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How to Survive Losing Your Job (and Eventually Thrive)

The human spirit is unbreakable. You may have lost your job but you are more than just a job. You are powerful. You are undeniable. You are extraordinary. You will prevail.

PC: Joel Wyncott
PC: Joel Wyncott

As we near 60 days of the stay-at-home order in Chicago, I find myself having undergone some deep and honest reflection of all that’s taken place in the last couple of months. I’ve contemplated how and what to share, and whether I should at all. 

This is an unprecedented experience, to be sure. And extremely sensitive. The anguish and helplessness so many families have faced watching a loved one become sick—or worse, pass away—is absolutely devastating. Add to that, the economic devastation. The U.S. Jobs Report showed a whopping 20.5 million jobs lost in April bringing the unemployment rate to 14.7%. We have not seen numbers like these since the Great Depression. It’s stunning.

I’m personally taken aback by the enormous amount of uncertainty that has been forced upon the world. We’ve learned very clearly that nothing is in our complete control, and anything we have today, can be ripped away in the blink of an eye tomorrow. It’s the scale of that impact that really gets me. We’re not just talking about a couple hundred or even a couple of thousand people; it’s tens of millions who have lost their jobs and so often have lost hope.

While I am fortunate enough to have not lost my job, I can relate to the feelings of uncertainty, confusion, and loss of those who have. Losing a job can feel like losing your identity. You become a victim and recovery seems nearly impossible, especially given the perplexity of the current situation.

You might be wondering how I could possibly relate? Well, I have lost my job before. As shocking as it was to me, however, the circumstances were much more predictable (long story for a different story). That’s not the case today. 

So many talented folks have lost their jobs and they had nothing to do with it. The pandemic did. They couldn’t see this coming; they had no control. Although I have been fired before, I had control to a large degree. 

What I keep on going back to, though, is a time in my life where I had no control. A time—like so many people losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic—where the matter was completely out of my hands.

Some of you may know my back story. Many of you don’t. The reason I am going to share it is because it taught me about the enormous power of the human spirit. It taught me not only to survive but to thrive. For a long, long time, I didn’t share it publicly. However, when I started to share it, I noticed the power it had. It speaks to the fact that life isn’t perfect and we all have our struggles.

Long story short, when I was 18 years old, I was clubbed in the head so violently that the right side of my skull was completely shattered. The hit bore the force of a major league baseball player swinging a 100 mile-per-hour fastball. My head exploded. The blow shattered my skull and punctured an artery in my brain. Blood pumped around me as I fell to the floor clinging for life. I was rushed to the emergency room, and the doctors told my friends and family to hope for a miracle because I might die. After two brain surgeries—one that required a plate in my skull—my life was completely turned upside down.

At the time, I played college football, I was fit and on top of my game, my future looked bright, and in an instant, everything changed. 

I no longer felt certain of anything—who I was, why I was alive. Both of my parents were already dead. I felt no support or clarity from the world. I’d question: Why me? Why did this happen? If everything can turn upside down overnight, why even do this thing called life?

My road to recovery was long and arduous. I had to learn how to walk, talk, and cognitively function again. It was a miracle that I even survived. As I reflect on that time of my life, I think about all of these people without jobs who are facing a similarly long and arduous road ahead—although they may not have the same physical recovery I had, I’m sure they will face a similar mental and emotional recovery. The economy is going to be compressed for the foreseeable future, and the uncertainty of what will come next can create a negative worldview which makes it only more difficult to bounce back.

But if I could do it, I believe America can, too. 

It begins with finding your purpose and staying in the moment. I realize many of you might believe this is a lot of mumble-jumble. But it was my anchor.  When I decided not to give up, and not give in to the whims of my tragic life, I learned to focus on the present moment; I’d repeat the mantra: “I can control and be present in this immediate moment. Not the future, not the past, this moment. I am OK at this moment.” 

I found that once you begin to feel safe again, you gain the ability to see what you can control, and what you can control is the present moment. You learn how to communicate your fear and ask for support, and you realize that you can start to plan for the future, without lamenting the past or projecting onto the future. And hour by hour, day by day, week by week, you realize that you can survive and will ultimately get to the point where you will thrive. At least, that’s what happened to me. 

The human spirit is unbreakable. You may have lost your job but you are more than just a job. You are powerful. You are undeniable. You are extraordinary. As you get up and dust yourself off, it is important to take time to reflect on and identify what truly matters to you. In my work, I refer to this as defining your Purpose Pillars. These Pillars—things like faith, family, health, community—create the foundation for your life and will always stand strong in times when life feels out of your control.

You will experience thoughts that all of this work is for naught. Or that all will fail. But before you go down the rabbit hole of negative thinking and becoming hopeless, bring yourself back to the present moment. What has failed right now at this moment? Nothing. Sure, there is a chance of failure, but there is also a chance that it will turn out for the better. Focus on the good, feel safe in the present moment, and all may turn out much better than you can imagine right now.

If I could find the silver lining on the brink of death, survive, and somehow come out better albeit an entirely different person, I believe that we have it in each of us to do the same now. Of course, while also giving ourselves the space and grace to do it on our own time—it will not happen overnight, and that is something we can all be certain of. But it will happen, over time.

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