When I graduated from college, I was 21 and had several prestigious internships under my belt. Shortly after, I accepted a management position at a growing health institute.
My career started strong. But five years later, I was laid off–twice. Not only from the first job, but also from the next management-level position I accepted.
It’s an experience many people can relate to. One fifth of U.S. workers had been laid off in the last five years, according to a Rutgers University survey. And layoffs are particularly common in early stage companies, where cash flow is often a problem.
For these reasons, knowing how to move forward after an unexpected job loss is a skill worth developing. Here are three lessons I learned the hard way that empowered me to bounce back.
I saved the venting for my wife, friends, and dogs
I’ve never been great with rejection. But after listening to multiple supervisors dismiss me as non-essential, I knew that I had to remain polite and professional. It took all the willpower I had to mutter, “Well, thank you for the opportunity to work here. I hope you’ll consider writing me a letter of recommendation.”
What I really want to say was, “There are so many other people you should be cutting before me. You may not recognize the value I bring now, but you will once I’m not around.” But I knew that wouldn’t help me get what I wanted even more–a fresh start. So instead of fighting a war I couldn’t win, I swallowed my pride and focused on honoring the relationships I would need to find another job.
In one case, I attended an awkward “sorry you’re getting laid off” party simply to protect valuable work friendships. Another time, I asked for permission to finish the day without pay to debrief co-workers on ongoing projects and set the team up for success. Going this extra mile paid off.
The first executive who laid me off later hired me back as a consultant. The second time, three work contacts from partnering organizations expressed an interest in hiring me the very day I was let go. That never would have happened if I’d allowed my anger to poison those relationships.
I had to face my grief
Telling my wife that my job and income were gone was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was even more painful to repeat that a year later. In both cases, she was supportive, but I still felt like I was letting her down.
The second time I was laid off, my wife and I were in the process of adopting our first child–an extremely expensive process. After losing my income, we weren’t sure how we would be able to afford to move forward. It was so tempting to shut down emotionally. After all, I was already forcing a smile in my work life while I looked for new opportunities.
But at the urging of a friend, I engaged my feelings and tried to grieve proactively. I stopped blaming myself for what happened and started brainstorming how I might have prevented it. Over time, I made peace with the fact that layoffs reflect the state of the company, not your performance as an individual.
In both cases, the companies I left went on to downsize further. That’s not uncommon. Last month, Munchery, an on-demand, single serving meal delivery service, announced they were closing their doors, roughly eight months after a significant round of layoffs. Observing these trends helped further me let go of the past and focus on my own future.
I learned not to jump into something else right away
The first time I got laid off, I thought, “I need to find a new job fast.” Even though I had enough severance to wait for the right fit, I jumped at the first opportunity I was offered, despite several red flags. I remember telling a friend, “I feel lost at sea, so I’m swimming to the closest island I can find.”
After layoff number two, my thinking had changed. Even though I had significantly less severance to work with, I never applied for another job. Instead, I started gathering consulting clients, slowly building a diversified income that couldn’t be taken away by any one person’s decision. After a few challenging months, I finally achieved the rhythm I’d been working for–a sturdy income, ample free time, and the power to say “Yes” only to work that truly excited me.
During my first full calendar year of consulting, I grew my income by roughly 71% and my wife and I went through with the adoption.
A job loss is never easy, no matter how much warning you have, or how early you anticipated the situation. But for me, it ultimately led to more clarity on what I wanted to do, a significantly bigger income, and the motivation to pursue the life I wanted instead of settling for the life I had.
Remember, disappointments can turn into opportunities–you just need to keep moving forward. As difficult as it may be, your best days are likely ahead of you.
Kyle Young consults with bloggers and authors on marketing strategy, product development, and operations management.