After almost 11 years teaching at a university as a non-tenured professor, I was laid off. A new dean came with curriculum changes.
This shock led me into a depression. A contemplative state of mind on “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” and “Am I a failure?”
Have I figured out my next step?
Then — I realized — I don’t have to have it all figured out. It’s okay to stop and reflect before taking the next step.
No classroom will prepare you for changes in your life like a job loss. Here are some lessons I learned and I hope inspire you to realize that a job loss does not define you.
Grieve. Cry. Let all the emotions out. It’s okay if you do. Having to find a new job is SCARY! Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t grieve for what was lost. To move on is to stand still and take in all the emotions you are feeling from the loss. I dedicated 10 years to a job to only be considered number 5 of 7 being laid off. I was told, “Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.”
Being laid off is hurtful, especially when someone does it coldly and without knowing who you are and what you’ve accomplished in the 10 years you’ve been associated with your workplace, especially academia.
You may go through the 5 stages of grieving: Denial, Anger, Barganing, Depression, and Acceptance.
It’s okay. Feel. Don’t let anyone tell you to move on until you are ready. You will have good days and bad days. I promise you’ll wake up one day realizing what a favor that person did for you. Would I want to go back to my former teaching job? No. Not after gaining distance from the situation.
You have TIME.
Think about that: Time.
Remember when you used to say — I wish I had time to (Fill in the blank).
I have time.
I have time to finish writing my book about politics and social media. I have time to hone my cooking skills. I have time to READ A BOOK for pleasure. I have time to take long walks. I have time to start writing what I want to write about. I have TIME.
What have I discovered about having so much time? I discovered it’s truly a blessing to stop the rollercoaster ride. Since 2002, I graduated with an M.A. and a Ph.D. My mom passed away while I was writing my dissertation and starting the job I was recently laid off from. All while, creating a reputation as a social media and politics expert.
Whew! I am tired.
I am not going to lie — taking a break from the rollercoaster ride of always trying to gain respect is NICE. Let’s all take a deep breath because stressing about my next lecture, or staring at a pile of grading vanished. I have the gift of time — TIME to pursue the academic career or my other dream to become a political/media analyst that will take me to the next level. Time will tell.
Time to reflect.
Time to nap.
Time to explore my writing.
Advice and Awkward Comments
As an academic — not many people understand the academic job market. Fall is the academic job season. I was laid off in the Spring with only 6 months to find a job for Fall. I knew I would not be employed by Fall. In fact, it’s been two years now.
People have a hard time forming the right response to your situation. Not everyone will agree with your goals and your dreams. Some people may think you are not worthy or qualified to pursue such goals and dreams. What people say to you will sometimes leave you in wonder:
“Oh, you’ll be much happier someplace else, you never really fit in here.” That’s EXACTLY what you want to hear right after you get laid off.
“You should be a social media manager.” I would LOVE to consult, but tweeting for someone else is not why I spent years pursing a Ph.D.
“You can attend mixers to find a job.” No, unemployment office, academics are introverts and usually are at home writing.
“You deserve a job where they value you.” Ummm… so I guess you never did value me while I worked with you?
“Don’t broadcast on social media you’re unemployed. People don’t need to see the bad times in your life.” I disagree. Tell people you are unemployed. I pursued possible opportunities because I DID broadcast I was laid off. My next opportuntiy may even be happy that I am available. Don’t underestimate yourself and your worth. A job loss does not define you.
Ignore unsolicited advice and awkward comments. Many people have no idea what they are saying. Friends and family feel uncomfortable because of many reasons — mostly their own insecurities.
The best words of support — “I’m here to listen.” “I’m here for you.” “Let me know if I can help” “Would you like to go to lunch?” “Coffee?” better yet, “Want to go grab pie?”
Surround yourself with cheerleaders. Surround yourself with people you want to be like. Never take advice from someone you NEVER want to be like.
We want someone to listen — not someone to fix it for us. Just because an unemployed person doesn’t know what their future holds — don’t mistake that for thinking they failed at their last job. We are now looking for a bigger and better opportunity. I sometimes do not have the words to express exactly what that job will be. Once grief subsides, grit to succeed settles in — and as a friend — you need to be there to encourage.
Don’t discourage — encourage.
The Path to Positivity takes Patience
My dear friend Helen, wise beyond her years, gave me a pep talk, “When you stay positive, positive things happen to you. The right opportunity at the right time, with the right people, at the right place will come.”
When she spoke those words to me over a year ago, I was devastated and depressed. In January, I decided to start a positivity practice.
- Do yoga every day! I’ve done Yoga with Adriene every day this year.
- Start a spiritual practice. I started attending church regularly.
- Start a gratitude journal. Every night I think back on the little things that made me smile that day. Sometimes I’m also grateful for the bad things–that’s where you grow.
- Read self-help books that challenge me. I’ve read some very good books that motivated me to create better habits as well as to get out of my comfort zone.
- Be more selfish. I do more things that make ME happy. It’s not about ignoring family and friends, it’s about reconnecting with ME since my identity was my job. I started discovering who I am and what I like other than things connected to my job.
- Connect with others. My friend MaryAnn and I try to do brunch every month. This brunch is all about motivating and inspiring each other.
- Collect quotes and other affirmations that remind me that I am worthy of happiness and success.
- Create a vision board. I use a bulletin board because throughout the year, I may add or subtract from my vision. It keeps me focused and motivated.
- Be kind to myself.
Practicing positivity is not about becoming a Pollyanna, but it’s about embracing the bad, realizing there are some things in life you cannot control. I am learning to be patient. My best advice is to feel all the emotions because if you don’t, you cannot move forward.
This new positivity practice helped to remind me to stay patient and it created an energy around me that has been building.
Not only did my energy change, but so did the energy around me.
A job loss is a transformation, and what could become a beautiful journey discovering YOU. Embrace it. It’s not an ending–it’s a beginning.