Coping with Job Loss and Moving Forward

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When we look at unemployment, we tend to focus on its economic effects. We rarely examine its psychological effects. Loss of self-esteem, control and trust can all result from losing your job and it’s of the utmost importance to learn how to cope.

I have met hundreds of people dealing with the psychological repercussions of unemployment. And everyone deals with them differently. For most of us, our work is central to our identity. The longer you are with a company and feel invested in the people you work with, the harder it is to move on.

But, we do move on.

First, you need to allow yourself time to move through the different stages of grief. Grief? Yes, some of the stages of grief response identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are the same stages you may go through when you lose your job. For instance:

Denial  “What the (insert expletive of choice)? How could this be happening?” This is your moment of disbelief. According to Ross, it’s a natural defense mechanism. You need to recognize this and accept the new reality.

Anger – It is ok to be angry about your unwelcome status of unemployment. Just don’t let it consume you. Acknowledge the following: This is a low place for me right now. I’m angry, but I’m not going to let losing my job, define who I am.

You may have waves of fear and panic. Write your fears down, validate them, but most importantly, recognize that dwelling on the negative will not bring about the positive. Use your imagination to picture yourself in a new job or having a successful interview. If you have a job interview set up, don’t dwell on the “what if?” Make a list of how you would handle any challenges that are worrying you.

Bargaining  “I promise to really appreciate every day in my next role and not take it for granted.” Often times, you bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. (Like the ex-boyfriend who says he still wants to be friends.) Clinging to the notion that if you just change your mindset, you will expedite the arrival of your next job or lessen the horrible feelings you are having, is not productive. Move on from this step. (And the ex-boyfriend.)

Depression – You become lethargic. The simplest activities feel like a marathon. It's natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that you have at least begun to accept the reality. Force yourself to be active every day. Stick to a routine and set a schedule for job search activities everyday.

Acceptance – First off, acceptance can sometimes be temporary. You will have moments of acceptance, create a plan, and then moments of sadness and fear will reappear. That’s ok.

Here’s what is most important: Take the time to create a plan and reevaluate your skills. Create a capabilities list and match up your prior roles with each of the items on your list. Just because you are a good writer doesn’t mean you will be hired to be a writer. You have to show where you have done this in your past. Recent, relevant experience will land you a job. After making the list of all you have to offer, think about what companies and/or roles would benefit from having someone like you on their team.

Next, get references as soon as you can from your most recent employer. Network within your own industry and have your pitch down—“This is what I do and this is why I am so fabulous.” Don’t overwhelm yourself by doing a mass outreach to hundreds of companies. Target those you feel strongly about and contact as many people within that firm that you know, or don’t know, and find out who the hiring manager is.

Finally, be honest with yourself about your capabilities. Regroup and use this time to map out a plan and stick to it. That way, each day when you get up, you know you have certain tasks to do. You will feel like you’ve accomplished something. Be organized and keep track of whom you have spoken to and what you have applied for. Take some time to volunteer during your unemployment. This will give you an opportunity to meet other people and show that you are “working” and active while you are looking for your next, new chapter.