Involuntary Change Can Be GREAT!

WorkCoachCafeSometimes change we don’t want, change we may even fear and dread — like a layoff — can be very good for us in the long run. Because we have stayed too long in a job that we’ve outgrown or too long working in a dysfunctional organization or a million other things.

Layoff Recovery Stories

In 1994, I was laid off by my employer, 12 years short of my 25-years-with-the-company gold watch ceremony. It was a common occurrence around here as one of the area’s largest employers – number 29 in the Fortune 500 with annual revenue in the billions of dollars and over 100,000 employees scattered across the world – was in the process of going out of business, although most of us didn’t know it then.

This is what happened to three of the survivors…

I could describe what happened to many of my co-workers from that company. Most did well. A few, unfortunately, did not. These are the fairly typical stories of what happened to three of them.

Bud — One of the guys who was laid off at the same time I was (we’ll call him “Bud”) had really hated his job and despised his boss…for years. I sympathized with him for a while, but after several months, I wondered why he stayed  in a situation he hated. Complaining about his manager seemed to be his favorite thing to the point that I doubt he was doing his job very well.

Being laid off was the kick in the pants he needed. It booted  him out of his uncomfortable “comfort zone”  where he was so unhappy and barely successful. He changed career direction from high tech to non-profit, following his passion and making a bigger contribution to society. He’s also much more successful and happy than if he’d stayed in his old job. He had to find other things to talk about, but I bet he lives longer.

Mary — Mary (not her real name) was laid off the year before I was, a volunteer who jumped ship when offered the opportunity. At first it was a real struggle for her, and she ended up selling her house and moving into an apartment. Then, she landed a contract job. Not what she really wanted, but it was with a large investment company, which needed a course developed to train new employees how to use their technology. Mary was an experienced course developer who enjoyed the challenge of learning new things, and then teaching them. She worked with some other contractors on the training, and when the contract ended, she was able to immediately move on to another contract job with one of her co-workers on her first contract.

Gradually, Mary built a whole network of course developers and trainers who move from employer to employer across the northeast establishing either employee training or customer training. Twenty years later, she is rarely without work because she is good at her job, and she has greatly enjoyed working inside many different employers without needing to participate in the internal politics of those organizations (something she hated).

Me — I was no longer glad to work for the company and I was happy to leave, although terrified when that first “pay day” came without a pay check to deposit. Thousands of people lost their jobs during that summer of 1994 as the company attempted to “right size” back to competitiveness. But the problem wasn’t the employees  (I don’t think it usually is!).  The problem was management setting – and sticking to – the wrong course for the mid-90′s business environment and/or not responding appropriately or quickly enough to competition in the marketplace.

Now I have my own (very small) company, and I LOVE it! I’ve learned so much since that layoff – more than a PhD, I think!  Many people laid off with me, or at least from the same company, have thrived. The Internet was just launching into our culture in 1994, and many seized the opportunity it presented. They moved on to great careers and greater success.

Bottom Line

It’s not you – you’re not “broken.” Your career just took an unexpected turn, and this will work out for you. Perhaps, like Mary, Bud, and me, you’ll be much happier as a result. What is next for you could be a whole lot better than what you’ve left behind.

  • Don’t spend a lot of time having a personal pity party. You need to move on. If the anger comes out in job interviews, it will impede your job search. Get help dealing with it, or try writing it all down, by hand, without sharing it with anyone. Just do a “dump” of your anger so the anger or hurt feelings don’t sabotage your future.
  • Often, joining a job club will be a big help: ideas, NETWORKING, even just the knowledge that you’re not alone and that very smart and capable people are also unemployed right now is comforting.
  • Try to view the layoff as an opportunity to decide what job would really make you happy. Read the classic “What Color Is Your Parachute” book to help you understand yourself better.

Yes, being unemployed in a bad economy is scary. No question. Hopefully, the result will be a better job with a better future.

So, live long and prosper – in your NEXT job!

More Information About Job Clubs

Join a Job Club for a Shorter Job Search

Key to a Successful Job Search — Support

9 Steps to a Shorter Job Search

Better Than a Job Board — Local Networking Groups


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 2011, Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan also edits and publishes, is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a columnist on HuffingtonPost, AOL Jobs, and LinkedIn.  Follow Susan on Twitter (@jobhuntorg) and on Google+.

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