The anniversary has passed and I am somewhat amazed to realize that I have survived it. Indeed I am beyond that. I am thriving. It’s been more than 365 days now since I have received a salaried pay cheque. And still there is (good) food in the fridge, gas in the car’s tank, and the newspaper on my doorstep every morning. It’s a wonder.
Or is it?
The news that my employment was terminated was shocking, but not entirely unexpected. I had felt that change was in the air at my workplace and I had no reason to believe that I would be immune from the impact of that change. So, the meeting with HR happened, the severance package was explained, and I was out the door – all within less than an hour of arriving at the office that morning.
In reviewing how I got here from that Friday one year ago, I see that I’ve learned some valuable survival lessons that are worth sharing.
1. Be sensible. Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your job and your professional identity. Then get over it and get on with creating your future. Your severance won’t last forever!
2. Be active in your body and your mind will follow. Get your blood moving and your synapses firing. Now is the time for action not lassitude. Join that fitness club like you’ve always intended. I did and now go swimming (almost regularly) in the early afternoon. (It’s lovely imagining ex-colleagues stuck at their desks while I’m doing laps!)
3. Be visible; be heard. Don’t hide out at home. Talk to your friends, your family, your professional advisors about the change in your life, and ask them to help you in your quest for a new future.
4. Create a new professional identity for yourself. You are no longer a title in a box on a company’s org chart. You are your own person forging a new path.
5. Make your new identity tangible. Print up business cards and forget the fancy title. Instead, describe the skill and service you’re offering. I chose “clear thinking / clear communication” to describe my writing and editing work.
6. Invest in yourself to advertise your new identity. Change your hairstyle, buy some new clothes, and sport a confident attitude (some days, of course, it's easier than others).
7. When you want things to be different, you have to do different things. I taught myself to play the harmonica. I swear it opened up new pathways in my brain that helped me see myself - and my options - differently.
8. Network like crazy. The theory of six degrees of separation is never more evident than when you’re looking for new opportunities. You will be surprised how one connection leads to a second and builds a bridge to a third…and so on.
9. Build a database of contacts. Mine it. Work it. Update it.
10. Don’t waste time or energy pursuing contacts who aren’t interested in what you’re offering. Move on.
11. Don’t take rejection personally. It’s a fact of life. Those of us actively engaged in changing our lives experience it more frequently than those who take an easier path.
12. Be strategic about whom you go to for what in your circle of support. Prepare yourself for disappointment from those of whom you expected the most. Not everyone will understand (or have the energy for) the ups and downs you’ll go through.
13. You are your own best champion. Learn how to pick yourself up and get on with your agenda under your own steam.
14. Believe in yourself. You can do it. Thousands before you have. Thousands after you will.
Since that Friday morning a lot has happened for me. I went back to school and am now entering my second year of a Master’s program in applied communication at Royal Roads University. My brain is on fire with new ideas, concepts and ways of approaching organizational, interpersonal and intercultural communication. I have a stable of clients for whom I provide a valuable service with my writing and editing, and I am embarking on a new partnership with a colleague I met at Royal Roads.
If you had told me a year ago that I would be flying high today and launching a new business opportunity, I would have been skeptical. But that's what I'm doing. And in that fact lies the proof that when we get presented with a pile of lemons, it really is most profitable to churn them into juice. The sourness is only in our minds. And that glass? It really is always half full.
written Oct. 1, 2005