What I Learned From Losing My Job: Turning Roadblocks into Opportunities

by Enoon Gnihton

Losing one’s job can be a devastating experience as I have learned first hand. It can call into question our identity, evoke negative emotional responses, and create anxiety and fear for the future. We can respond to this kind of loss through either resistance or acceptance. The path that we choose can put us on the road to opportunity and hope, or lead us into despondence, hopelessness and despair.

In the past, I often thought of my job or career as my identity – who I was. The first thing that I learned from losing my job is that my profession, career and what I do for a living is not who I am as a person. My job is not my identity and losing my job is not losing my sense of self. A job is a situation, a circumstance, a time and a place, all of which are subject to change.

The most gripping emotion that I experienced from losing my job was a sense of betrayal. I had operated on the assumption that as long as I achieved good performance in my work, that I would have a job. The idea that I could be let go while performing well was not something that I had thought a lot about, even though I could see top performers around me losing their jobs. I had labored under the misguided assumption that layoffs always happened to someone else. Underneath this facade I understood that any business must remain profitable to stay in business, and failure to do so threatened the viability of the business, as well as any jobs that it creates and maintains. Reducing business costs to retain profitability unfortunately often means cutting jobs. But I was still shocked when the jobs axe fell.

Once the reality of the situation set in, the most urgent question for me was “What do I do now?” I had two options. Option one was resistance - to indulge myself in feelings of resentment, denial, anger, and self-pity, The second option was acceptance - a whole-hearted recognition of the realities of the situation as it stood. Acceptance meant no denial, no wishing that things were different, no anger or pity. The penalty for resistance is the creation of negative emotions that use up tremendous amounts of mental energy. Energy consumed by negative emotions is energy that is diverted from empowering us to muster the creativity and drive that we need to summon to change the situation.

Resistance – wanting something not to be, that already is - is a futile attitude. Being upset about perceived injustice is a natural response, and understandable in the short term. But an excessive focus on the door that has closed (the past) can become an impediment to seeing other doors (opportunities) that might be opening. The path to a viable future leads through the door of acceptance. The ability to see this door requires an open mind to the possibilities and opportunities that could unfold from the current situation. Opportunities appear in many disguises. But, becoming aware of these opportunities can be thwarted by our fear of the unknown.

I found it extremely relevant to remember that predictability in life is uncertain at its best, and a complete illusion at its worst. We simply cannot be sure of what the future will bring. But if we want the future to be “better” than the present, the first step is to have a positive attitude toward it and toward ourselves.

A positive attitude simply means seeing opportunities and potential instead of roadblocks and closed doors. The future is created out of the present, not the past. By shedding negative attitudes and emotions that we hold in the present, we release positive energy that can enable us to do our best to change the current situation. The most important thing that I have learned from losing my job is to maintain a positive attitude, to stay alert and keep listening for the sound of doors opening. The best thing that I can do after losing my job is to be fully prepared mentally and emotionally to walk through those doors when they open.

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