So much of our identity is tied up with what we do that it feels like a brutal blow to be laid off or fired (dare I say, for failing). Whichever version of job loss we experience, we reel from the blow. The unwanted shift in our identity triggers shame and guilt. Both emotions are psychologically uncomfortable, but guilt is useful. It drives meaningful change. Shame, on the other hand, traps us with stories that a depressing destiny is somehow fixed.
Here’s the shocking truth: we go to incredible lengths to protect a consistent view of ourselves. Even when that’s negative. The problem is that our consistency relies on others' agreement about who we are. Which we can't control. It’s why we are so harsh with ourselves as we reel from the rejection of losing a job. We’re tugging our self-view down just to be consistent. Shame stories might see us telling ourselves we're not talented. Or disliked. Or both.
I help people who have been committed to their careers, but have also hit crossroads like these. By the time we're talking, they're out of a job. I watch them reel from the blow. I hear the stories they tell themselves. And witness them being real cruel to themselves. Until, with support, they bring their shame story into the open, navigate their crossroads, and claim who they will become after this loss.
I find the psychology helps people understand why they're reeling, then stop pressing self-destruct. I have them send themselves a little self-kindness. You can too. This tool is as powerful as it is simple. It will help you (or someone you know) keep kind and strive again. But self-kindness, identity reconstruction, and the simple act of finding another job requires support. These 3 steps will help you tell the right people about your job loss — the right way.
1. Don't listen to yourself when you're preparing your talking points.
Negative self-talk will paralyze you. What you need is a friendly (but firm) pull in the opposite direction. You're more than the job you did. Find that deeper sense of who you are on the inside and spare a kind word for yourself while you prepare to share your predicament with others.
2. Find a few people who see you the way you want to be seen.
Now, phone a friend. Someone you know will give you the support you deserve as you rewrite your next chapter. Pause for thought. Will your go-to person be impacted by your job loss themselves? Are they the smart call to make first? Or later, when you can support them back? Your first call must be about you. The first person you should call will see you as you want to be seen, believe in you, understand if you've made mistakes (or if you haven’t), and support you without judgement either way.
Ponder before you post on social media. You would get a flurry of surface support via social media I’m sure. But that brand of help won’t help. Recognize you feel driven to share your experience, shame and anxiety. Then move through that hard stuff with your favored few friends or family.
And if a number of your colleagues are being laid off at the same time, do look outside of that group for support. You may feel drawn to the camaraderie of this cohort. Understandable. But being temporarily ‘moored’ to these colleagues isn’t what support looks like. You will need space to identity-shift and get into action without them.
3. Think about what you wish your friend or family member would say when you tell them, then explain you've lost your job in a way that leaves them room to do that.
This thought-exercise is another way to expose negative self-talk before it does too much damage. Are you about to share your news in a way that elicits commiserations? Poor you. How awful they did this to you? I'm so sorry to hear? Someone truly on your side will express sympathy without prompting. And empathize if they've been where you are. But won't dwell. Because they know there's another chapter waiting to be written. And they’re right. So don’t get trapped in negative narrative as you make your job loss real to others. Say after me: I lost my job today. That’s all.
If you’re with your favored few, say the hard stuff. Better out than in. Let their comforting words comfort you, then let go.
When I talk to people who have been laid off or fired, I say "Congratulations!" You get to shape a positive and evolving self. Starting now. There's real energy in shifting your plans to align with what is important to you, but only friends and family who see you as you want to be seen will hold be able to hold that vision. It's time to separate from negative storytelling to rewrite your next chapter now with the help of these crucial people and your well-crafted explanation.