroll.
Now I had two recent job losses to explain. I hadn’t
simplified my quest, I had complicated it. So learn from my mistake
before you impulsively grab the first job offer.
Your fifth major problem: Overcoming your deficiencies.
During candid analysis of your skill set, you will identify gaps
that might limit your marketability. Let’s assume that you live in a
bilingual community, yet you can’t read or speak anything other than
your native tongue. All right, now is the time to erase that
limitation. Enroll in language classes or hire a tutor.
During my self-appraisal, I identified several areas of weakness.
Example: While my colleagues were becoming comfortable with computers,
I delegated that responsibility to my staff. Now I had no one to
delegate to, so I took charge myself. I bought a computer and paid for
private tutoring. Soon I became comfortable with the Internet and with
word processing. Months later, I enrolled in evening seminars on
Power Point and Desktop publishing.
Your sixth major problem: Identifying your major interests and assets.
Having just been told that you are not valuable enough to remain at
your company, you could easily lose your self-confidence. Big
mistake–because you need strong self esteem now, possibly stronger than
ever. So balance your list of liabilites by spotlighting your assets.
Write them down specifically, not generally. Don’t be overly modest.
Keep an old athletic adage in mind: “It isn’t bragging, if you can do
I asked myself honestly, “What do I enjoy doing the most, and what
do I do best?” I recalled that during all my years of fundraising and
management, I had freelanced as a writer, speaker, broadcaster, seminar
director, speech coach and consultant at every opportunity.
In my case, that review of my professional talent and preferences
turned me into an entrepreneur. “Now,” I decided, “I can do all these
communication activities without creating a conflict with an employer.”
So exactly one year after my dismissal–including, as I said, another
job loss–my wife and I talked about launching a new career thrust.
“Let’s do it,” we agreed. I started outlining speeches and seminars,
and boldly chose a company name.
That step toward self-emplyment might not describe the direction you
will take. Even so, you will expand your job options by becoming keenly
aware of your in-demand skills and services.
Your seventh major problem: Trying to handle your job search without help
Sort of predictable, don’t you think? After all, you had spent
hundreds of hours with associates who just rejected you. If they turned
against you, how can you trust strangers?
I felt that way at the start. For six months, I made cold
calls–which brought two negative results: a larger phone bill, and a
drop in pride.
Fortunately, next I turned to respected local business leaders for
advice, requesting candid feedback for the speech/seminar titles I
showed them. They helped me determine which topics would have the
My smartest move came when I joined both the Georgia Speakers
Association and the National Speakers Association. I attended training
sessions and conventions, always learning more about how to position
myself to attract clients. Within two years I was presenting convention
programs for the national organization, which I hadn’t heard of
Your eighth major problem: Expecting things to happen too quickly.
If this is your first time to be between jobs, your impatience will
reach unprecedented levels. You get furious with the comment, “We like
your qualifications. When our hiring freeze ends next year, we’ll get
back with you.” Next year. . .how are you supposed to survive and feed your family in the meantime?
My progress wasn’t immediate either. During the building period, we
went months without income from me. I contributed hope, promises, and a
rigorous work schedule. And yes, some letters and e-mails went
unanswered, calls weren’t returned, “sure things” weren’t so sure after
all, and there was no forecast of when business would increase.
For advice and encouragement, I turned to experienced professional
speakers. Even the big names talked about how cyclical this business
is. “Hang in there,” they advised. “If we made a good living
eventually, then so can you.”
I heeded their good advice. I began to think of failures and
rejections as detours, not dead end streets. This approach became
especially beneficial right after 9/11 and during the current economic
So if you don’t get instant results, have faith that your dedication and determination will pay off.
Although my beginning months weren’t all that encouraging, good
things started happening. After hosting my own radio show for a year, I
turned the broadcasted material into my book, The Complete Communicator: Change Your Communication, Change Your Life! A Waldenbooks store held the first of a hundred book signings.
More than a dozen years after I started my business, I am delighted to share a few professional highlights:
*Enrichment Lecturer for Oceania and Celebrity Cruise Lines in the Caribbean and Bermuda
*Interviewed by more than 300 radio stations
*Keynote speaker, British Columbia Legal Management Association in Whistler, BC
*Produced 28 instructional videos for You Tube
*Stage Fright video on You Tube has attracted 12,755 viewers
*Directed a management seminar for the Ritz-Carlton Cancun
*Provided speech coaching for Gillette, Procter & Gamble, Duracell, and others
*Keynote speaker for a bank celebrating its 75th anniversary
*Interviewed by Cosmopolitan, Entrepreneur, Investor’s Busines Daily, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Delta’s SKY, HR Today, Career Builder, and Working Mother
So if you have gone through a job loss, or expect one soon, consider
me an example of a fired persion–and an older one at that–who wouldn’t
consider himself finished because he was fired. Amazingly, I have
demonstrated that life after downsizing can become even more joyful and
creative than before.
I recommend the recovery process that works for me. Forget “If only.
. . .” and move on to “Here’s what I’m going to do.” With the
understanding and support of family and colleagues, and with dogged
determination and drive, you’ll achieve those dreams that–like
mine–were once just part-time fantasies.